(Re)branding the Flon identity: A Swiss Youth Embassy_Flon district, Lausanne, CH
A research into Swiss national youth culture and networking a prototype.
EPFL I SAR I ENAC I LAPA I Master’s Thesis 2007 Student: Marisa BONNER
Thesis director: Prof. H. GUGGER I Second thesis advisor: Prof. M. STEINMANN I Expert: K. HÖGER I Assistant: R. BLÄTTLER
Hypothesis: On a larger scale, the dilemma of what represents “Swiss identity”, has been a key question
in our research. In a country with four official languages and 26 different cantons (and their respective
languages), a sense of “belonging” can be at times difficult when speaking of the country as a whole. Yet,
despite differences, Switzerland has found within itself certain areas in which it is united. The way in which
Switzerland can exploit, in a positive way, its internal differences, could prove to be the basis of a built prototype
acting as a physical networking platform for one of its most active resources: the youth culture.
Therefore, situating the project in the context of the Lausanne Flon district, we hope to reestablish part of
the identity that once was Flon, working with existing built structure, and emphasizing the importance of
built and personal relationships within Flon. The project proposed - a Swiss Youth Embassy, would act as a
physical platform for exchange serving the youth of Lausanne and itself being part of a larger swiss network.
1 Swiss identity 7
2 Swiss youth culture 11
3 Lausanne identity 17
4 Le ‘Flon’ / Flon youth and ‘sub’culture 23
5 Youth embassy 79
1_ Swiss identity
“What brings people together today is the same as it has always been: sense of community.” According
to Robert Wuthnow in his book Loose Connections, the new shapes of social interaction are “less formal,
demand shorter periods of comittment, and are more focused on specific goals in response to the new demands
of modern cititzens.”
If this theory can be applied to what Swizerland is experiencing today in attempt to define national unity,
one can better understand the success (and failure) of certain aspects of Swiss society. It is not difficult to
understand this dilemma in a country that has 4 official languages and 26 cantons. Its success lies in networking
‘familiar national territory’, such as infrastructure (SBB, Post), commerce (Migros, COOP),etc. and
making them national symbols.
At the regional scale, Swiss german, Swiss french, and Swiss italian have their own ways of interpreting
swiss culture by means of nationally recognized events such as Love Parades, marathons, Paleo and Montreux
One culture that does exist on a national scale, but not yet exploited as a “network”, is the youth culture.
Each region (and more specifically, city) has had it’s history with some youth movement. They have all
expressed the same message in the past, and perhaps could have shown more influence if they had combined
resources. What we are experiencing today is a youth culture that is not necessarily looking for the
same ‘revolution’ as in the ‘80’s, for example. However, there is a strong argument for linking the resources
for the youth of Switzerland and making them nationally available in every canton.
2_ Swiss youth culture
Swiss youth - the ‘80’s revolution
“...wir wollen Alles, uns zwar subito!”
This is one of the expressions to be heard on the streets of swiss cities, during the 1980’s when Swizerland
was shaken by a series of youth riots, the result of simmering discontent with what many young people felt
as the suffocating weight of bourgeois culture. 1
The spark came when the Zürich city authorities decided to allocate a large subsidy to the local opera
house. A group calling itself the Red Factory Action Group (“Rote Fabrik”) clashed with police, at a protest
gathering to demand premises for alternative, non-commercial youth culture. Shop windows were smashed
and cars burnt. The demand for Autonomous Youth Centers (AJZ) became one of the key slogans of the
revolt which spread across Switzerland.
There were riots through the ‘80’s in larger Swiss cities: 1980 in Zürich and Lausanne, in 1982 and 1987 in
Bern, and in 1988 in Basel.
As seen in the photos (left) taken from that time, the main message expressed in many languages, was one
of despair from youth on not being heard. In german graffiti from the 1980’s (top left), one reads “too much
civilization”, and in french (bottom left) the graffiti reads, “No future 1981. Let’s make one.”
AJZ’s (autonomische Jugend Zentrum - “autonomous youth centers”)
The movement in the 1980’s for Swiss youth had political and physical consequences that are visible still
to this day. At the time, it was an unprecedented swiss-wide social movement, as the youth in Switzerland
demanded an “alternative”, self-defining culture, formally recognized by the swiss authorities. In the eyes of
swiss politicians, this movement was seen as an unrealistic ‘utopia’, and would be difficult to concieve.
