Sunday, 21 September 2008

JEAN TSCHUMI (1904-1962), AN ARCHITECT WHO CONTINUES TO DEFY TIME


Jean Tschumi, 1960 © Acm-EPFL


Jean Tschumi with his son, Bernard, 1946 © Bernard Tschumi Architects


Tschumi, La Vaudoise, Lausanne, circa 1957 - © ACM-EPFL

JEAN TSCHUMI (1904-1962), AN ARCHITECT WHO CONTINUES TO DEFY TIME

The name Tschumi is no doubt familiar to those who work at the headquarters of Nestlé in Vevey, of Debiopharm in Lausanne, or at the World Health Organization in Geneva. The timeless elegance of these buildings testifies to the genius of a Swiss architect who stood outside the conventions of the post-war era. Now, a lovingly composed retrospective at Archizoom, an exhibition and conference space at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, retraces his too-brief career.


Tschumi, Nestlé Headquarters, Vevey

Great architecture stands the test of time. So when Bernard Tschumi was recently congratulated by the current owners of the former André building in Lausanne for such a wonderful design, he had a reason to smile: it was his father, not he, who in 1959 designed the futuristic structure that now serves as the headquarters for Debiopharm. Even today, it is difficult to believe that the perfect triangle seven stories tall, pointing towards the lake and delicately framed by regal cedars, is half a century old.


Tschumi, André & Cie, 1960 - siavd

On the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition dedicated to Jean Tschumi on 18 September, his son, Bernard Tschumi, a world renowned architect is his own right, spoke tellingly of how his father never entered into the confrontational dialectics of architectural schools. While Modernism was attempting to tear the teaching of architecture out of the Beaux Arts, and when Post-Modernism was pitted against Constructivism, Jean Tschumi, travelling between Paris and Lausanne, quietly explored the potential of the new construction materials.

It is precisely Jean Tschumi’s capacity to allow materials to speak for themselves that explains what Bernard qualifies as the sensuality of his buildings. The designs are not capricious, ostentatious or exuberant. Instead, Tschumi worked closely with the site constructors to create outlines that reflected and enhanced the landscape. Who has not marveled at the lake-transparency of Tschumi halls rendered possible by girders of phenomenal strength? Corporate functionalism meets Kundera’s Lightness of Being…

Tschumi’s work is “mass that takes to the sky,” said Inès Lamunière, new director of EPFL’s architecture department. The department is a descendant of one founded by Tschumi when architecture was still attached to Lausanne University. He taught at a time when architecture was not yet held hostage to a public enquiry process that leads to endless compromises. The simple beauty of his designs reminds us of what can be accomplished when architecture is allowed to be bold.

The exhibition "Jean Tschumi Architecture Full Scale" makes us discover a great polymath whose breadth of talent and interests spanned many areas and skills, something that his son believes was possible when the practice of architecture was “simpler”. It includes feather-light pencilings by an artist who designed furniture and the interiors of the famous ocean liner, the Normandie, at the same time as he developed grand plans of urbanism for Lausanne.


Nestlé, Vevey - Photographie Eric Ed. Guignard, 1960 © Acm-EPFL

In 1962, just short of his 58th birthday, Tschumi’s heart stopped on a night train between Paris and the Swiss frontier. And yet, through his buildings, he continues to defy time. Bernard Tschumi, whose own Flon Transit Centre will be put into operation in October when the M2 metro starts running at long last in Lausanne, or his New Acropolis Museum is finally inaugurated in Athens in February 2009, offers a father a great tribute. He has become the guardian of Jean Tschumi’s sensual intemporatlity.

The Exhibition "Jean Tschumi Architecture Full Scale" is curated by Jacques Gubler and the Archives de la construction moderne, EPFL

18 September - 24 October 2008
Monday to Friday 9am - 6pm,
Saturday 10am - 5pm

TWO IMPORTANT UPCOMING EVENTS


Tschumi, La Vaudoise, Lausanne © La Vaudoise

27 September during La Nuit des Musées
15:30 - a free bicycle tour organized by Lausanne Architectures will begin at LausanneRoule, Place de L'Europe
16:30 - a guided tour of two Tschumi landmarks that starts at La Vaudoise Assurances, Av. de Cour 41, followed by the university auditorium next door.

2 October at Archizoom

In order to keep the Tschumi buildings in synch with the technological demands of the 22nd Century, they have undergone extensive internal refurbishing. During a conference at Archizoom on 2 October at 18:00, Richter & Dahl Rocha from Lausanne will present their restauration of the famous Nestlé building in Vevey and Devanthéry & Lamunière from Geneva will talk of their renovation of the superb Lausanne University Auditorium.

