Tribute to retired EPFL Professor André Faist

© Alain Herzog

© Alain Herzog

In the early 1980s, André Faist founded EPFL’s Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory (LESO-PB), which specializes in energy-efficient building designs and passive solar-energy systems. He headed the laboratory for ten years, and his work has helped shape generations of researchers, engineers and architects. Faist sadly passed away on 15 November 2021 at the age of 86.

Faist was born in Basel in 1935, and he studied nuclear physics at the University of Geneva. His interest in the physics of buildings began while he was still at university – he gave classes on the subject to architecture students at HES-SO Geneva, or Technicum de Genève as it was known at the time. After obtaining a PhD in physics, he went on to have a long career as a physicist at EPFL, where he taught physics to architecture students.

In the 1970s, Faist took part in a conference in Paris called Sun in the Service of Mankind. Following this, he and his colleague Pierre Suter, a professor at EPFL’s department of mechanical engineering, submitted an initial research proposal on solar energy to the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). This was during the international oil-price shock, and therefore the SNSF was quick to grant the funding, marking the beginning of a long and interesting research project for Faist.

Shortly afterwards, Faist and fellow EPFL physicist Jean-Bernard Gay were asked to join a small research group at the Swiss Federal Institute for Reactor Research in Würenlingen. There, they worked to develop a new kind of passive solar building. Then-EPFL President Bernard Vittoz heard about the project and suggested that the building be erected at EPFL’s main campus in Lausanne. The LESO solar experimental building was thus constructed in 1982 and is now home to LESO-PB.

New SIA standards

Faist became the first director of LESO-PB, heading a team of some 25 researchers, engineers and architects. The laboratory’s initial research projects focused mainly on building insulation and on enhancing the energy efficiency of windows. This early research prompted the Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects (SIA) to introduce new energy-efficiency standards for buildings (such as SIA 380/1). The LESO-PB now has around 40 employees and is well known in academic circles both in Switzerland and worldwide. The laboratory has gained a reputation for conducting and sharing important research findings that aim to make our built environments more sustainable.

Swiss Solar Prize

Faist not only conducted pioneering research at EPFL – he also held a biennial symposium on solar energy in architecture, from the 1970s onward. In the 1980s, he worked with researchers from Belgium, Portugal and the United States to put on the International Congress on Building Energy Management (ICBEM) on three separate occasions, including in 1987 when the event was held at EPFL and attracted over 300 scientists from around the world. In 1996, he teamed up with the Catholic University of Leuven and the Toulouse School of Architecture to design a Master of Advanced Studies in Architecture and Sustainable Development program that was intended for engineering and architecture students. In 2000, Faist was awarded the Swiss Solar Prize for his groundbreaking work in solar energy.

Faist’s commitment, teaching and groundbreaking research helped shape generations of researchers, engineers and architects at EPFL. His work also contributed to the energy transition that we are experiencing today.