My Daily Journey to EPFL

Personally, I find slideshows a little boring, but my friend Eran Guendelman really wanted to see some photos of EPFL, so I've made a little web page describing my daily walk across the EPFL campus to my office. I took these pictures during one of the rare sunny days at EPFL, and put together many of the panoramic shots using a combination of autostitch and the Hugin toolchain (for when I really botched the photography).

EPFL is located in Ecublens, which is a suburb of the city of Lausanne. Ecublens is an unusual mix of farms, houses, apartment blocks, and shopping centers. Below is a view of a farm, a school, and some houses in Ecublens

Most typical journeys to EPFL start at the EPFL metro station. Unlike North American universities, there aren't any official university residences. Instead, most students simply live in city and commute to the university.

One interesting thing about the Lausanne metro system is that it is actually single-tracked, but trains are run in both directions. In order to get this to work, some stations are double-tracked, and the trains are able to pass each other at those stations. Really, only the Swiss would have the sheer audacity and absolute confidence in their scheduling abilities to design a system like that. The system actually works really well too! Of course, the trade-off is that the train drivers go absolutely ape-shit if you hold the door open for someone arriving at the station late. Any small delay could cause a driver to miss their schedule, throwing the perfect synchronization of the metro system into turmoil.

Well, in any case, once you leave the EPFL metro station, you have to walk up these stairs. The ground-level of EPFL is actually dedicated to a vast underground parking lot. The pedestrian areas are actually on the second floor (or first floor if you're French who count their floors using base-0 as you may or may not recall from French class).

Once you pop up from the stairs, you arrive at this sort of corridor between buildings.

It actually looks nicer if you scoot over to the left underneath the building overhang because you get some nice shadows and stuff.

As you march forward a bit, you eventually arrive at this nice courtyard in the middle of the architecture, biology, and nanotechnology buildings. The architecture building seems somewhat conventional looking, but it's actually really nice inside. And the building seems to have been designed to control the "flow" of people so that it always seems very alive (either that, or architects are more lively than other technical students, which could also be true).

Anyway, as you continue forward some more, you arrive at yet another courtyard. If you look on the left, you'll see various skateboarders. The Lausannois are big fans of skateboards, scooters, bikes, rollerblades, and other such things. Since the city is very hilly, it's occasionally dangerous when kids come zooming around at outrageous speeds. Oddly enough, visitors to the city will also notice that the Lausannois are also big fans of walking around with crutches and in casts.

If you go over to where the skateboarders are, you get a decent view of Lake Geneva and the snow-peaked mountains on the other side (sorry about the wires in the shot; I tried taking the picture from different angles, but then trees end up blocking the view of the lake).

As you can see on this map, EPFL is shaped like a big L. The orange buildings along the east-west portion of the L are a giant mass of concrete typical of institutional buildings from the 60s and 70s. The green buildings along the diagonal section are more modern.

Since the computer science buildings are at the end of the diagonal section, I won't bother showing the buildings from the east-west portion of the L. I think the buildings from the east-west portion are of the brutalist architectural style. It's hard to tell since the pedestrian areas are on top of the buildings, meaning that it's hard to get a good idea of what the buildings actually look like. I base my conclusions on the fact that there's a lot of concrete, but I admit that there's also lots of trim. In any case, unlike the MC building from the University of Waterloo, the buildings don't feel drab or imposing. Some of buildings also have some interesting angles to them, like the following:

So, in order to head to the computer science buildings, you need to go down the diagonal. As you can see, the pedestrian areas have a nice covered walkway. You may notice the white sculpture on the right. I think the sculpture is supposed to have a specific orientation. I once saw some administrative staff rotating it around so that it would face the right way. Personally, i'm clueless.

Here we are marching a little bit further down the diagonal part of the L. Apparently, if you're really knowledgeable, you can navigate through the buildings along the L without going outside because many of the buildings are connected at the ground floor (as you recall, this is actually the second floor).

The fact that the buildings are connected is actually less useful than it sounds because during the nights and weekends, all of the buildings and the doors between buildings are locked. You have to swipe your student card at one of these swipe stations to get in, but you usually only have permission to open a very limited set of doors (plus, the machines don't really work all that well, so even if you do have permission to open a door, there's a good chance that you'd be rejected anyways).

Anyway, at the end of the diagonal part of the L, you arrive at the computer science buildings.

The computer science faculty is composed of five older buildings arranged in a star-topology...

...and a newer building that was just finished in 2004.

My office is actually in the newest building. To get there, you need to walk through the old building.

Then you transition into the newest building.

You walk past this unusual furniture.

And into this central section of the building.

The central area is a five story open area that allows natural light to shine into the offices in the center of the building. Unfortunately, there's a cafeteria on the top floor and classrooms on the bottom, so this design also allows noise to escape into all the offices and hallways. Having come from cubicle-world, I don't actually notice the noise (well, except for the various door alarms that remind people to close the doors of computer labs if they leave them open for too long), but apparently some people find it disturbing if they leave their office doors open.

Anyways, a bit further down is a corridor. You may notice the various flat panel displays in many of the shots. They are information displays that tell people about room bookings and such. I find it a little extravagant, but since the construction costs of the building ended up being lower than expected, maybe they decided to splurge on the extras.

And here is my office that I share with my officemate Steve Dropsho. As you can see, the blinds are down. I think the building is one of those modern eco-friendly self-maintaining buildings. As such, the building occasionally decides to deploy the blinds automatically to keep the evening sun from glaring into the offices. There are also windows between offices, which is a little weird. I think those windows allow offices to share natural light with each other, but it's a little annoying because sometimes the sun shines in from a neighbour's office and gets in your eyes. And if your neighbour is out, you can't get into there to close their blinds.

The offices along my side of the building also have these little doors (look at the right of the photo).

There's apparently a second wall along my side of the building. I attended an architecture talk at Waterloo once where they described the numerous efficiency benefits of having double walls on buildings. I've forgotten what the reasoning for such a design is, but he upshot is that you can walk out in-between the walls. Of course, the double wall is probably also the reason that I get zero cellphone reception from my office, alas.

And that's my daily journey across EPFL to my office. It's quite a nice walk actually. I hope you enjoyed it.