July 27, 2021

Under the Swiss canopy of Montricher

Ninety-six concrete trunks, futuristic tree tops, huts floating in the air and two massive buildings make up an intriguing architectural ensemble. The imposing buildings stand proudly in the middle of the fields, while the aerial canopy casts its openwork shadows on the ashy ground. Within this industrial forest hides a cultural oasis, the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature.

© Eugénie Rousak

At the foot of the Vaudois Jura in Switzerland, the Jan Michalski Foundation is located a little behind the village of Montricher. Surrounded by greenery, it offers tranquility and serenity for reading, discovery, reflection and writing. The plunging view of Lake Geneva lets the spirit escape and the eyes lose themselves on the Alps. This setting is conducive to literary creation, one of the institution’s vocations, while the large space can accommodate a multitude of activities.

This unique location was chosen by Vera Michalski-Hoffmann in the 2000s to establish the Jan Michalski Foundation, in memory of her husband. ” We were won over by Montricher for its open landscape and magnificent panorama, which symbolizes the Foundation’s openness to all visitors, readers and writers. »Explains the founder.

History of the building

Initially, the buildings of the former summer camp were to be preserved, but they were poorly suited to the intended use. In order to keep a memory of the previous use of this place, Vera Michalski-Hoffmann and the architects, Vincent Mangeat and Pierre Wahlen, decided to keep the sites of the farm and the chapel to build the library and the ‘audience. A foyer and an additional room were then added to the audience, to allow the organization of exhibitions, theater performances, readings, as well as literary meetings.

The second pillar of the Foundation, the library, displays more than 65,000 works, arranged on five levels. The cloud lamps floating in the central void and the apparent structure in natural materials make the architecture of this place both light and warm. ” The library has long been free for the inhabitants of Montricher only, but to promote access to reading, we have decided to extend this free to all visitors. Moreover, during exams, we welcome many students, who come to enjoy the calm and revise on individual tables. », Specifies the founder. These constructions were completed in 2013, allowing the Foundation to open its first spaces to visitors.

© Eugénie Rousak

The second part of the work began the following year, focusing on the “suspended cabins”. These residences now make it possible to accommodate writers and translators within the Foundation. Last year 35 people out of more than 1,600 applications were able to take advantage of these facilities for a stay ranging from a few weeks to several months. In order to create a uniform whole, but to give their specificity and character to the cabins, different architectural offices were selected for the design of each of the cabins. ” For this project, we called on young architects, whose projects are in line with our philosophy. », S’enthousiasme Vera Michalski-Hoffmann.

Activities of the Jan Michalski Foundation

« The idea of ​​the Foundation came gradually, starting from the observation that it was necessary to act to defend the book and maintain activities related to reading. », Recalls the founder. Since 2010, the institution has awarded the Jan Michalski Prize annually to crown a work of world literature and allow its author to focus more on his writing work.

© Eugénie Rousak

The Foundation also organizes many cultural events. Each year, three temporary exhibitions are offered to the public. Touching on different facets of writing and the literary universe, they are complemented by guided tours, conferences or round tables. The 2019 trilogy kicks off on February 8 with the exhibition Anselm Kiefer, Books and Woodcut. In collaboration with the Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo, this exhibition highlights the relationship between the artist and the book. Unique copies of various sizes and materials, produced by the artist between 1969 and 2017, will be highlighted.

With a view to promoting contemporary literary diversity, the Foundation organizes meetings with writers from all walks of life. ” We try to attract the most interesting authors of the moment to keep the Foundation alive and offer enriching and fruitful exchanges. »Explains the founder. Thus, Lydie Salvayre, Julian Barnes, Joël Dicker or even Jean-Christophe Rufin have already passed through the walls of the house. ” The works always give rise to many activities around the theme, for example, we have already organized plays, screenings and concerts », Nuance Vera Michalski-Hoffmann.

Activities are bubbling under the canopy of Montricher. The program is growing, the library is filled with new works and the artists take ownership of the place, whether it is to present their work or simply to draw their inspiration from the aerial cabins.