Lausanne uni slips up on Rolex centre paving

Less than three years after the Rolex Learning Center opened at Lausanne's Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), officials have been forced to replace all the building's exterior paving at a cost of 1.5 million francs ($1.6 million).

Lausanne uni slips up on Rolex centre paving
Photo: EPFL/Alain Herzog

The audacious 110-million-franc building, designed by the Japanese architect firm SANAA, features undulating concrete walls and Swiss-cheese type holes to accommodate numerous interior courtyards.

Exposed to the elements, the courtyards and connecting walkways were covered with a material consisting of gravel-type pellets and resin designed to wick away moisture.

However, the paving wore quickly from foot traffic in certain areas leaving marked depressions that became a hazard, causing some users to fall down, Le Temps newspaper revealed in a report.

EPFL decided to replace the 12,000 square metres of exterior paving with new paving stones, a process that after several months of work is almost complete, the newspaper said.

The technical university sought advice from a committee of experts to find the source of the fault.

“It’s not at the level of the contracting authority,” Francis-Luc Perret, EPFL’s vice-president of planning and logistics, told Le Temps.

As a result, the school is paying just 150,000 francs linked to extra costs for the new material.

Perret said he feared the comeuppance was a blow for a building that houses a library, study areas, restaurants and cafes, and is the campus emblem.

“But we have shown that we could react quickly,” he told Le Temps.

“From the beginning we knew that we would have to adapt to the nature of the building and that its use would pose certain problems.”

He was quick, however, to counter a rumour making the rounds on campus, that the new edifice, with its 8,000 tonnes of concrete and metal, was sinking into the ground.

The foundations of the structure are designed to settle 17 centimetres but have so far only fallen 11 centimetres, he said.

Other reported snafus with the building include difficulties regulating the temperature in the summer.

Windows cannot be opened manually because they are controlled by a computer program and users have complained of cold currents of air.

EPFL claims that operating costs of the Learning Centre are in line with other buildings — about one million francs a year.

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EXPLAINED: How will the post-lockdown tracing system work in Switzerland?

Given there is no Covid-19 vaccine at the present time, contact tracing is believed to be an effective, though complex, strategy for breaking transmission chains and controlling the spread of disease. How will it work in Switzerland?

EXPLAINED: How will the post-lockdown tracing system work in Switzerland?
Research at EPFL will help establish a tracing system. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

How does the tracking work?

The process involves identifying contaminated people, so that measures can be taken to prevent the spread of infection on to others.

It is all the more important in cases when the sick person has no symptoms and may not even know they are sick.

Once the infected person is identified, efforts are made to locate and test the people they have been in contact with within the past two weeks. If one of those contacts is found to be infected, the investigation starts again.

Trying to find chains of contamination could be a long process.

What are some of the challenges of contact tracing?

In Switzerland, as in many other countries, the challenge is to establish an effective tracking system, while respecting data protection.

Since mobile phones would be used, various technical and legal questions could arise, particularly on the collection and use of data.

In Switzerland, to process this information in the context of the pandemic, either the consent of the individual or an anonymisation of the data is required.

READ MORE: Swiss scientists launch a new app to collect Covid-19 data 

What tools will Switzerland be using for post-confinement contact tracing?

One possibility would be the tracking by GPS of mobile phones, as already implemented in a partnership between the federal government and Swisscom. This method allowed the authorities to monitor the public to see if they complied with the restrictions related to going out and traveling during the Easter holidays. 

But the government is now supporting a brand new project at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and its sister institution, Zurich’s Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETHZ).

Both are working on the so-called D3-PT project, a free downloadable application for mobile phones, which will run on Google’s Android operating system and on Apple’s iOS.

Its goal, according to Edouard Bugnion, professor of computer science at EPFL, is to “break the chain of virus transmission” by identifying new cases and isolating them. If a person is found positive for coronavirus, all the people he has encountered in the previous days will be alerted, so that they can go into quarantine and be tested. 

No exact details or launch date have been released yet, but the Federal Council thinks the D3-PT tracing would work well in Switzerland.

Will this system guarantee privacy?

Until very recently, the two institutions participated in the European research project Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, bringing together 130 organisations from eight countries.

But EPFL and ETHZ distanced themselves from this project after realising that user data would not be protected, and went on launch the D3-PT system which, they said, would be more “decentralised and transparent”.