Architecture, as Norman Foster famously wrote, is an expression of values – which is why Aiglon’s new Campus Masterplan starts and finishes with the guiding principles.
What we do is not haphazard, or done because other people do it or somebody said it ought to be done that way,” wrote Aiglon’s founder, John Corlette. “Everything we do has been thought out with reference to our basic aim and developed from our principles.” What was true in 1973 is as true today: so it is no surprise to hear that the guiding principles – the balanced development of mind, body and spirit – sit at the very heart of Aiglon’s building blueprint for the future, the Campus Masterplan. The Masterplan, developed by leading architect Camilla Finlay, lays out how the school will meet both its unique challenges and opportunities. It is the result of many conversations and consultations with staff, the School Council and the Board. But rather than simply mapping out the next, say, five years, the plan is ‘rolling’, continually responding to the school’s changing needs while always staying true to the guiding principles, as Head Master, Mr Richard McDonald explains. “Perhaps the Masterplan’s most significant single accomplishment in recent years is the creation of our Sports Centre, which speaks strongly to ‘body’ in the triptych of ‘mind, body and spirit’,” he says. “But our next ambitious piece, the Assembly and Arts Building, will be a hub for creativity, and will bridge all three elements of mind, body and spirit.”
The Assembly and Arts Building is designed to dramatically improve the spaces in which Aiglonians can meet as a whole school, whether for meditation, examinations, performances or whole-school celebrations such as graduation and alumni reunions. Designed by award-winning architectural practice Durisch + Nolli, the proposed building will sit within the distinctive alpine style of Villars while providing Aiglon with a stunning new focal point.
A BUILDING FOR THE ALPS
The building’s designers drew inspiration from the celebrated 19th century polymath and alpine enthusiast John Ruskin, who declared that a great building should “act well, and do the things it was intended to do in the best way... speak well, and say the things it was intended to say in the best words... and look well, and pleaseus by its presence, whatever it has to do or say”.
“Architecture is a service and to build something useful for society is our greatest achievement,” explains Aldo Nolli. “Something that is environmentally sustaining, aesthetically pleasant and stimulating for human activity and living. Our focus with this building is on serving Aiglon, delivering high quality spaces for learning, performance and gathering which serve the daily life of the community of the College.”
Mr McDonald adds that while doing all that, the new design also has to reflect Aiglon’s values. “The performing arts require a level of intellectual engagement, a level of physicality, and an engagement with our true identity and our deep intent,” he says.
“For us, it’s really important that new buildings do not stand alone: that they are not a shop window with nothing behind the windows. We are very mindful of the need to present well on both the inside and the outside.”
The Assembly and Arts Building will certainly present well – a spectacular feature on the mountainside, it will make a very explicit statement around the value of bringing the community together regularly, creating periods of time for reflection and stillness within a hectic school day.
However, the Masterplan is not only about the new and imposing – small, quiet changes can also yield great results. These are what Camilla calls “quick wins”, such as introducing a new entrance to the School Restaurant (formerly central dining), taking the pressure off the entrance to Belvedere and moving the staff common room into the heart of the campus, allowing it to be more centrally located.
“The amazing new buildings are important, of course,” Camilla says. “The Sports Centre is a landmark building, and the Assembly and Arts Building will be the same, exceptional in terms of quality and in what it delivers for education and student life here. But other projects need to run parallel to those. We have to remember that students spend relatively few years at school. A project like the Assembly and Arts Building is conceived one year, but may not be delivered for a number of years. As a school, you’re working on two levels: incremental improvement as well as transformational, larger projects.”
A FUTURE-PROOFED PLAN
There are other considerations to bear in mind, too. The Masterplan must allow for not just functionality but modern teaching and quality of life: spaces must lift and inspire the people who live and work within them, while reflecting current teaching and learning approaches.
The new Centre for Enquiry, says Mr McDonald, demonstrates this concept perfectly. Once the library was moved into a newly refurbished and expanded space, it was deliberately renamed: no longer a ‘library’ – a description of its contents – but now a ‘Centre for Enquiry’, a description of the behaviours in that space.
Preserving, as well as improving, is also key – not least because, as Camilla points out, the school’s unique setting and character is, for many Aiglonians, one of its most important aspects. “We have set a benchmark of excellence in our new buildings, which helps us to reflect on how we can improve some of our older buildings. One of the things that comes out of the Masterplan is the fact that so many people love the unique setting and this eclectic group of buildings, many of them alpine in character, that sit within the landscape – and that is something we wish to preserve.”
Of course, the Masterplan would not be achievable without the help of the school’s supporters. Andrew Bednarski, Capital Campaign Manager at Aiglon, is helping to share the Masterplan vision with the alumni, parents and friends whose support is needed to bring the plans to life. As well as inspiring and informing the community about the Masterplan’s scale and importance, he has been discussing with Aiglonians how they can get involved to make it a reality. “I have been talking with members of our
community at reunions and one-on-one,” he says. “In fact, I’ve just returned from the USA, where I was able to meet with alumni, current students and their parents in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, New York – and Greenwich, Connecticut! Aiglon is a not-for-profit school, which means that the entirety of school fees goes towards operational costs. It’s something that, as Andrew points out, the school is justly proud of, and means that the support of Aiglonians is key. “While our pedagogy remains rooted in the important principles established by John Corlette in the mid 20th century, our campus has had to grow and adapt over the years. Despite the need for new facilities,we’ve worked very hard to maintain our unique, alpine village character. The Campus Masterplan continues our tradition of providing the right environment and right facilities to unlock our students’ potential – and we rely on the support of our alumni, parents and friends to help us maintain and improve our world-class facilities.”
And perhaps that’s not so surprising, because, like so many activities at Aiglon, the Masterplan is a collective endeavour: both in the planning and the realisation. “We have been able to make fantastic progress on the plan already,” says Mr McDonald. “We have a great debt of gratitude to people who participated with gifts of all sizes to make the new Sports Centre possible. The same will be true for the Assembly and Arts Building. “We will unquestionably need to reach out to people to help us achieve this,” he continues. “We won’t be able to achieve it with our resources alone. We want people to share the excitement and the vision, and feel that they are active participants in building the school of the future.”