Text by Clay Risen
For 135 years, the Institut Le Rosey in Rolle, Switzerland, has educated children from the upper echelons of the global elite. Gulf sheiks, Hollywood superstars, Metternichs, and Rothschilds have all sent their offspring to the boarding school, whose low-slung academic buildings nestle into a gently sloping hillside, a world exclusive from Geneva and Lausanne despite being just a half hour’s drive away from each.
Every school needs a few hell-raisers, and Carnal Hall has its role in the campus. “The dome acts as a hinge at the end of a sequence of old buildings,” Tschumi says. “It’s a dialogue between two eras.”
While other designers proposed separating the project’s multifaceted program—concert hall, a black box theater, rehearsal rooms, a library, and a café—into different buildings, Tschumi united them. Placing the shoebox-shaped concert hall at the center of the circular floor plan, he stacked the other features along its sides and topped everything with the dome.
Perhaps even more unexpected than the building’s shape are its modest materials: The structure is primarily poured-in-place concrete paneled with clear-finish OSB. Even the 900-seat concert hall, which can accommodate a full-size 120-piece orchestra, is lined with OSB panels.
“I felt a little bored with the clichés of wooden concert halls,” Tschumi says. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we used compressed wood? And we found, working with [the engineering consultant] Arup, that OSB can be incredibly dense and therefore has a mass that is very good for acoustics.” He also had to contend with a railway line running 300 feet from the building. To protect the concert hall from vibrations, the team structurally isolated it from the rest of the building, placing it atop massive springs, nearly 7 feet tall.
Accommodating a large number of musicians in the relatively small hall posed another challenge. A full-size orchestra normally plays before 2,000 seats or more; any fewer and the sound can be overwhelming. “It’s a bit like putting a 12-cylinder motor into a small car,” says Alban Bassuet, a former associate principal at Arup who led the firm’s acoustic team on the project.
The solution was to arrange hundreds of OSB-engineered joists, ranging in depth from 2 inches to 2.4 inches, on the OSB-panel walls to form what Bassuet calls “corners” that catch the acoustic energy and scatter it back over the audience. The result is a clear, immersive sound that blankets the room without overwhelming it. “Many folks have said the room is crystalline,” he says.
The last significant technological difficulty stemmed from Switzerland’s strict Environmental Protection Act and, in particular, the virtual prohibition of mechanical cooling in commercial and institutional buildings. But an unventilated concert venue, even in the country’s temperate mountain range, is unthinkable. Tschumi and Arup turned to the stack effect, devising a largely passive system that uses fans to draw in cool air through the sublevel space that houses the massive noise-isolating springs, and pushes hot air out through slots near the top of the dome above the concert hall. The approach also produces little noise or vibration—perfect for a music venue.
Sustainability, however, was never Tschumi’s main objective. “I would not say it was the driver, but rather the result of taking advantage of certain constraints,” he says. “I’m not a sustainability nut.” What drove the project were the school’s relatively small capital budget, and the opportunity those constraints provided to explore new materials and forms.
The results speak for themselves. The OSB panels comprise recycled wood and nontoxic adhesives; the dome is punctured by strategically placed cutouts to let in daylight; and many windows are operable, taking advantage of the cool breezes from the lake to the south and the mountains to the north. Though Arup did not conduct a formal energy analysis, the firm insists the project is exceedingly stingy. “Most of the building uses few or any mechanical systems, which by definition make them very energy efficient,” says principal and project leader Ray Quinn.
Designing a cutting-edge building is one thing; getting a tradition-minded faculty and student body to accept it is another. But Le Rosey director Philippe Gudin says the school community took to the seemingly aggressive design. “The students and teachers were a bit worried, a bit scared,” he confesses. “But after a week, the students adopted the building. Now it is really the center of campus.”
And thanks to a series of public concerts at Carnal Hall, the school is shedding some of its exclusivity. “Le Rosey was set apart from the area, but now it has become part of the cultural life,” Gudin says. “People arrive early and stay late, talk with students, and have a drink. It makes for a small village, here at the school.”
Cost: $52.5 million
Materials and Sources
Acoustical System: Rabo Sàrl (acoustic dubbing); Blumer-Lehmann / Apico (acoustic panels); HBT-ISOL (acoustic springs)
Concrete: Balzan + Immer
Exterior Wall Systems: Félix Constructions
Flooring: HKM (wood parquet); Lenzlinger Fils (technical floors)
HVAC: Neuhaus Energie
Millwork: Schwab System
Paints and Finishes: Schwab System (wood finishes, concert hall)
Seating: Diviminho Suisse – Ascénder (concert hall seats)
Structural System: Tuchschmid
Walls: Félix Constructions (interior façades)
Windows, Curtainwalls, Doors: Doormax (interior wood doors); Gilgen Door Systems (automatic doors)