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La Tulipe (The Tulip), Centre for Medical Research, Geneva 1975-1976,© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on

La Tulipe

Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

The crystal that fell to earth

Hand on heart: when was the last time you lingered in front of a brutalist lab building for the sheer pleasure of it? Wedged between the Geneva Children’s Hospital and a micro forest, the Centre for Medical Research is shaped like a tulip. But it could just as easily be read as a crystalline organism ejected from an icy galaxy or a Soviet souvenir from the Cold War. 12 slender branches and a filigree golden lattice grow from the massive, fractal concrete trunk, framing a shimmering, candyfloss-tinted glass cube. Watching the pastel shades of pink, blue and yellow softly dissolve in the haze of the summer afternoon sun is a sight to behold.

Even the futuristic, golden lift entrance at the foot of the concrete trunk shines as brightly as the promise of scientific progress – but could also pass for a Bond set designed by Ken Adam. The crystal that fell to earth is also light years away from the ascetic rigour and straight masculinity that dominates the cosmos of Swiss concrete architecture. This 1970s flower bomb proudly and unapologetically embraces both its hard and its soft and fragile sides. If buildings had a gender, La Tulipe would say that those who dance away the norms have more fun. However you read it, this rough diamond remains radically different. In Switzerland and elsewhere.

Although La Tulipe easily steals the show from the surrounding anonymous hospital buildings, it is somewhat tucked away behind a car park and a tall hedge. It is easy to miss if you don’t look closely.
The Tulip reflects the cosmopolitan profile of its designer, Jack Vicajee Bertoli. Born in Mumbai, the urban planner and architect started out as an assistant to luminaries such as Breuer and Saarinen, and went on to work with Le Corbusier on the planning of Chandigarh in India. With his own practice based in Geneva, he has completed projects in India, France, Italy, the USA, the Caribbean and Africa.
La Tulipe (The Tulip), Centre for Medical Research, Geneva 1975-1976,© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Flamatt II, Atelier 5, Wünnewil-Flamatt, Canton of Fribourg 1961. A Swiss pioneer of brutalist architecture © Karin Bürki. Explore more on
Triemli-Tower, Triemli-Turm, Esther + Rudolf Guyer, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on
Three Loops, Betonschleife, Ralph Bänziger, Zurich 1977, Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on
Franziskushaus, abandoned former retreat house, conference centre and student campus, Otto Glaus, 1969, Swiss brutalism. Explore more on