More than just another farm in the Lausanne area, the EHL “Ferme” has a history all its own. Let’s take a closer look at its past and discover together the history of architecture and the hidden treasures in our archives!
Pays de Vaud and Lausanne from the 16th to 19th centuries
In 1536, Lausanne, like the rest of the Pays de Vaud, fell under the dominion of the authorities in Bern. A range of territories, including Chalet-à-Gobet were bestowed to the town of Lausanne, which was governed by a bailiff dispatched from Bern and two councils made up of wealthy land owners from Lausanne. It wasn’t until 1798 that Lausanne and the Vaud Canton would shrug off the yoke of Bernese subjugation. This is the historical backdrop against which EHL’s most emblematic building, La Ferme, was built.
Architectural historians and how the farm came to be
The first time that architectural historians were able to study the farm was in 1993 when an architectural census was taken in the Vaud Canton. The first study, albeit a succinct one, put forward the date of 1750 for the construction of the building1.
Mandated by EHL in 2015, the architectural historian, Isabelle Roland conducted a study of the Cojonnex farm’s history and architecture. According to Roland, the building was probably built between 1730 and 1735 by the City of Lausanne2. In 1728, it was decided to build the structure, but the funds were actually disbursed two years later. According to Roland, it was most probably a new construction, given the budget that was allocated3.
On the map, which dates back to 1746, that traces the road stretching from Bern to Lausanne via the Jorat forest—which would become the Route de Berne we know and love today—the farm is visible in a place name called Cojonnex (or Gojonez as it was known then) that belonged to the City of Lausanne. This is indeed our farm!
Figure 1: Excerpt of the map of the road from Bern to Lausanne via the Jorat, 1746. [Excerpt from the map of the road from Bern to Lausanne via the Jorat, from 1746: ACV, Gc 537.]
So why did the City of Lausanne decide to build a farm at this particular location? The answer is outlined in Anne Radeff’s book entitled Lausanne et ses campagnes au 17e siècle, which sheds light on the economic system in Lausanne and outlying areas in the 17th century4. Her research provides a detailed explanation of the town’s business model, which used vast territories abutting the city as a source of revenue through tenant farming.
The farm, built on land belonging to the city in the early 18th century, is therefore a part of this economic system and families of farmers would continue to operate it generation after generation. The EHL farm is a undoubtedly an important example of the construction of a farm/residence mandated by the City of Lausanne in the 18th century.
A quick anecdote: Active wineries still belong to Lausanne as reminders of this bygone economic system. If you want to reserve a ‘Made in Lausanne’ historic vintage you’ll have to bid the highest during the auction held every year on the second Saturday of December, which has been going on since 18035. Good luck!
The oldest photo in the EHL Archives dates from 1915 where the Martin-Borgeaud family stands with their two cows. This indicates that tenant farming had always taken place at the Cojonnex property from its construction until the 20th century.
Figure 2: The Martin-Borgeaud family in front of “La Ferme”, 1915. [EHL Archives, Audio-visual, Buildings: la Ferme, CH-000963-7 AV-PH-BB-1915-3-1, 1915.]
Swiss Hotel Association takes the decision to leave the Avenue de Cour
At the end of the 1960s, EHL was prospering and saw enrolment climb to about 600 students, half of whom were off doing an internship abroad. Numerous additions to the campus on Avenue de Cour were made, such as an ambitious outbuilding in 1970. However, the school was cramped in town and eyed a very bold expansion. Discussions about overhauling the curriculum, including moving from a 3- to a 4-semester program, underscored the lack of space. Such a modification would change EHL’s academic offer and would require extra classrooms, not to mention the many more students who would be on the campus at any given time.
On June 16, 1971, the Société Suisse des Hôteliers, as the governing body of the École hôtelière was known at the time, decided to pull up stakes and leave the Avenue de Cour campus. This is why management, led by Eric Gerber, director from 1968 to 1973, started to prospect for new lands to house the école hôtelière of tomorrow. And they used all manners of communication to find a new home, including ads in the local paper!
Figure 3: Newspaper ad seeking a new plot of land for the school, 1971. [EHL Archives, EHL-EPSSH, press clipping, La Suisse, 1971.]
The school received a host of interesting offers including from the nearby town of Puidoux-Chexbres. After extensive negotiations, the City of Lausanne won the bid in 1972 and the Société Suisse des Hôteliers decided to set up the school in Chalet-à-Gobet, at the extreme northern tip of Lausanne.
The Nouvelle École, as it was called, was built on a leafy lot that stretched alongside the Route de Berne at the edge of a forest. The purchase of the land came with all constructions and outbuildings located on that land, which meant the La Ferme was in private hands for the first time in its long history.
However, the farm stood tall as the land was transformed and new buildings sprouted up.
Far from being cast aside, the farm became the actual and symbolic center of the Nouvelle École. After some renovation work, it became a hub of leisure and relaxation for students, a story that was picked up by media outlets at the time.
Figure 4: Photograph of the first model of the Nouvelle École, 1972. [EHL Archives, Fonds audiovisuel, CH-000963-7 AV-PH-BH-1972-3-1-1, 1972.]
In 1974, there was a major surprise: the Nouvelle École’s construction commission filed to demolish the farm because costly renovations were needed, the building was unfit for its new use and the farm’s style was deemed antiquated given the modern campus. In January 1975, the commission even hired a company to do the demolition work.
But La Ferme wasn’t about to go down without a fight and, in May 1975, the commission’s demolition permit was rejected by the local authorities. The farm was to be saved as specified in the building permit that had originally been authorized.
Figure 5: Construction of the Nouvelle École: the farm amid tower cranes, 1974. [EHL Archives, Audiovisual, CH-000963-7 AV-PH-BH-1974-3-1-2, 1974.]
New EHL campus, new farm
Construction on the new campus began in 2017, which required the farm to be dismantled only to be put back together again in the middle of the new campus. The new-and-improved farm was unveiled on July 2022 in the presence of Swiss president Ignazio Cassis. Spacious and modern, it currently houses a café—but not just any café, a Montreux Jazz Café, from the famous music festival created in 1967 on the shores of Lake Geneva by Claude Nobs, an EHL alumnus!
The new farm is identical to the old building but with new materials. Charming historical details, such as the green sandstone window casings and doors, were preserved (as required by the Lausanne authorities in charge of heritage sites).
The EHL farm is an institution, an emblematic building and the place to be! Countless parties have taken place within its walls, creating unforgettable memories for many alumni.
Figure 6: Alumni event in front of La Ferme, 1982. [EHL Archives, Fonds audiovisuel, CH-000963-7 AV-PH-BI-1982-4-1, 1982.]
With its history made up of ups and downs, La Ferme is the epitome of the expression "turning our weaknesses into a strength". Perhaps cumbersome for the construction commission of the Nouvelle École in the 1970s, it has today become an essential landmark and the symbol of the Lausanne campus.
1 GLAUSER, Daniel, ROLAND, Isabelle, Recensement architectural du Canton de Vaud, Direction générale des immeubles et du patrimoine, Monuments et sites, 1993, fiche n°Cojo 18
2 ROLAND, Isabelle, Lausanne ancienne ferme de Cojonnex propriété de l’École hôtelière de Lausanne. Étude historique et architecturale, Lausanne : EHL, 2015
3Ibidem, p. 1 – 3
4 RADEFF, Anne, Lausanne et ses campagnes au 17e siècle, Lausanne : Presses Centrales Lausanne, 1980