EPFL students envision the 2039 edition of the Fête des Vignerons

Visit of the construction site of the 2019 Fête des Vignerons. © Alexandre Buttler/EPFL

Visit of the construction site of the 2019 Fête des Vignerons. © Alexandre Buttler/EPFL

As the 2019 Fête des Vignerons prepares to kick off this summer, EPFL students presented their concepts for the 2039 edition of this winegrowers’ festival, a major local event held every 20 years in Vevey. The proposals, drawn up as part of a week-long interdisciplinary program and presented on Tuesday, echo the values their generation holds dear: decentralized, sustainable and social. 

“We’re training the next generation of construction and environmental management professionals,” explains Florence Graezer Bideau, a senior scientist who specializes in heritage at EPFL’s College of Humanities (CDH). “The idea was to have them envision what the next Fête des Vignerons might look like. They could well end up working on the festival themselves 20 years from now.”

The Fête des Vignerons, recognized by UNESCO on its list of intangible cultural heritage since 2016, is a snapshot in time. The 2019 edition will be no different. Its centerpiece will be a purpose-built arena and a show featuring the latest technology.

Interdisciplinary teams
Second-year Bachelor’s students from the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) spent a week off-campus in Vevey. In interdisciplinary teams, they developed seven concepts for the 2039 festival, taking their cues from the cultural heritage of Lavaux, a renowned winegrowing region of Switzerland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. The students worked under the guidance of five EPFL professors, with different research interests and from two separate EPFL schools, who collected and assessed their ideas.

Sustainable, sociable, dispersed
The students’ concepts offer a very different take on the festival. The teams envisioned a sustainable, sociable event dispersed across a much larger area – in Vevey and the wider Lake Geneva region. “Today’s young people are less concerned with hierarchy than their predecessors,” says Jeffrey Huang, a professor specializing in digital architecture. “Consequently, their concepts have a much more decentralized feel.” One team worked on a project known as “Pergolavaux”, a long pergola running from Pully to the Lavaux vineyards showcasing winegrowing tradition and practice. Another group proposed a concept called “L’Île des Vignerons”, a terraced island out in the lake that echoes the landscape of the vineyards themselves and hosts the Vevey Wine Guild Museum.

The end of a paradigm
“The students also rejected the idea that the festival should be temporary,” says Luca Ortelli, a professor of architecture. The teams working on two other projects – “Autosuffisance Énergétique” and “Trace(s)” – suggested repurposing components of this year’s arena and the local energy-generating equipment, and building a new public space in the parking lot where the 2019 cone-shaped arena is taking shape.

“Traditionally, the festival is a whirlwind of activity in a short space of time, and it’s all happening in one place,” explains Alexandre Buttler, an adjunct professor of environmental sciences and engineering. “The students felt that model had run its course.”

Bringing local businesses on board

Luca Pattaroni, a senior scientist specializing at EPFL’s Urban Sociology Laboratory, agrees: “It’s no surprise that the students suggested creating multiple sites elsewhere in the city and beyond – spaces that could be reused for other cultural events in the future. They also wanted to bring local businesses on board – not least so the food served at the festival could be sourced locally.” Another common theme was to hold not one centerpiece show, but several smaller shows in and around the local area. All five staff members supervising the students came to the same conclusion: that the students were keen to “give the festival back to the people”. Could the students’ ideas find their way into the next Fête des Vignerons? Only time will tell.

Getting ready for working life
The interdisciplinary program focusing on the Fête des Vignerons – called “Ephemeral City” – is part of EPFL’s groundbreaking “Design Together” initiative, where ENAC students spend a week working on joint projects. The aim is to get them ready for working life and give them a taste of what it’s like to collaborate beyond their own disciplinary horizons – a skill that will serve them well as they tackle the challenges of a changing world.