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Lausanne design school stamps its mark

Francis Chabloz's winning design for a new drinks can.

A string of international awards is putting the Lausanne Cantonal Art School firmly on the map of the design world.

The institution has become one of the best addresses in the business in the space of ten years, and students have to fight for a place to study there.

The art school and its students are now rarely out of the spotlight. Two of its visual communications students took top honours in July at Britain’s Design and Art Direction “Student Awards”.

Out of 2,500 objects in the competition, the jury selected a piece of work by Francis Chabloz as one of their favourites. It featured a can for alcopops in the form of an upturned bottle.

Two other students took first prize in Tokyo in the NHK chain’s Digital Stadium competition with their project called “Commotion”.

This features an installation of cars on a miniature circuit that are controlled by voice. If a car slips off the track, the helmet of the person controlling the car starts to shake.

Swiss “Nobel” for design

The list of prizes that have been won over the years is long. At the end of last year a former Lausanne student won the coveted Loewy Foundation prize, viewed at the Swiss “Nobel” for design.

It was a further sign of Lausanne’s growing dominance over other Swiss schools, such as Zurich, Lucerne and Aargau, in a competition described by the organisers as “clearly positioning the country’s schools, which are carrying out an increasingly fierce battle”.

Design journalist Meret Ernst at the Swiss-German “Hochparterre” monthly magazine believes that the Lausanne school is increasing the pressure on the others.

“Lausanne is really strong,” she said.

“The level of education has clearly improved in Switzerland thanks to the reform of the specialised schools. It was understood that standards had to be raised to make the grade at an international level,” she added.

Shrewd students

And the system is working. “Wallpaper”, the British design magazine, wrote last month that Lausanne was “becoming the choice destination for shrewd [design] students”.

The school has doubled its intake in ten years, with 310 students enrolled for the forthcoming academic year. It is now turning down hundreds of applications from all corners of the globe.

To make his school stand out, Pierre Keller, the director of the past ten years, started by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the competition, both in France and northern Europe.

The school has since increased the number of competitions it enters and international fairs it attends to widen its growing reputation.

This autumn, it will be in San Francisco, Santa Monica and Rome for exhibitions, workshops and conferences.

Good support

Keller has also succeeded in building up good support around him and establishing ties with rising French designer Ronan Bouroullec, but also with other institutions (Helsinki and Eindhoven schools), as well as the Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne.

“To make a good school, you need good teachers and good students,” argues Keller.

“It’s also important to have communication, a network, availability, skills, ideas, the ability to take risks and the right to make mistakes. That’s one right I want.”

The school, which has been particularly effective with its industrial and product design, has been selecting innovative projects to cooperate with well-known designers and producers, such as Boffi, B&B Italia, Serralunga, Caran d’Ache and Team By Wellis.

Currently located at two sites in Lausanne – something Keller is fighting to change – the school does have its critics. Some argue that it is simply educating the future unemployed.

“Those people who don’t want to find a job won’t find one,” answers Keller. “The small local designers should pull their fingers out, go and look elsewhere, learn and move.”

Ronan Bourroulec in Wallpaper has also been having a go at the moaners. The Frenchman feels that “in five years’ time, Switzerland could have the best generation of designers of all time.”

Journalist Meret Ernst concedes that this is not impossible. “But you have to be very careful. That will depend on the people themselves and also on fashion, which is essential when it comes to design.”

swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson

The Lausanne Cantonal Art School will have 310 students this autumn.
Its annual budget is around SFr10 million ($7.83 million).
The school will take part in the Comptoir Suisse fair in Lausanne from September 17–26.

In cooperation with the Eindhoven Design Academy, the Lausanne Cantonal Art School is preparing to set up a design academy in South Korea. It is due to open in 2007.

The main international competitors of the Lausanne school are the Eindhoven Design School, the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit, the Ateliers in Paris and the Royal College of Art in London.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR