When was the last time you lingered for pleasure at a brutalist science site?
Wedged between Geneva’s main hospital complex and a micro forest, the centre for medical research looks like a wise-tree monument ejected from another galaxy or an ex-Soviet republic. Fractal panes of reinforced concrete form a massive trunk from which vertical slim branches frame a cube of candyfloss tinted glass windows. 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. The concrete solitaire presents a rare case of brutalist scene-stealing; the floral-inspired framework and vivid pastels easily outshine their nondescript surroundings. Hypnotically compelling, La Tulipe 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.
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.
The design is also a class apart from the ascetically solid, no-nonsense masculinity prevalent in so many béton brut structures of the Swiss school. It reflects the more international profile of its designer, Jack Vicajee Bertoli. The Mumbai-born planner and architect started out assisting for Breuer and Saarinen and went on to collaborate with Le Corbusier in Chandigarh on the city’s planning. With his own, Geneva-based office, he realised projects in India, France, Italy, USA, the Caribbean and Africa.