A Tree Grows in . . . Switzerland
Young designers bring new life to a onetime warehouse district in Lausanne
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 3/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
A 30-ton tree wants your attention. Hidden in a courtyard in the Flon district of Lausanne, Switzerland, L'Arbre de Flonville spreads its “roots” down side streets for more than 50 yards to entice passersby. These roots are actually benches, made from white-painted sheet steel folded seamlessly into various angular shapes. At night, the glow from color-changing LEDs installed on the underside of each seat only increases the intrigue.
This shade-giving and play-making permanent installation is the first large artwork commissioned as part of real-estate developer LO Holding Lausanne-Ouchy's massive effort to transform the Flon from a warehouse district into a multiuse, 24-hour neighborhood. Before venturing into public art, the company held a competition for street furniture, and CEO Paul Rambert, a former architect, invited his son, Olivier—the founding designer of Oloom—to submit an entry for a public toilet. The younger Rambert then became involved in the overall planning process, which is how he learned of a proposal to plant a relatively uninteresting garden in a courtyard sur-rounded by the Flon's new mu-nicipal administration building and two mixed-use structures. He and his Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication friend Samuel Wilkinson, who has his own namesake firm, suggested L'Arbre.
Aside from aesthetic value, the tree is pragmatic. Living root systems, unlike the root-shape benches, would have collided with the Flon's underground shopping mall. Instead, steel members bolt into the courtyard's pavement in four locations to support the trunk of L'Arbre. Both the trunk and the branches are painted sheet steel welded around a sturdier tubular-steel skeleton. For leaves, the designers substituted a larch-wood canopy. Spreading around the tree is a 4-foot-high stack of red rubber matting that angles down to street level on all four sides. The squishiness of the rubber prevents skateboarders' antics but encourages lounging.
Already, the tree is bearing fruit. Rambert and Wilkinson are refashioning the bench-roots as indoor-outdoor furniture for the Swiss manufacturer Hors-Séries.