Set on one of the sunniest slopes of Canton Ticino, looking across the valley between Locarno and Bellinzona towards Lake Maggiore, this house reveals the importance placed on context and the relationship between the natural and the built environment. It is a sensitive intervention to the valley, responding to its beautiful surroundings and taking full advantage of its position and outstanding views. The success of the building lies not only with its sensitive design, its balanced volume and scale but with the intelligent selection and combination of building materials. Born out of the clients’ wish to live in close contact with nature, the idea was to construct a sloped roof across the existing the terrain, creating the living spaces on the terraces beneath. The entire design process, from the initial concept of merging the house with the landscape to the choice of materials, adhered to sustainable principles.
A space carved out of the hill acts as a covered parking area and entrance and leads to an underground pathway that connects the public spaces to the road. The house is completely immersed in the greenery, hardly visible from the road, and each level is designed to have a direct connection to the exterior. As such, this house, despite its many levels, is essentially always lived at garden level. The internal spaces are the heated extension of the garden and are laid out over different levels, on a square plan.(The new construction retains the footprint of a pre-existing cluster of old rural buildings). This simple geometry has been shifted and split to meet the fall and peculiarities of the land and serves to create a large living space spread over many levels.
The southeast section of the house enjoys views out towards Lake Maggiore and its volume is designed as a covered patio, clad in a copper mesh. The copper cladding of the patio continues that of the façade, however the material is treated slightly differently: here the mesh is translucent and serves to define a transitional space between the domestic space and the surrounding landscape. This patio space acts as an alternate centre of the house, balanced between the tensions created on site with the addition of new geometries.
All the spaces are defined by a precise geometry affording a harmonious atmosphere to the house. At the same time all the spaces open out to each other and to the surrounding environment, creating the perception that they extend beyond their own dimensions. From a single viewpoint and at a single moment, the house offers views out to the horizon and the macro scale landscape, and simultaneously, to the micro scale, to the details in nature. This dual effect ensures that whoever lives in the house feels at ease always with his place in the landscape.
Rather than placing yet another urban “box” on this already developed gentle slope, this new building is superimposed on the natural contours of the land and follows it in a way that the roof forms a parallel plane to the ground. The careful articulation of the plan is extruded up into the volumes of the house and creates the facades and the outline of the roof. As a result, the visual impact of the house is kept to a minimum. The low impact of the cladding also serves to challenge and therefore expose the incongruities in the neighbouring buildings, themselves often products of a modern building practice that imposes it dominance on this Alpine territory.
The house consists of three levels: two semi-underground and one completely above ground.
The lower floor, at street level, houses the garage and vehicular access, the intermediate floor is dedicated to secondary common functions, while the upper floor is occupied entirely by a large living area and two bedrooms, all which seem to extend out into the landscape and a covered patio with access to the garden and swimming pool.
The objectives of this project included the creation of a balanced, healthy internal environment (both physically and mentally) for the inhabitants, ensuring a good performance in terms of energy consumption and the use of renewable or recyclable materials. The result is a composite strategy whose protagonists were concrete, timber and copper.
The two lower levels, partly carved out of the slope, are built with reinforced concrete, the upper level is a timber structure. The concrete ‘base’ embedded in the ground provides the thermal mass for the house while the timber in the upper living zone creates a healthy comfortable environment. The use of natural materials enhances the notion of being immersed in the landscape. The ‘rooting’ of the building to the ground is emphasised as is the physical sense of the inhabitants of living with direct contact to nature.
The construction system of prefabricated timber blocks, used for both structure and the internal partitions offers the flexibility needed for any subsequent changes in the organisation of the interior spaces. The timber-block envelope is heavily insulated externally and is protected with a waterproof layer. The outer skin is comprised of modular copper mesh elements that have a screening and protective function.
The use of recyclable materials, from the prefabricated timber blocks to the copper cladding and screening, affords the project its strongest point in terms of sustainability, while in the cycle of its construction, due to the use of modular, prefabricated elements, there was also a significant reduction in the duration of the time on site and the impact of the construction process (dust, sound, rubbish, transport etc.).
The delightful character of the copper mesh brings an extraordinary quality to the building. In choosing a light colored background for the mesh, the shimmering facades are brought to life with a dance of light and shade that generates a poetic dialogue with its surroundings. This three dimensional aspect of the façade is further enhanced with the wind that passes within and along it, making it flicker and dance like the leaves of a tree.
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