Montreux, Switzerland

EMS Burier

A healthy, happy home away from home




Montreux, Switzerland


Co Govers and Joana Ramalhete


10.000 m2

“The Secret Garden” is a proposal for the extension of a retirement home for elderly people with and without special needs. The design creates a sunken garden where people with Alzheimer disease can roam freely and safely without getting lost.

On the ground level there are public functions with access to a higher level garden, while all other residents live on the higher floors with views over the two gardens. All rooms in the home have a personalized entrance area which creates the impression of “streets” rather than corridors.

EMS Burier retirement home courtyard
A light open modern retirement home design

Technical Data

Name: EMS Burier

Location: Montreux, Switzerland

Client: Competition

Budget: Undisclosed

Surface area: 10.000 m²

Project design: 2013

Architects: Co Govers and Joana Ramalhete in cooperation with Two-Bo Arquitectura  

Photography: Jesús Granada, Eugeni Pons, Elisenda Arnau

Graphic documentation: ZEST Architecture

The proposal is an extension of the existing retirement home EMS Burier in Montreux, a home for elderly with or without special needs. The brief was to replace the oldest of the two buildings comprising the existing home, with an extension that allows a near doubling of the number of beds (rooms).


“The Secret Garden” creates gardens on two levels, by part excavating, part making use of the steep incline of the site. The lowest level comprises rooms for residents with Alzheimer disease or other syndromes that might affect their ability to find their way around (psycho-geriatric patients). This floor level is roughly divided in two groups, each with the residents bedrooms grouped directly around a large sunk garden, so they can safely venture out into the garden. The roof of these rooms forms part of the ground level garden.


On ground level most of the public functions are situated, with direct access to the garden and great transparency throughout the site. The rooms on the first and second floor are for the other residents, who all have view over the different garden levels, and easy access to the ground floor garden with elevators. All rooms throughout the home have a little entrance porch which can be personalized and has a bench, to enable spontaneous contact in the corridors between residents.


In order to achieve the best possible insulation, the two “geriatric” floors will be built with SIPS (Structural Insulated Panels), known for their insulation value, load bearing capacities and wind resistance, and also for their speed of construction. The windows of these floors are all in FSC wooden frames, with triple glazing. The façade and the roof are paneled with FSC certified untreated wood, as an insulated façade without any need for maintenance.


The ground floor will be fully glazed, to afford the maximum possible transparency to the public areas. Any closed areas, such as offices, will be built using SIPS, finished with lacquered glazing panels, and triple glazed openable windows where necessary. Public areas that open onto the garden will have a Schüco façade system with triple glazing in sliding panels. The lower floors, for the psycho-geriatric patients, will be built in prefab concrete, with a green roof, affording excellent insulation. On the interior we find the corridors and public spaces finished with whitened oiled oak panels and clay plaster, a natural and biodegradable material which prevents allergies. This same clay plaster we also find in the residents bedrooms.


For better energy efficiency, the natural ventilation of the bedroom includes convectors for the pre-heating and cooling of fresh air. All public spaces will be served by a system of ventilation with heat-recovery. Heating of the building, where necessary, will be through under floor heating, served by wood pellet boiler. On the roof top of the existing building, solar PV panels will be installed.