As this was the general attitude, from Zürich to Lausanne, the youth decided to take matters into their own
hands and occupy (mostly illegally) old structures and buildings that were uninhabited, and create what they
called ‘autonomous youth centers’, where youth could gather for meetings, rallys, and simply “hang out”
amongst each other.
Unfortunately for the swiss youth, their protests and efforts didn’t always bring the results that were hoped
for, but the 80’s movement is still remembered today as one of the strongest of its time, that to this day, has
had its mark on swiss politics.
Those that were involved in this movement, are today well into adulthood, and the precedent of youth ‘liberty’
has lost much of its resonance. However, there exists still a very active youth culture in Switzerland
and is constantly developing in modern terms, and deserves to be studied.
What was desired, and still does not exist in such form, is a physical platform network for youth within Switzerland
to find common meeting ground and exchange information from one swiss region to another.
3_ Lausanne identity
Lausanne medieval routes
Lausanne current situation
Lausanne is an example of a city that grew around its center; very often considered by its almost primitive
nature: the “Cité Seule” or centrum in the larger sense. One can also see the desire to define even more
the center by its two symmetrical routes, the cité devant and the cité derrière.
In the first half of the 1800’s, the Ceinture Pichard (“the Pichard Ring”) road was established which would
link the center city to routes leading in and out of Lausanne. In the development of the city, there had always
been a tendency to construct in a perpendicular sense to its valleys, almost neglecting their existance
with the various bridges that would begin to be built such as the Grand Pont, the Pont Bessieres, and the
Pont Chauderon. Valleys, at that time, were reserved for the artisans and the industrial work that took place
within the city.
As the main train station of Lausanne was built just below the Flon valley merchandise hub, the industry that
had been built up by J. Mercier slowly began to lose its importance and became a place that served more
as a link between Lausanne and Ouchy on the port.
4_ Le Flon
The identity of the Flon district is inherently related to its topographical situation, and can be
demonstrated with difficulty without an image or model describing its nature. In the words
of Bernard Tschumi, in his anonymous competition presentation for the future development
plans of the Flon district, he speaks of Lausanne and its relationship to the Flon district:
“The topograpical configuration of Lausanne reverses all relationships that are normally associated
with streets and adapted spaces. In the urban development of Lausanne, one has experienced
a historical situation in a “shift” of space conception. Streets are literally “hung”, houses are buried into
the earth, roofs become ground floors, the “piano nobile” is spread over many different floors, buildings
become the passages between two different street levels, and bridges function as multi-level
intersections. To give a concrete example, as in the images of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, one enters a
building in Lausanne on the 6th level at the Pl. St. François, and exits below to the Rue Centrale.”
Flon presents, just as mentioned by Bernard Tschumi, an opportunity for the city to rethink
its identity. Most projects that have been presented until the present day, have been unsuccessful
in their attempts to restructure the zone, which will be looked at later in more detail.
Successful interventions have been those that propose to conserve at most
the historical infrastructure and built environment that exist to this day in Flon.
“The relationship between the city and the valley is not only about how one crosses over the valley, but also
how one goes down to the valley. So, the dynamics created in the city are as much about horizontal relationships
as they are about oblique or vertical ones...” Bernard Tschumi
Flon district within Lausanne
La Gare du Flon
At its beginnings, Flon was a natural river valley, with vineyards and occasional houses. In the 1800’s, due
to epidemic, the Flon river was completely covered by a concrete structure to avoid the spread of disease.
Shortly after, the land began to be occupied by industry, namely, by Mr. J.J. Mercier and his tannery factories.
With the slow “infilling” of the valley, and the emergence of more industrial production, the Flon area
became an undesireable place to be, due to noise, smell, etc. Over the years, and with the opening of the
funicular line connecting Flon to Ouchy, Flon became a merchandise hub - an event that would determine
the final structure and orientation of the buildings that can be seen today in the district.
With the growth of Lausanne around the area of Flon, and the construction of the main train station, Flon
became more of a ‘public’ transport hub. Buildings that were once used as large industrial space became
very atttractive to artists and such renters that needed large and affordable work spaces. The ‘identity’ of
the area became one of transient and ‘bohemian’ - a mix of social activity.