Images '08 - Written 08.09.08


© Reiner Riedler, Artificial Holidays, 2007


© Julia Fullerton-Batten, Teenage Stories, 2005


© Guillaume Reymond, Transformers, 26.08.08


© Peter Garfield, Mobile Home 1994

Images are to Vevey, what jazz is to Montreux and classical music is to Lucerne. Kicking off on 11 September, Images '08 will again celebrate Vevey’s pivotal role in photography and the visual arts. But when in Vevey, you won’t need to go to this year’s biennale, it will come to you. The entire city landscape will be spiked with dreamy images and inspiring events in an art free-for-all that takes place over 20 days until 30 September.

Branded “City of Images”, Vevey is home to a photography school and a camera museum, as well as the Swiss National Centre of Drawings - which now extends to cartoons and comic strips - at the Jenisch Museum. To anchor its reputation in this field, Vevey launched the Images festival in 1995, but recent editions attracted mainly the cognescenti. Now, Stefano Stoll, the city’s cultural delegate and festival director, wants “art to be at the heart of everyday life” and to come to us. He has chosen a theme for this year’s edition that is clearly designed to put us in(side) the picture. A play on the word “Scale”- as in models, in life, in relationships and in movement - is the driving idea behind the festival.

A teaser took place on 26th August, when Guillaume Reymond of You Tube fame – his Tetris has now been viewed over 12 million times since it won the 2007 You Tube Creativity Awards – engineered a monumental Spielberg look-alike Transformer on Vevey’s main square. Seen at ground level, the fleet of the commune’s utility vehicles looked like they were lining up for a crooked parade. But as filmed from a zeppelin above, the orchestration suddenly made visual sense as a Transformer emerged from the frozen motorcade.

The festival takes place all over Vevey, with several happenings programmed on the first weekend. The exhibitions, inside and outdoors, last for the duration of the festival.

The outdoor exhibitions, dotted around the city, present large-scaled images by more than 20 photographers, some of world fame.

Julia Fullerton-Batten’s silent teenage girls in gleaming undersized decors still adorn the Teen City poster for the current (and unrelated) exhibition at the Elysée Museum in Lausanne. The British artist is raking in international prizes for her exquisite and telling compositions.

Reiner Riedler’s Artificial Holidays has Superman flying past the Kremlin and an indoor skiing hall in Dubai. Defeating gravity, Denis Darzacq’s Icaruses tend to fall sideways or upwards, whereas Vincent Fournier‘s astronaut appears to be inconveniently glued to flock wallpaper. There is an element of pathos and comicality in all these pictures.

The same cannot be said of two major American artists whose works are prominently featured. Chris Jordan, a lawyer by trade, transforms the horrors of mass consumption into patterns of obsessive beauty. His spent bullet casings and discarded mobile phones, in Jackson-Pollock-like scatterings, will be visible at the Vevey train station, but take a look on his web site at the worrying constellations of Barbies and serpents of disposable plastic cups.

In an ominous foretelling to the subprime crisis, Peter Garfield’s flying mobile homes, about to crash and disintegrate, appear in monumental form on the side of a silo in Vevey that will soon also disappear. In addition, a solo exhibition is fittingly, and humorously, housed under the Medeival gables of the Musée Historique de Vevey.

Gilbert Garcin at the Galerie Clément is another must. A Magritte-like figure stands in dull poses in enigmatic matchbox environments that look like they will shatter at the slightest move. Garcin is an 80 year-old former lampshade factory director whose retirement has become a shop floor for creativity.

Images ’08 naturally includes a film program at the Rex Cinema that is celebrating its 75th birthday. With a tribute to funny films, including by Vevey’s most famous former inhabitant, as well as pictures that feature photographers as their heroes, the shows at the Rex will be the only part of the festival with an entrance fee (CHF 10).

Last but not least, international contests crown the laureates of the European Grand Prix of First Films , as well as the Vevey International Grand Prix of Photography.

Stoll is a proponent of creative art and intelligent patronage. He belongs to a rare breed of cultural managers who not only speaks, but acts. He recently caused a stir by responding indignantly to declarations of negative fatalism proffered by the Director of Pro Helvetia, the equivalent of the Arts Council. The ensuing cultural debate seems to have sent the wheels into gear, especially at federal level.

The urban branding of Vevey as “A city of images” preceded him, but Stoll has given it greater relevance, including by positioning Vevey as a film location paradise. This year’s edition of Images ’08 is meant to seduce and will no doubt prove that art can be popular, unpretentious, fun and enlightening.