Urban Zen

Lausanne Plaza

Living right next to a big city, you can’t help but become aware of the impact that architectural development has on the people who occupy these urban centers on a daily basis. No doubt that a lot of thought has gone in producing the type of urban environment in which some of us live, and no doubt that what has resulted from all that deep thinking is what confronts us every day as we go about our daily routines. So, with this in mind, it seems to me that there are a couple of overarching goals that influence the development of major city centers around the world. From what I can discern, the development of cities tends to promote either need to design these urban centers to increase the flow of people (efficient movement from point-to-point), or the promotion of lingering. That is, some cities are made for people on the go, while others seem to cater primarily to people’s need to hang around and interact. Hurry up or slow down, that’s pretty much it. And yes, the illusive balance between the too remains a goal in many places, even if somewhat haphazardly achieved.

The photo above of downtown Lausanne, Switzerland is a case in point. I took this photo some years ago during one of my many trips to that wonderful city by Lake Geneva, and it kind of illustrates what I’m talking about. The hilly city of Lausanne is literally built for lingering. Just about everywhere you go in the city, you will find small parks, lots of benches, and an atmosphere that calls out at you to stop and take in the surroundings. The place is definitely not designed for the worshipers of the “New York minute” lifestyle. Quite the opposite. In Lausanne the problem is finding the will and disposition to overcome the internal voices screaming at you to get off the fast-moving train of life and to transform minutes into hours. The city’s architectural design, with its public art displays and congenial gathering spots, is like an antidote for the never-have-time crowd. Call it architecture as therapy or whatever, but somewhere between what your eyes see and the opportunities to linger, your mindset is altered in ways that are hard to describe. We may not totally understand this metamorphosis, but it happens, and it is very real. We slow down, we take the surroundings, we imagine, and we feel less stressed. Medicine for the soul, and a welcomed break from the race around us. Architecture and art as medicine for the modern human condition. Who would’ve known.

24 Hours In Lausanne

Even during a short visit, it won't take you long before you are captivated by Lausanne's easy-going rhythm and wonderful scenes.
Even during a short visit, it won’t take you long before you are captivated by Lausanne’s easy-going rhythm and wonderful scenes.
While not a large city, Lausanne's many twisted streets and hidden treasures will surprise you at every turn.
While not a large city, Lausanne’s many twisted streets and hidden treasures will surprise you at every turn.
The downtown section between Rue Centrale and Rue de Bourg is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Switzerland.
The downtown section between Rue Centrale and Rue de Bourg is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Switzerland.
Perhaps the most prominent landmark in Lausanne, the Lausanne Cathedral sits majestically over the city.
Perhaps the most prominent landmark in Lausanne, the Lausanne Cathedral sits majestically over the city.
As in most of Europe, old and new sit side-by-side in this ancient city.
As in most of Europe, old and new sit side-by-side in this ancient city.
Trendy, new bars are beginning to appear down the famous Rue du Petit-Chêne leading to the main train station.
Trendy, new bars are beginning to appear down the famous Rue du Petit-Chêne leading to the main train station.
Young lovers seemed perfectly at ease during a school break in the middle of the day.
Young lovers seemed perfectly at ease during a school break in the middle of the day.

Once again, and after a few years, I find myself in Lausanne, Switzerland.  However, and unlike the last time I had the good fortune to visit this wonderful city by Lake Geneva, this visit was a short one.  In fact, it lasted barely 24 hours, and while admitedly too brief, it was nevertheless enough to remind me of why I fell in love with this place during my first visit.  Perhaps it was the much slower pace than I’m used to, or the contagious courtesy of the Swiss people, or perhaps it was the natural beauty of an old, hilly city dotted with twisting cobblestone streets that captivated me.  Not sure.  But one thing I do know for sure: Lausanne is a hidden gem hidden from most people’s travel radar, and that is a pity.

The city impresses the moment you set foot on it.  Walk up from the train station via the curvy Rue du Petit-Gêne and you will begin to see boutique hotels and quaint restaurants that you are sure to visit during your stay.  Reach the higher elevation Rue du Grand-Gêne and (after you have a chance to catch your breath), you’ll be right next to the majestic Lausanne Palace Hotel and the imposing Place Saint-François.  Walk down to the Rue Centrale to find some of the best cafes and pastry shops in the city before getting lost in the old town.  This was pretty much all I had time for during my 24-hour visit while in transit to Locarno at the tip of Lago Maggiore.  Overlooking the tiered vineyards of the Valais from the train on the way out of the city, I found myself wishing for more time in Lausanne and wondering whether Locarno would be just as enchanting for this wondering photographer.  I was soon to find out that the answer was a resounding yes, but that is a story for a later day.