Today, the area is undergoing another monumental change, with the investment in building high-end commerce
and luxury living accomodation. Rent prices are soaring, and those who could once afford the rent
are being forced to find workspace elsewhere.
Flon platform longitudinal section
Flon platform transversal section
Flon inventory 1. Bridge Place de l’Europe
2. Mix image, Louis’ restaurant
3. Le ‘banane’
4. Café Luna, boutique, offices
5. L.O. Holding, La Tienda
6. Architect offices, ‘Pompes Funebres’
7. Pôle nord (social offices)
8. Maison de Stella
9. Architects, art gallery
10. Art school, gallery, sport store
25. 26. 27.
11. City administration
12. Private garages
13. Clothing stores
14. Picpus clothing
15. Atelier Volant
16. Fire station
17. Mosaik culture center
18. EJMA (Lausanne jazz school)
20. Fire station
21. Flon ville center
22. Isa Import S.A.
23. OPur restaurant, apartments
25. MAD club
26. Port Franc
27. Art gallery,
Lausanne chamber orchestra
28. Maniac clothing, offices
29. FNAC, terrace
30. Art gallery, offices
Four main stages of evolution in Flon
The stages of development in Flon saw four major steps:
1 - 1850-1896 The filling in of the valley begins; the Flon river is covered, therefore allowing the filling in of
the valley and begin construction of first permanent buildings.
2 - 1896-1912 More permanent concrete construction to replace temporary structures; train route axes are
developped as well as the major truck axis; first studies done on further development on the district “sous
3 - 1912-1937 Eastern development in Flon: buildings completed in closely studied styles; development
continues on “sous Chauderon”; second series of “barraques” or temporary structures to the west of platform.
4 - 1937-1987 Destructuration period: recent structures finding themselves in conflict with original tissue;
provisional prefabricated structures; debate starts over restructuration of Flon.
the Flon valley and its vineyards
eginning of access roads around valley
First steps: from valley to platform begin
The project to fill in the valley of Flon was such that the land was given to the society “LO Holding”, such as
we know it today, without charge under the agreement that LO Holding took over management of the filling
in of the valley and the covering of the Flon river.
This period of development of Flon saw many changes, including the funicular train line to link Lausanne
and Ouchy, the two buildings “les entrepôts”, the tribunal fédéral of Montbenon and the Hôtel Mercier.
As more permanent buildings were constructed, the employed technique was one of “beton hennebique”, as
was being seen in many parts of Switzerland at the time.
Structures of period still seen today:
Twin “entrepôt” buildings Hotel J.J. Mercier
filling in the valley
Secondary steps: beginnings of concrete construction (hesitation of style)
This period of development saw the beginnings of decisions being made as it applied to aesthetics and
techniques of construction. The applied method of construction was that of reinforced concrete as invented
by the french constructor François Hennebique - converting joints into monolithic elements. The second
debate which manifested itself in many “experimental” structures was that of a pitched roof as opposed to
a flat one. The triumph was finally found by the flat roof, which has become a building regulation in Flon
A second inspiration found constructed in Flon at this time (beginning of the 1900’s) was that of the orthogonal
grid system as one found in the city of Chicago. Such buildings named the “Chicago” buildings were
designed strictly around this grid principle.
the roof “debate” the resulting buildings Chicago (fifth ave.)
construction of the Pont Chauderon
Flon platform becomes a merchandise hub
The refinement of style: façades and the showing of ‘prestige’
The society of LO Holding shows its presence on the Flon platform with their projects of the Entrepôt, “le
Grand Pointu” (the great point), “le Petit Pointu” (the small point), and the maison de Stella.
This was a time of refinement of style for the part of Flon closest to the Grand Pont and the closest to the
city center. Many projects were presented to redevelop the district in its entirety (between the Grand Pont
and the Pont Chauderon bridges), none of which were accepted in there entirety. What was strongly in
place was the axial system of train tracks that would prove the main guiding rule for the development (or
In order to understand better what we now see happening in the Flon district of Lausanne, it is helpful to
compare its current situation with other cities and their districts, who over time, have gone through similar
(some even more evolved) series of events - leading us to identify these zones, or to see their potential as
“identity marked places.”
