Studio Banana was honoured to design the bookstore at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) – ranked among the top 20 universities in the world – in Lausanne.
Our team used this opportunity to explore two challenges. Firstly, how to reinvent the bookstore experience in the age of digital media. And secondly, how to design a unique environment that would stand apart from the emblematic Rolex Learning Center building (designed by SANAA) while respecting its original look and spirit.
We created an environment that focuses on the reader’s experience while also optimising the layout to boost sales. It features five structures, which we call “pods”, that align aesthetically with the building and provide a warm and cosy feel. This exhaustive attention to detail was key to building an out-of-the-ordinary shopping experience for booklovers.
A world leader in educational innovation
We jumped at the chance to work with Librairie La Fontaine at EPFL, widely recognised as one of the world’s most prestigious science and technology universities and a leader in research and educational innovation.
In recent years, EPFL have undergone a profound transformation, driven by an initiative to prioritise the learning experience over the typical restrictions of academic teaching. We were excited to work this new way of thinking into our design.
The challenge of fitting inside the Rolex Learning Center
The bookstore is part of the Rolex Learning Center, EPFL’s educational laboratory. The space was conceived as the epicentre of student life, complete with library, social areas, private spaces for studying, restaurants and leisure activities.
The centre was designed by SANAA, a prestigious Japanese architecture firm that manifested EPFL’s innovative vision of public service in the iconic building.
Ideation & Design
A bookstore with the warmth and comfort of a library
Our concept would not only need to blend into the beautiful architecture of the Rolex Learning Center, but also feel like a unique part of EPFL’s experimental spirit. We decided to focus on the experience of discovering new books and embracing the emotional connection therein, thus turning the traditional notion of the bookstore on its head.
After careful consideration, we concluded that our design must go beyond the commercial convention that dictates bookstores should display as much stock as possible to drive sales. Instead, we decided to concentrate our efforts on delivering an optimal and welcoming reader experience, akin to a library, to boost profits through enhanced customer satisfaction.
Going against the grain with an innovative layout
Our reader-centric strategy led us to shun the typical linear shelving units. Instead, we designed five pods (a hybrid of architecture and furniture) to create an aesthetic in line with the overall feel of the building, while adding an extra touch of warmth.
While designed to express their own individual style, the pods follow the same essential amoeboid structure: a concave inner environment offering the reader intimacy and cosiness, with a convex outer shape allowing for exploration and movement. The structures were made exclusively of birch plywood to evoke warmth and familiarity.
Each one serves a different purpose. Three pods display books and magazines, while another is home to the checkout. The final pod is just for the customer: a comfortable space upholstered in white leather that serves as a reading nook where relaxation and seclusion come first.
The design takes shape: blending technology with traditional materials
Since books are typically stocked on straight shelves, building a curved display unit was going to be a challenge. To overcome it, we used steamed birch plywood to create the rounded look, collaborating with NOR Architects and RS Agencement Steiner on technical solutions. This involved geometrical optimisation using computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD-CAM) as well as computer numerical control (CNC) routers.
We came up with a system of illumination that would be invisible to the user. Since we could not alter the existing infrastructure of the building, the pods emit indirect light that reflects down from the ceiling. We also installed lighting in every pod that provided varying levels of warmth.
Going the extra mile to paint a unique picture
Our team went above and beyond to make the pods feel as magical a reading experience as possible.
The bespoke display design ushers in a new way to showcase books, magazines and stationery. All furniture in the bookstore was made to measure from the tables, seats, lecterns and notice boards right down to the waste paper baskets and plant pots.
A novel reader experience for an outstanding learning centre
This project epitomises Studio Banana’s bespoke design approach. Every last detail was nurtured meticulously to bring readers the most innovative reading experience, drive sales and meet the level of prestige both the Rolex Learning Center and EPFL are known for.