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Will the Monolith stay or go?

French architect, Jean Nouvel, designed the Monolith for the Lake Murten Expo site


The architect behind the Monolith - a giant cube-like structure created for Switzerland's national exhibition - has joined in a debate about its future.

The Monolith, a giant, rusty cube built at the Expo site on Lake Murten, was supposed to be dismantled at the end of the exhibition on October 20.

But the celebrated French architect, Jean Nouvel, recently visited his creation to voice his opinion on whether the cube should stay afloat beyond the lifespan of the exhibition.

Nouvel told reporters gathered in the lakeside town of Murten that he would not add his name to a petition which supporters hope will extend the cube's life by another five years. "That would be immodest on my part," he commented.

The architect oversaw the design of the Murten Expo site, but refuses to take a position on the future of the Monolith.

"I think that if part of the exhibition should be conserved," Nouvel told swissinfo, "then it should be decided through democratic and political channels."

Deiss leads campaign

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is leading the campaign to preserve the Monolith, while Murten site director, Hans Flückiger, says he would welcome such a move as long as it was the will of the people.

"Certainly it'll be a great pleasure if we receive positive signals that a part of the population would like to keep what we've worked on and constructed," Flückiger told swissinfo.

"For us, though, it's very important to hear a united call for the Monolith to be preserved," he added.

Nouvel says the question of the cube's future is a pertinent one, given that the Expo site's theme is "Instant and Eternity".

"It's logical to ask whether we need to keep the Monolith, because as a piece of art, it's very symbolic of eternity."

Past and present

The rust of the cube's steel exterior is supposed to symbolise the passing of time, while the sheer size of the structure reflects the fact that the past cannot be overlooked.

Inside the Monolith, two exhibitions bring together Switzerland's past and present.

Images of a modern Switzerland - complete with flying chalets and extreme close-ups of naked bodies - are flashed on a giant, circular screen on the first floor of the cube interior. On the top floor, visitors are invited to view the 19th century panorama painting of the medieval Battle of Murten by artist Louis Braun.

"It's a structure that encompasses an important part of Switzerland's can be considered a kind of monument to Murten," Nouvel said.

Test of time

The ultimate test of the Monolith's longevity will be whether its owners put forward the funds to keep it afloat. Flückiger says the cost is presently being calculated and a report will be presented at the end of the month.

Expo organisers could take their cue from another famous piece of architecture to survive the passing of time: the Eiffel Tower. Today it stands proud in the French capital, Paris, more than a century after its construction for a national exhibition in 1889.

However, Nouvel says Expo organisers will have to consider ways of adapting the structure of the Monolith if it is to remain on Lake Murten beyond Expo.02.

"It's not a structure built to last a very long time - such as a decade or even a century - so if the decision is taken to keep the structure, some modifications will have to be made."

by Samantha Tonkin

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