Dezeen Magazine

The Square is a space for students to "open their minds" says Sou Fujimoto

Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto explains how his stacked-cube learning centre in Switzerland is one of the most significant projects of his career in this instalment of Dezeen's Concrete Icons series produced in collaboration with Holcim.

The video features The Square, a higher-education learning centre for the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.

The concept was the winning design over eight other proposals for the learning facility.

The Square Sou Fujimoto
Sou Fujimoto's The Square, a learning centre for the University of St Gallen in Switzerland

Speaking to Dezeen in an exclusive video interview filmed at Fujimoto's studio in Paris, the architect explained how the space was designed to create a new, flexible work environment in which teachers and students could collaborate in a new way.

"Our mission was to create a place for this special university where students and professors could feel they could open their mind to something new, not just following the classical way of learning and teaching," Fujimoto said.

Sou Fujimoto The Square
The Square's interior features a grid of concrete beams

The exterior of the building comprises a series of stepping cubic volumes contained within a lattice of white frames.

The stacked cubes, which form both the facade and interior walls, were made from floor-to-ceiling glass, which were designed to blend in with the surrounding residential area.

"The location of The Square is on a hillside," Fujimoto said.

"When you approach, you see a small, hill-like stepping building covered by a glass facade reflecting the colour of the skies and surroundings."

Sou Fujimoto The Square
The exterior of The Square comprises a series of stepping cubic volumes

The building's exterior was formed from a framework of white metal beams typical of Fujimoto's style, which is also reflected within the interior of the building with a grid of concrete beams, made using Holcim's low-carbon ECOPact concrete.

"These grid frames really define the space," Fujimoto said. "We found this eco-concrete by Holcim. I thought it was a nice challenge to use this new technology of reusing carbon in concrete structures."

Sou Fujimoto The Square
Fujimoto used Holcim's low-carbon ECOPact concrete for the project. Photo by Chris Mansfield

The building features internal glass dividers that can be arranged to accommodate various room sizes and layouts to adapt to the changing needs of students and teachers.

"My philosophy as an architect is to create a place for the people," Fujimoto said. "To create a place for diversity, in a sense, which could be a nice model of the future."

"This project is really one of the important parts of my architecture career, because it is creating such a multidirectional, interactive space," he continued.

Fujimoto founded his Tokyo- and Paris-based practice in 2000 after graduating from Tokyo University's Department of Architecture.

Notable projects by Fujimoto include a museum topped with an undulating roof punctuated by trees in Budapest and a tree-like mixed-use tower with balconies branching out in Montpellier, France.

Concrete Icons is a six-part video series created in partnership with building materials company Holcim, which profiles the most striking contemporary concrete buildings by the world's leading architects.

Previous instalments in the series focus on MAD's sinuous Cloudscape library in Haikou, China and The Broad museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The remaining videos in the series will profile projects including La Seine Musicale in Paris by Shigeru Ban and Striatus, a 3D-printed concrete bridge.

The photography is by Iwan Baan unless stated otherwise.

Partnership content

Concrete Icons is produced by Dezeen for Holcim as part of a partnership. Find out more about Dezeen's partnership content here.

Build the icons of the future with Holcim's low-carbon ECOPact concrete, delivering up to 90 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions compared to standard concrete with no compromise on performance.

Find out more about how Holcim works with architects here.