June 28, 2007

Ticino 1 (Italy / Switzerland)

A long tunnel through Mont Blanc left one world behind and delivered us to the next region of the trip, the Italian region of South Switzerland, Ticino. We stopped briefly in the Italian city of Como for gellato, and walked along the crowded shoreline. Steep hills descended down to the edges of the lake, densely packed with houses and hotels. We drove north to Lugano, where we stayed at a youth hostel, one with some of the most beautiful grounds we've seen (even a swimming pool). Being so close to Italy, the food quality improved drastically.

We headed to the University of Lugano to check out a handful of buildings. The first was an addition to an existing library by Michele e Giorgio Tognola. The project was comprised of several floors of study alcoves for students above a new entry and arcade. The board-formed concrete work was beautiful, with sharp edges and precise angled corners. Each study alcove is expressed on the exterior facade, set between a concrete frame and wrapped in steel. The modules were glazed with an inset metal panel, that has two smaller slots which could be adjusted from interior study desks to control lighting levels. The interior spaces were minimal and warm, with generous natural light. One detail that appeared to not be wearing well were flush acrylic caps that covered recessed linear fluorescent fixtures at the face of supportive concrete fins, especially at exterior locations.

Adjacent to the library addition was a Galfetti building, the Aula Polivalente. The building was locked-up so we couldn't see the interior, but the exterior plaza was accessible. More sharp concrete work... unfortunately some of the benches had beer bottles and garbage stuffed inside the free space below them.
Inside a newer campus engineering dept. building clad with fish scale like metal panels (architect unknown) we found a "free" hi-speed internet connection, so we took the opportunity to upload photos and download email.

North of Lugano we spent three days in Bellinzona, a city known mostly for its three UNESCO castles, most recognizably Castlegrande. The first night we arrived it rained so intensely that at one point the surrounding streets appeared to blur (see photo). We walked by the entrance of the Castlegrande at nighttime, a glowing tall keyhole shaped cave. (More on the Castlegrande restoration in the Ticino 2 posting).

A short distance from Bellinzona was the tiny city of Giornico, set deep in a valley surrounded by mountains with large swaths of exposed granite, water seeping along the face of them. Here we visited La Congiunta, a museum for the sculptor
Hans Josephsohn designed by Peter Maerkli. The museum was off a narrow road, sited next to a vineyard along a river. The concrete building has a series of 3 main rooms with varying heights, each displaying a range of sculptural works. The raw texture from the board formed concrete walls absorbed the light from the long, creating a feel in-tune with Josephsohn's works. The space was very quiet and peaceful. To access the studio we had to borrow the key from a local restaurant, where there was a sign-in book filled with many recognizable names (architects) from all around the world.

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