ETH-EPFL Summer School: Transects Through Alpine Water Landscapes (deadline extended 1 July)

16-21 August 2021 | Villa Cassel, 3987 Riederalp, Kanton Wallis.

Through field expeditions, keynote lectures, discussions, workshops, and exchanges with experts, participants will engage with a ‘transect’ across a continuous water landscape, from the Aletsch glacier to the Rhone valley floor. Fieldwork will be employed to document key infrastructure, such as irrigation channels, dams, and drainage systems. It will highlight specific urbanization processes and reveal larger territorial logics. The objective is to develop a spatial, empirical, and material understanding of alpine water landscapes.

The primary target participants are doctoral and master students in landscape architecture, urbanism, and architecture at EPFL and ETH Zurich. Doctoral students in the process of defining or refining their research methodology are of particular interest. Students from other universities are also welcome to apply.


Alps, Water, and Infrastructure
Water is a finite resource that has increasingly become a major geopolitical issue. In the European context, the Alps hold a strategic position as the ‘water tower of Europe’. Industrialization and urbanization apply significant pressure onto the water ecosystems of alpine valleys. Modifications to the flow of rivers can significantly impact downstream regions, across very extensive areas. Thus, a systemic design approach is essential, as it can serve to build knowledge about natural and anthropogenic water-ecosystems across different territorial scales, to effectively address the impact of climate change.

The Valley Transect
The conceptual starting point for this summer school is Patrick Geddes’ Valley section from hills to the sea (1923), a transect that follows changes in resource availability and use across a continuous landscape. The transect is a way of recording occurrences and relations along a set path, revealing larger territorial logics. We propose to re-engage with the spatial aspects of water infrastructure by walking such a transect along the Massa river, from the Aletsch glacier to the Rhone valley floor. This case study presents archetypal water management issues and opportunities.

From Glacier to Valley Floor
The program explores the shaping of the Massa River by human and non-human forces, with a specific focus for each day-trip: water & climate change (the Glacier); water & agriculture (the Bisse); water & energy (the Dam); water & drainage systems (the Urban Valley). The practice of critical walking forms the basis of expeditions into the field. On site, students will employ field research methods and evaluate the performance of analytical tools along the transect. Field research will be supplemented by expert input, keynote speakers, methodological workshops, group discussion, and a final critique.


Lecturers: Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete, Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design, ETH Zurich; Paola Vigano, Laboratory of Urbanism (LAB-U), EPFL

For more information, please contact the organizing committee (doctoral researchers): Nicole de Lalouvière (ETH Zurich), Rune Frandsen (ETH Zurich), Sarem Sunderland (ETH Zurich), Sylvie Tram Nguyen (EPFL)

Application deadline: 1 June 2021 (first round), 1 July (second round)
Summer school: 16-21 August 2021

The summer school involves 3 full expedition days, 1 production day, and 1 final critique day. Researchers with relevant expertise will lead field expeditions, supplemented by keynote lectures by invited guest experts. Workshops and critiques led by professors from ETH and EPFL will take place on site and in the seminar room at Villa Cassel.

Accommodation is provided by Villa Cassel in Riederalp, Canton Valais. The Belle Epoque villa sits above the Aletsch glacier and serves as a research center for ProNatura. It is well-equipped for study groups and offers comfortable accommodation as well as seminar rooms. Participants will be hosted in alpine-style dormitory rooms (up to six people per room).

Course credits
2 ECTS credits will be granted to students who complete the 6-day summer school. Accepted students are required to be present for the full length of the summer school and participate in all planned activities (field work, hikes, workshops, etc).

Participation Fee
Master students (ETH Zurich/EPFL): 100.-
Doctoral students (ETH Zurich/EPFL): CHF 250.-
Master / doctoral students (external institutions): CHF 500.-
These fees cover the cost of accommodation (5 nights/6 days at Villa Cassel), full-board (breakfast, packed lunch, dinner each day), travel by public transit within the area (not including travel to and from the summer school), a printed booklet, and field research tools.

COVID measures
We will follow all official directives on hygiene and rules related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The summer school is currently planned as an in-person event. However, the summer school reserves the right for a flexible adaptation to the situation until mid-June 2021.

Application process

The summer school offers 25 places for master and doctoral students. ETH and EPFL students will be given priority; students from other universities are also invited to apply. The offer primarily addresses students in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urbanism and related fields. The summer school will be in English. The summer school cannot assist with visa applications. All applicants should be legally entitled to be in Switzerland for the duration of the summer school. Students should be physically prepared for hiking (levels T1-T3 ) and spend extended time outdoors daily, and be adequately equipped for rapidly-changing alpine weather. The deadline for applications is 1 June 2021 (first round) / 1 July 2021 (second). Applicants of the first round will be informed of the outcome of their application by mid-June 2021. The application should include:

  1. Letter of motivation describing applicant’s academic interest in the topic of the summer school (max. 500 words)
  2. Curriculum vitae
  3. Sample of work: either design (max. 3 pages) or academic research (max. 1500 words)
  4. For EPFL doctoral students, include supervisor approval

All participants are required to submit their documents exclusively via email to both Sylvie Tram Nguyen and Sarem Sunderland.