Students build giant “harp” perched high above Les Diablerets
Summer Series – Student Projects: EPFL architecture students erect a temporary landmark in Les Diablerets to promote soft forms of mobility and offer pedestrian tourists a visual, tactile, and auditory experience in the Swiss Alps.
If in the coming months you happen to find yourself near Isenau, a short cable-car ride up the mountain from Les Diablerets, you might catch sight of a wooden structure, perched up high on a small plateau, overlooking the valley. And if you let your curiosity get the better of you and hike up to it for a closer look, the structure will have fulfilled its purpose: encouraging people to adopt softer forms of mobility and “reactivating” the pedestrian passes that cross into the Bernese Alps.
The delicate structure goes by the name 2055, a reference to the altitude at which it stands, but as Marie Benaboud, one of the students who designed and built it explains, it is also an invitation to contemplate the not so distant future. 2055 is one of three projects that students developed during an architectural studio held during the spring semester at EPFL. It was then refined and prefabricated during a 6-week summer workshop that brought together the 18 master’s students during their summer break. And once the stamped concrete foundations had been built on site, the eleven individual elements were flown in by helicopter and assembled in less than 90 minutes.
The installation has both a serious and a fun side, says Marie Benaboud. From a distance, it seeks to remain coherent with its strict orthogonal geometry, while revitalizing the surroundings through its presence. But from up close, it strikes a more playful note, inviting passersby to climb onto its beams and admire the orchestrated views of the surrounding panorama from its center.
Visitors may be surprised to hear musical notes emanating from the structure and echo off the surrounding rocks. “The structure we built is also a musical instrument, which will be played by professionals during a concert on August 27. After that, it will remain open to anyone who wants to produce echoes in the mountains,” she says. The idea to open up a musical dimension to the project came after selecting its final location. Sitting on a natural formation of rocks, it is located at the center of a natural amphitheater, within which notes played on its piano-string harp can resonate.
“We designed the structure to be an experimental tool,” explains Michael Sachs. “In collaboration with the BMI at EPFL we used eye-tracking methods to create lines that help to compensate or counteract the partly automatic visual perception process that goes into looking at such an orthogonal structure. By building a structure that is actually much more complex than it first appears, we wanted to let visitors dive into a personal journey of multisensory discovery. They can see it as a simple stack of wood, a cave, or maybe a nest. We wanted to bring together all of these possibilities and make them accessible.”
It was an eventful and emotional day for the students, who saw the fruit of months of work take shape before their eyes. “The final assembly with the helicopter went very smoothly. We planned everything ahead of time, and in just over an hour we finished mounting the structure. It was a success!” says Marie Benaboud.
The mandate to build the structure came from ecovillages, an association dedicated to promoting sustainable development in alpine environments, which will be hosting a conference in Les Diablerets on the topic of “mobility.” 2055 will be open to the public for three months, before it is taken down.