The “Bernoulli Center at Bassenges” project

Key messages

▪️ EPFL plans to restore the buildings of the Bassenges site while respecting their heritage status.

▪️ The farmland will retain its status and will continue to be operated with a view to enhancing biodiversity.

▪️ The plans for the Bernoulli Center do not involve covering any surfaces with concrete, or constructing new buildings.

▪️ The farming model and its CHF 1 / year lease will need to be reviewed.

Our core missions at EPFL are education, research and technology transfer, as set forth in the Swiss Act on the Federal Institutes of Technology. This Act also requires us to maintain close ties with the general public.

We’re pleased to see how successful our School has been over the years, but this has come with a clear drawback: our campuses are saturated and we need more space for holding classes, seminars, public speaker events and other activities. For the first time in EPFL’s history, we had to initiate a consultation on a sort of numerus clausus to stem the growth in our student body.   

Our School needs more space for carrying out its core missions. The buildings at the Bassenges site, adjacent to our main Lausanne campus, are currently being used for a purpose that isn’t tied to one of those missions. The buildings are being leased at a symbolic fee of one franc per year to a farming cooperative that’s operating the site’s 7.3 hectares of farmland, which belong to EPFL and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) (see below).

Bassenges farm interior courtyard - 2020 EPFL/Alain Herzog - CC-BY-SA 4.0

Bassenges farm interior courtyard – 2020 EPFL/Alain Herzog – CC-BY-SA 4.0

The buildings are listed as a Vaud Canton heritage site and need major renovation work. We want to use this opportunity to restore these buildings and turn them into new facilities for the Bernoulli Center, thus creating a hub for fundamental-science research with an international impact.

The Bernoulli Center

Une salle de cours et de réunion. Au fond, un tableau noir occupant tout le mur. Sur la gauche, le logo du Bernouilli Center en surimpression d'unne vue sur le Léman © DR

The Bernoulli Center was founded as a forum for leading fundamental-science researchers to pool their efforts and share their discoveries, helping to disseminate knowledge across Switzerland and beyond. The Center draws in part on the reputation of its professors, including Maryna Viazovska and Martin Hairer – both winners of the Fields Medal (the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, but in mathematics).

These types of centers have given rise to a number of major intellectual breakthroughs in the 20th and 21st centuries. For instance, Albert Einstein developed his theory of general relativity at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton – the theory that makes GPS possible – and Claude Shannon invented the basics of encryption, the technology that lets us bank online securely, at Bell Labs.

A site better suited to the Center’s needs

Today the Bernoulli Center is operating out of temporary offices and doesn’t have a place where it can deploy its full potential. The Center would like to hold more activities for primary- and secondary-school students, for example, but can’t because of a lack of space.

That’s why, over the past three years, EPFL has been reviewing various options to give the Center the kind of facilities it needs.

Of these options, the most suitable one is to repurpose the Bassenges site, which currently has the following buildings:

  • An old manor house (Château de Bassenges) with approx. 530 m2 of total floor space
  • A winemaking building (approx. 330 m2)
  • A “square house” (approx. 515 m2  with annexes)
  • A large farm building with room for up to 630 m2 of floor space

These buildings, located very near each other, belong to the Swiss federal government and are listed as a Vaud Canton heritage site (class 2). Given their historical value, the renovation work will consist of remodeling the interior without fundamentally compromising their outside appearance.

The plans are to build a world-class complex with classrooms, meeting rooms, research labs, and workspaces for visiting scientists. It will also include areas for holding research seminars and workshops, and for running programs for EPFL students. The new site could host EPFL’s Euler Course and Turing Course, for instance, as well as science outreach events for the general public. 

What’s in store for the farmland

Bassenges farm exterior - 2020 EPFL/Alain Herzog - CC-BY-SA 4.0

Bassenges farm exterior – 2020 EPFL/Alain Herzog – CC-BY-SA 4.0

These plans will require relocating EPFL’s Energy Center, currently housed in the Château de Bassenges, and terminating the farming cooperative’s lease when it expires on 31 January 2026. The cooperative, called Collectif Cambium, won a request for proposals issued jointly by EPFL and UNIL in 2019 to operate the 7.3 hectares of farmland spread across several sections of the adjoining campuses.

In its proposal, the cooperative outlined a micro-agroforestry concept that includes various types of crops along with animal breeding. It began to implement its concept in early 2020. Today the farm produces vegetables, grains and cheese that are sold through produce baskets, an on-site market and a local distribution network. It pays the symbolic fee of one franc per year for the use of the farmland and buildings. The cooperative was informed of EPFL’s plans for the buildings in July 2023.

The EPFL and UNIL farmland will continue to be operated under specifications that may be updated if needed. The crops grown by the cooperative – sometimes with the help of the local community – will be preserved and integrated into the new use of the site. 

The next step for EPFL will be to hold talks with municipal and cantonal governments about its plans and to develop an architectural design. The timing for the final decision will coincide with the deadline for terminating the cooperative’s lease, which is 31 January 2025.

Key figures

75'000 m2

Pictogram representing the surface area of a plot of land

overall area of the EPFL and UNIL farmland

5

Pictogram of a building, with a tree on the left

constructions from the 18th century – among which a manor, a vineyard house, a square house and a farm building

10 MCHF

Pictogram of a gear with a financial symbol in the center

the amount needed to restore the buildings