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The Swiss Medical Research Foundation, known as “The Tulip”, boasts the stark qualities of brutalist architecture with a unique and delicate touch.
The Swiss Medical Research Foundation building that has a concrete cradle-shaped shell and color tinted windows inside
The view of the Swiss Medical Research Foundation from the main road. – image © Johannes Marburg

Architect: Jack V. Bertoli

Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Project Year: 1975-1976

Type: Medical, Educational

La Tulipe has earned its local nickname for its resemblance to a unique, colorful flower blooming from its strong concrete shell. The building is unique among the collection of Swiss brutalist structures.

What Is Brutalist Architecture?

Prominent during 1950s all the way through the mid-1970s, the brutalist architecture was a modernist architectural movement famous for its bold, rugged style and its heavy, unapologetic use of concrete.

The term itself originates from the French word “raw”, referring to the popular use of raw concrete, or “béton brut” in these structures. The architects in favor of the brutalist style, such as the famous Le Corbusier, used this material for its honest and simple quality, often exposing the construction methods on the façades themselves rather than hide them away.

Images of  Cite Radieuse with a brute concrete facade
Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) embodies the principles of Brutalist architecture – image © Wojtek Gurak (left) and Steve de Vriendt (right)

Brutalist architecture is usually recognized through its massive structures, usually consisting of modular elements made of raw, unadorned concrete. The bulk of the structure itself usually separates or highlights specific functions within the mass, and renders them visible from the exterior.

Not concerned with looking aesthetic, comfortable, or warm, brutalist architecture was an effort to show seriousness as a response to the lightness and optimism of previous decades.

As a result, this style has been heavily criticized and demonized over decades for its cold quality, its lack of obvious beauty, and its poor-aging concrete planes.

A Flower in the Concrete Jungle

Brutalist architecture is seen as the looming concrete monster towering over us, giving us the architecture that we love to hate. However, La Tulipe challenges those preconceptions, giving us a delicate image, merging the light and the massive, the playful and the serious at the same time.

The structure rises from a strong, stark base of concrete planes, holding up a colorful mosaic of pastel tinted windows that reflect the sky in a cotton candy filter and imprint an image of springtime, or jewels set in a carefully sculpted stone claw in the mind.

La Tulipe at night time
La Tulipe at night time – image © Johannes Marburg

Steel doors embedded in the fractal concrete planes mark the entrance to the fortress.

Entrance to the La Tulipe building.
Entrance to the building. – image © Johannes Marburg

Above the entrance level, the floor plans are designed as a square. The core is reserved for circulation, leaving the rest of the floor space free and easily utilizable.

The plan and section of La Tulipe.
The plan and section of La Tulipe. – image © Jack V. Bertoli

The Tulip represents a softer side to the brutalist architecture in Switzerland and it is a strong and conspicuous figure among the city’s architecture. Bertoli has used the sculptural qualities of the concrete to soften the brutalist effect.

The concrete fractals at the base of La Tulipe building
The concrete fractals alternate at the base of the building. – image © Johannes Marburg

About the Architect

Jack Vicajee Bertoli is an Indian architect (later naturalized as Swiss), who has built numerous projects in India, Switzerland, France, Italy, Africa, USA and the Caribbean.

During his time in India, he has worked with Le Corbusier in Chandigarh for the city’s planning. His work in his native country has focused on improving the lifestyle of the urban slum population through affordable, well-designed, lasting and locally sourced architecture.

Respect for local culture, traditions and habits of the users have been a focus in his designs.

Currently, Bertoli works in his own architecture office in Geneva, where he obtained his architecture degree.


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