What will the EPFL campus look like 10 years from now?

© 2021 EPFL

© 2021 EPFL

A recently commissioned report looks at EPFL’s campus development needs over the coming decade. Here is a summary of the key findings from Matthias Gäumann, the Vice President for Operations, Franco Vigliotti, the Director of the Department for Development and Construction, and Pierre Gerster, the Head of the Department of Construction Administration.

What are EPFL’s key campus development plans over the next decade?

Before we look to the future, there are a handful of major projects that are close to completion. One example is the new thermal power plant, which will allow us to draw heat from the lake more efficiently. At the same time, we’re building a data center, which will be cooled by the cold water discharged from the power plant and will in turn act as a source of heating for the campus. Another example is the engineering Discovery Learning Lab, which is situated between the existing ELE and ELH buildings.

Work is expected to start on some other projects in 2023–2025, as long as the Swiss Parliament releases the necessary funding. For instance, we’re looking to completely overhaul the Coupole building, including the teaching facilities. There are plans to extend the MX buildings to house another Discovery Learning Lab, this time for material and structures prototyping. The School will also contribute to a brand-new life sciences building on the UNIL campus – a facility shared by both institutions that will include a hub for chemistry and biology practicals. The building will also house the Dubochet Center for Imaging, a joint EPFL-UNIL cryo-EM imaging facility. A new experimental research facility could also see the light of day, including a suite of physics labs and ultra-high-precision equipment for observing and measuring subatomic phenomena. We’re also planning extensive upgrades to sanitary facilities across the campus, prioritizing the oldest buildings: so, for example, we’ll replace many of the existing sanitary facilities in the CM and CE buildings.

The report outlines the School’s campus development needs for the 2021–2032 period. Why are you planning so far ahead?

By 2032, we’re expecting student and staff numbers to grow by 25% and 19% respectively. That’s a significant increase. And we’ll need a lot more room to accommodate those extra people – a full 59,000 m2 more to be precise, or 21% more space than what we have today. So this report is about planning ahead – making sure that we’re adequately resourced and thatour facilities remain fully functional in support of the School’s missions, both now and in the future. It’s important to view our investments in the wider context of the federal government’s real-estate portfolio. EPFL is bound by the same rules as other entities in the ETH Domain: we each forward our requirements, in a similar format, to the ETH Board, which approves the individual applications and submits a combined funding request to the Swiss Parliament.

Taking a long-term view helps us set priorities, ensure our existing facilities remain up to standard, and identify where we need to develop or build further. But the report is very much a provisional planning document. It isn’t set in stone. We review it every four years, in line with our strategic and financial planning cycle.

Do these plans reflect a shared vision between EPFL and UNIL on aspects such as green spaces, mobility and biodiversity?

Our development and construction plans are based on a joint EPFL-UNIL master plan, which was prepared in 2020 by the leadership of both schools and submitted for public consultation so we could gather the views of the communities that host our campuses. It touches on a range of sustainability themes, including biodiversity and mobility. The two institutions will release a joint statement on the plan in June this year.

Some campus buildings are old. Are you planning to carry out any renovation work?

Keeping our premises in a good state of repair is an ongoing process. Sometimes we do small-scale refurbishments, like upgrading individual labs. Other improvements are much broader in scope, such as our plans to renovate the Coupole building and the sanitary facilities in the CM and CE buildings. And occasionally, we need to completely overhaul our premises and even create more space to host our researchers and accommodate lab rotations. The new experimental research building is a case in point.

The School’s Department for Development and Construction will invite broad input on a master plan detailing all of these measures. Scheduled for publication in June 2022, it will set out our plans for restructured, denser and more energy-efficient campuses.

Has the EPFL community been involved in this planning process?

Through regular working group meetings, we’re inviting all the constituent groups of the EPFL community to have their say on the future of our campus: vice presidencies, schools, central services, researchers, users and students (including via the EPFL Assembly). In fact, the Vice Presidency for Operations is committed to widening participation in planning processes and, more broadly, listening to the voices of all campus users.

Click here to read EPFL’s campus development report for the 2021–2032 period (in French, EPFL users only).