The three city districts compared in our study are : SoHo, Manhattan (NYC), USA
NT Areal, Basel, CH
Flon district, Lausanne, CH
Whether social, historical, or physical, these three districts compare with each other in quite similar ways
allowing us to understand how certain trends (considering of course, the different cultures) lead to phenomena
SoHo, Manhattan, NYC
Soho and highway connections
Aerial outline of district
Area: 70 ha.
Population (Manhattan): 1,5 mi.
Population (SoHo): 26,000
Living / Work ratio: 1/9
SoHo, the name itself, comes from its geographical situation which New York has called, “SOuth of HOuston
Street”. In the colonial times, this district was originally residential, eventually becoming a very elegant
place to live, attracting even larger commercial enterprises and creating a boom in urban development.
After the civil war, however, a faster pace of live moved in, leaving way to the industrial and commercial era,
full of import/export houses, trucking companies, wholesale houses, and such industrial era structures giving
it the nickname of the “Cast Iron district”.
In the mid 1900’s, the city of New York published a report declaring the area of SoHo a underutilized “comercial
wastleland”, and adopted plans to run connections to the Lower Manhattan Expressway right through
the district, which would, in effect, drive merchants and artists out of the area. This area had become up to
that time, an area popular to artists of the time due to the buildings that offered large, open spaces ideal for
studio work that were affordable to rent. Strong opposition emerged against the highway plan, and thanks
to a movement in the late 1960’s, the proposal was rejected.
The 1960’s was also a time in SoHo that, thanks to artists such as Frank Stella and Richard Serra with their
bohemian art movements, brought vitality back to SoHo. Since 1971, in fact, the city adopted a zoning resolution
allowing joint living-working quarters for aritists certified by the Department of Cultural Affairs. From
then on, it was legal to live in SoHo if one person in the household was a certified “artist”:
By 1976, another amendment increased the number of buildings that could be converted to residential use.
“Almost everyone in SoHo lives there illegally,” said Suzanne O’Keefe, executive director of the SoHo Loft
Board. In 1978, the city produced comprehensive figures, in which 92% of all loft residents were illegal tenants.
Yet, with the new housing regulation changes, and a certain “inobservance” of the law, SoHo began to become
the chic district it is known to be today.
NT Areal, Basel, CH
NT Areal and highway/train connections
Aerial outline of district
Area: 19 ha
Population (Basel): 185’600
Population (Areal): 4’592
Living / Work ratio: 4/6
NT Areal, Basel, CH
The NT Areal (or Erlenmatt), in a part of Basel which the residents call “Kleinbasel”, is an area that was
formerly used as a merchandise hub, and 10 years out of service, is now the subject of development by the
city and private investors that will take place over the next 20 years.
The real estate company, Vivico Real Esate GmbH - a part of the german federal train company - has the
task to take over the area and plan a “mixed” program neighborhood development, including 700 new apartmets.
This process is to be implemented slowly, with a first project of 240 apartments.
Until that time,the city of Basel has decided - with city planners and researchers of the area - to create a
“temporary use” and experimental zone, to retain vitality and awareness of the areal. The development
group has decided to open the field of use, including the large historical structure in the center of the areal
as a congress center on various occasions during the year.
On the grounds of the NT Areal (which stands for “non-territorial”), cultural, sport, and commercial activity
have already begun to take place, such as green ways for hikers, a dirt-bike jump for those daring, a climing
wall, a night club/bar, a Sunday marketplace, and areas left open for experimentation such as the “Karawanserei”
- in which structures are quickly built and house various activities that allow also for an unlimited
time of living arangements.
In short, the city is making use of a zone under planning as an expression of the city and its experimental
and creative abilities, a quality that is well among the Swiss and respected as part of the culture.
Flon analysis approach method
The first steps taken in approaching the Flon district was to enter and observe the current situation and to
consider its most pronounced urban characteristics. From these, four major observations were made, and
Movement, disruption, youth culture, and component mixture.
contributing positively to Flon, one can see that within the district, there exists steady streams of movement
(pedestrian and motor) in and around the area.
Three major construction sites in the Flon district could prove to be determining factors in the change or
disruption of its diverse identity.
_ Component mixture
Miroring its user group, Flon to this day, contains a mixture of built morphology adding positively to its diversity.
