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New consulate aims to reflect more open Switzerland

The Swiss House aims to forge better links between Swiss scientists and their American counterparts

The Swiss House in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the first high-tech consulate devoted solely to science, research and business. Its rather plain exterior belies the fact that the interior boasts the very latest in modern design.

From the outside, the Swiss House is a plain one-storey building. But walk through its front doors and you are confronted with an open-plan, loft-style layout with wooden floors and glass walls. One side of the room is taken up by a “digital wall” and a “knowledge café” helps visitors relax.

“It’s important that if we are encouraging innovation, this place should be innovative too,” says Xavier Comtesse, the Swiss consul in Boston. “If you look around, you see lots of little surprises.

“Every detail has been carefully thought through,” he told swissinfo. “This consulate is an ideas factory.”

The Swiss House was created by Boston-based Swiss architects, Muriel Waldvogel, who designed the physical architecture, and her husband, Jeffrey Huang, who took care of the links to the virtual world.

“We thought of Swiss diplomacy as being something very open and visible. So that’s why the whole building is full of glass,” says Waldvogel.

“This house is giving a new vision of Switzerland and that can be achieved through architecture,” she told swissinfo. Waldvogel says their task was to create a platform that was not only physical, but also virtual.

At the far end of the room is the Arena, a rectangular area with cushions scattered on wooden seats. It is designed as a place for meetings and gatherings – both formal and informal.

Activities taking place in the Arena are transmitted in real time on to the Swiss House website. Next to each seat in the Arena are power points and connections to the Internet.

The innovation extends to the techniques used. The glass walls are not held in place by frames. One of these glass walls is the Digital Wall, which is coated with a special film to allow it to be used for computer projections.

“It’s like a digital whiteboard. It can be broadcast directly over the Internet, so you can brainstorm with people all over the world,” Huang told swissinfo.

The tables in Knowledge Café will have built in-internet terminals, so that information is always at one’s fingertips.

“The idea behind the Knowledge Café was to have a place where people can brainstorm in a less formal setting,” says Huang. “We wanted to create a place where people could get together, have a coffee and a croissant and at the same time jot down ideas.”

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR