The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is in the predesign stage with the Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) government to start a twin campus in the UAE, with the first faculty focusing on wind tunnel studies, according to its president.
"We went to several countries in the GCC but decided the UAE was the best place to house this project. About 10 per cent of our students come from the Arab world. We also have faculty here from Yemen. Besides, Dr Khater Massad, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (Rakia) is an alumnus of EPFL," said Patrick Aebischer, President of EPFL. Construction on the first phase is due to start in October and the initial project value is estimated at 50 to 60 million Swiss francs (Dh171m to Dh206m).
He said RAK's mountainous landscape was an ideal location for the campus. "To do research, you need a campus that will take advantage of the beautiful landscape around the area and that which is conducive to learning. We are looking at research in areas such as solar energy, water treatment and construction as well as photovoltaics, and the location is just right for the same," he told Emirates Business.
The focus is on postgraduate and research (PhD) courses. "There is also strong interest from this part of the world to study in the UAE, if it has the research facilities. We thought we would leapfrog into research and not look at the undergraduate courses," said Aebischer.
"We have been gifted about 25 hectares by the ruler and have chosen the location for the campus. The idea is to keep the project sustainable using green building technologies. We are also looking at using the expertise of architects from the UAE.
"We will start with a faculty for wind tunnel studies, and the next one will be on light and sustainable architecture. The idea is to begin with 30 students who will start a semester in Lausanne and then continue research in RAK. The first class will begin in 2011 in the UAE."
The project will be executed in phases. "We will start with the first building and then develop it in phases instead of building the entire campus. We want it to be small and beautiful. The first phase will be completed by end 2012 and will evolve gradually into a 25 hectare site in RAK," he said.
"We plan to have a very sustainable building in traditional Arabic architectural styles, using shade and photovoltaics and which is very interesting to our professors. It is also important to promote local architecture and I want something that is sustainable and respects the landscape and the area and that which fits within the context of the area.
Meanwhile, the SwF110m Rolex Centre in Lausanne, which has been built on the EPFL campus, will open on February 22, he said on the sidelines of a media briefing. (see box) "Rolex has been generous and has donated the largest sum of about SwF50m, among seven corporate donors that include Nestle, Novartis, Logitech, Credit Suisse and others. The rest of the project funding has come from the Swiss government," he added.
"What is interesting about the Rolex Centre in Lausanne is that it is a low building. We are in the UAE to participate in the education system and that is where the local firm will come in," he added.
Construction started in the summer of 2007. "The entire campus will be finished by 2012. The immediate landscape will be ready in time for the grand opening this May," he said. The project took six months to get approval from the general public, which is the process in Switzerland, and has managed to address all issues related to inclusive design and concerns on heights.
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Experimenting with shells and arches
Led by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa and designed by the Japanese architectural practice SANAA, the Rolex Learning Center is a highly experimental building. It is essentially one continuous structure spread over a site of 88,000 sqm. With few visible supports, the building touches the ground lightly, leaving an expanse of open space beneath, which draws people from all sides towards a central entrance, said a statement from the architects.
For the three-dimensional curved concrete shells, SANAA worked with structural engineer SAPS, to find shapes with the least bending stresses by making computer simulations. After repeating this process numerous times, engineers Bollinger und Grohmann and Walther Mory Maier made detailed calculations to arrive at the final shape.
For the construction, SANAA worked closely with the total service contractor, Losinger Construction, on the final calculations and physical implementation of such large and gentle slopes. "The concrete execution had to be precise because of the complex façade system that needed to absorb both the concrete shell deflection movement and the construction tolerances. One example of precise execution was the use of laser-cut 2.5m x 2.5m wooden formwork, which was positioned using GPS technology on site. For ventilation and heating, the undulating one-room volume was also studied via computer simulation to determine the periods when natural ventilation was possible and when floor heating would be necessary. This helped to achieve a low energy consumption target.
Essentially, the building is made up of two 'shells', inside which are 11 under-stressed arches. The smaller shell sits on four arches – 30 metres to 40 metres long – while the larger shell rests on seven arches – 55 metres to 90 metres long. The arches are held by 70 underground pre-stressed cables, the statement said.
The main structural materials are steel and wood, with concrete poured into the formwork. Following the geometry of the shells required 1,400 different moulds for concrete. The poured concrete had to be delivered continuously over two days, to achieve the complex task of creating one continuous, flowing roofspace. The building is highly energy-efficient, and has received the Minergie label – the Swiss standard for measuring environmental excellence in buildings, for its low energy consumption.
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