_ Youth culture
Despite the majority of commerce and professional activity, the youth population in Flon is strongly apparent,
in form of mainly very musically inclined young groups.
In our analysis phase, the focus was to find out what dynamics were causing the recent changes observed.
After initial observation, questions arose concerning the what, why, where, and how the Flon district was
subject to such dramatic change in the future: why such an initiative to rebuild Flon? where were all the
former tenants going? how would Flon look in the future and would this change be positive?
M1 metro line
‘Vigie’ metro station
Major bus routes
‘Flon’ metro station
‘Ouchy’ metro station
M2 metro line
Lausanne major public transport circuits
Flon as a central location
With the creation of Flon as a major link between most public transport networks in Lausanne, and the potential
success of the new N-S line of the M2 metro, the Flon district has become central to most exchange,
either transport or pedestrian.
Yet, in keeping with its tradition in the past, it is still a place of passage. This passage, in itself, also tends
to occur in the easternmost end of the Flon platform. This, in turn, leads to speculation on what is likely to
happen to the rest of the district. In the past and even up to this day, it was not the most desireable place to
install your business, economically and socially speaking. The desirability was therefore left to those who
appreciated the large open studio spaces offered by the buildings left from the era of the industrial warehouses.
Socially, the artisan “phenomenon” would become more of a concern to the economic development of
Flon and the reopening of project competitions for commercial programs, eventually raising rent prices and
proving fewer possibilities for such occupants, often living in their workplaces (of which such statistics are
difficult to analyse officially).
Today, Flon has come before a potentially great change. With three major construction sites happening
simultaneously, this change could be rapid once completed, leaving Flon as one large commercial platform.
To this, we attribute most of the where, why, and how of Flon’s changing situation. It is a huge economic
opportunity to its owners/developers. Yet, our research attempts to analyse the social consequences to
such a movement, and what we can interpret from the entire picture.
Resulting from the two initial stages of approach, certain conclusions were drawn to implement a physical
program in response to certain needs/desires of certain district users.
In addition to the three new major programs being added to Flon by its owner/developer, L.O. Holding, S.A.,
and meant to complement the objectives of this society to make Flon diverse and dynamic, a physical platform
that focuses on the needs of youth living in and visiting Lausanne seems correct.
The physical site chosen, along the southern side of the Flon area (rue Côtes de Montbenon), is a part of
the area where youth feel at ease - it supports the youth culture movement in Lausanne that should be conserved.
The placement of the project must be able to create a concentration of “force”, which legitimizes its presence
and its potential users: the subculture of Flon (those who find themselves in what we call an “undefined”
zone, just on the southernmost border of the area), and the youth of the area, concentrating themselves
under one roof, allowing more contact with one another and the city.
The site itself is surrounded on all sides by present programs that could only support and reinforce its reason
of being. To the west, the EJMA (Lausanne Jazz School) is known for its concerts and its commitment
to promoting jazz in the Lausanne area. To the east, there is a future program that will provide a climing hall
as a recreational center for all ages. Just north of the site is the central plaza, used very often by the district
for various events - varying with the time of year. On the opposite side of the plaza is the night club MAD,
which has become an icon of the district, attracting sometimes very big names in the world of music.
In the eastern end of Flon development has been rapid, due to the infrastructure that can support large
flows of people and traffic. Neglected and somehow a bit lost and hidden, is the south-western area of Flon,
which if given more direct access and a stronger relation with the city, could also develop in a way both socially
and economically profitable for the district owners L.O. Holding.
5_ Swiss Youth Embassy
Swiss Youth Embassy, Flon
Swiss Youth Embassy network
The purpose of the center itself is to serve as a platform for youth networking within Switzlerland and beyond.
In choosing Lausanne Flon as the site for the first “prototype” youth embassy for Switzerland, it would
serve as an example for other cantons to open perhaps their own unique versions of youth networking platfoms,
establishing contact within each other.
Geographically centrally located, as well as from the standpoint of infrastructure, the Flon district lends itself
as a meeting point for many different user groups, and has naturally developed its own interior “zones” of
activity, perhaps not so openly observed.
