International Police Building and Federal Center for asylum seekers, Geneva
Location Grand-Saconnex, GE
Date 2017

Open competition, 5th prize

Gross floor area 6503 m²

Yann Bommelaer

Olivier di Giambattista

Célien Malard

Djuna Spagnoli

The competition brief required the construction of two buildings closely linked to activities at the airport, one to accommodate a Federal Police unit and the other to house the Federal Centre for Asylum Seekers. The chosen site is not a commonplace one. Situated on a plot of land adjoining the main airport runway, it contributes to the construction of Geneva’s urban landscape.

A harmonious placement was chosen for the buildings following the ground’s natural declivity. The Federal Police building is located on the site’s upper section and the Centre for Asylum Seekers on the lower part. The height difference in excess of 5 metres frees up space between the two volumes to create a car park. The treatment of the other outdoor spaces allotted to the asylum seekers also takes the topography into account by proposing half-sunken or jutting terraces.

The two built volumes clearly belong to the same family in terms of form and typology, without being similar. Their structure is of the type "free-standing with radiating planes around a central space". This is a fundamental choice as this interpretation of the site highlights its different constraints, which are qualities just as much as they are defects. The radiating plan makes it possible to apprehend the context in a perfectly harmonious way without having to highlight one side more than another.

The outlines of the two volumes are neither regular nor symmetrical. The structures are adapted to the brief’s interior requirements, offering different depths and, along with the cantilever overhangs on certain facades, define the buildings’ entrances and eaves. Their outer form is therefore freer, more adaptable than a pure and rigid "box".

Although these two buildings have different functions, the stance taken here was to propose a single architectural expression. A series of vertical stiffeners punctuate the facades of dark grey-green anodised aluminium, which recall Mies van der Rohe’s architecture of the 50s and 60s, in which the purpose is never explicitly expressed in the facade. Given the mixed use and the context, it seemed apparent to us not to propose a structure that "follows function" but, on the contrary, one able to adapt to a world in perpetual flux.