When was the last time you lingered for pleasure at a brutalist science site? Wedged between Geneva’s main hospital complex and a hillside micro forest, the Swiss Medical Research Foundation building looks like a wise-tree monument ejected from another galaxy or an ex-Soviet republic. Triangular fractal panes of reinforced concrete form a massive trunk from which vertical slim branches frame a cube of cotton-candy tinted glass windows.
Gazing at the evanescing pastel pinks, blues and yellows soaring from their concrete shell in the golden haze of a setting sun is a holiday for the retina. La Tulipe radiates raw elegance and bold, unwavering optimism. Even the futuristic steel entrance embedded in the reinforced concrete trunk shines like the promise of scientific progress, in a Ken Adam designed, Bond fantasy kind-of-way.
This concrete solitaire presents a rare case of brutalist scene-stealing; the floral-inspired framework and vivid pastels easily outshine the nondescript surroundings. Hypnotically compelling, it unequally challenges the clichés of brutalism: here’s a 70’s brutalist hunk not afraid to embrace the soft, playful and delicate. He even goes for gold. Oh, the brutality of the beautiful.
The design is also a class apart from the ascetically functional béton brut structures of the Swiss school. It reflects the more international profile of its designer, Jack Bertoli. The Mumbai-born planner and architect started out assisting for Breuer and Saarinen, collaborated with Le Corbusier in Chandigarh for the city’s planning and, with his own office, realised projects in India, France, Italy, USA, the Caribbean and Africa.