The southern most side of Flon, along the street Côtes de Montbenon, shows all the characteristics of the
“living” subculture of Flon, and has a strong connection between the youth and the city. It functions as another
entry to the area, from the “Vigie” metro station, the Eracom school and the Lausanne Jazz School, all
which deal directly with the area youth. It is within this context that we propose to situate our program of a
Regroupment study of buildings
Unused building removal
Flon river underground path
Flon building pattern, discovery of relationships
Transformation of the river path into built
Built volumetric space as design tools
for new composition
Transformation of the river path into built space
“Designing” the design method
The link that was to be bridged between the urban morphology of Flon and the design of a youth embassy
was to be found directly from the urban organization of Flon itself.
The first thing to realize was the ‘layering’ effect of Flon - as it fits within Lausanne, the Flon district has
evolved over time, slowly acquiring its layers, some not obvious to the common user. Its underground is
composed of two elements: the Flon river (now covered) and the TSOL metro line. Above this, is the platform
itself, built to almost full density, and finally, the level one could call the ‘access’ level that serves as a
link to the rest of the city.
In addition to the vertical study of Flon’s composition, its inner relationships were an integral part in developing
a design method. At first look, Flon’s buildings are extrememly dense. With closer observation and
applying a “positive/negative” analysis schema, one discovers relationships such as intimate plazas, small
interlocking alleys, and buildings that ‘converse’ to one another.
These elements came together to establish the bond between how Flon’s unique compositon could be
reinterpreted into built form. The Youth Embassy, we realized, should integrate, as does Flon, inner relationships
that occur not only betweeen its built volumes, but also the opportunities created between the people
within the building. As Flon, it should be a ‘streetscape’, providing with its program, a different experience
on each level, according to its proper density.
‘Espace Flon’: exposition space
‘Green rooms’: conferences
4,5 m2 3,5 m2
street level: ‘plaza rouge’
second floor: densité claire
‘Loft’: guest accomodations
communal services (kitchen, bath, wc)
underground level: ‘espace flon’
first floor: ‘platforme verte’
‘Espace claire’: administration/offices
roof level: ‘pentboxes’
‘Plaza rouge’: open ‘networking’
18 m2 11 m2 13 m2
The specific functions within the Youth Embassy are those which offer information and guidance, as well as
support for individual interests in the form of projects, workshops, and expositions. The building itself will
divide itself into zones that support the coexistence of these functions within one entity. In taking inspiration
from the Flon district, which functions and circulates on various levels, the building tries to establish relationships
between its inner functions and outer surroundings such as street level, underground activity, and
semi-private to private upper spaces.
The actual running of the embassy would be a collaborative effort between city administration, qualified experts
in various fields of knowledge such as social/financial services, cultural affairs, international networking,
education, and health. An active role would also be played by the youth living in Lausanne involved
in regional activity, as well as possible sponsors such as Migros Kulturprozent, local newspapers, cantonal
support, and private donors.
Since the 1980’s, the movement within Switzerland to establish a clear identity and path for its youth culture
has been difficult to realize. The main issue at hand was what ‘identity’ - not only for youth, but to create for
In our study, observation and awareness were key elements in finding what this identity could be, how it
could be defined and finally, applicated into built form. Working on various scales, we try to establish a national
network to define the overall concept, then following with the cantonal and city scales.
Realizing that each ‘region’ of Switzerland possesses its proper identity and culture, the idea of prototyping
became important. Local factors would be very important if each Youth Embassy was to represent its local
culture, therefore contributing to a national network of ‘varying’ expression.
For our specific situation, Lausanne and its Flon district seemed a correct choice to locate the Youth Embassy
- Flon, due to many factors, such as its diverse history and reputation of housing the living ‘subculture’ of
Lausanne. The building being situated in what we call an ‘undefined’ zone of Flon intends to come closer to
the youth culture that exists in Lausanne - as well as reinforcing the desire of L.O. Holding and their development
plans for Flon, to create a diverse and dynamic atmosphere in Flon.
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With special thanks to:
Prof. Harry Gugger, Prof. Martin Steinmann for their role in thesis guidance.
Kerstin Höger for branding expertise and Ralph Blättler in assistanceship.
Paul Rambert, L.O. Holding.
S.Tunakan and J.Brasse for consultation, expertise, and unending moral support.
J.A. Baltà, D. and L. Bonner, C. Möller, J. Imhof, R. and C. Santamaria, Javi, Laura, Isabel, Luisa and Carmen.