The villa is conceived as a sequence of interlocking forms that sit against the slope of the site
Casa Fontana, Lugano, SwitzerlandEdit profile
Casa Fontana is primarily about space – how to capture the almost infinite space of its setting – the lake, the city, the mountains – and to internalise it within the landscape of the site and a sequence of domestic rooms.
The villa is conceived as a sequence of forms that interlock around the spaces. The human form is felt in these spaces. Materials (stone, timber, metal) are there to imbue the spaces with different qualities – warmth, coolness, activity, stillness. Details (shadow gaps and wall planes) define spaces and spatial linkages.
It was carefully built around the views, exposing, protecting or framing them depending on the use of space – closely framed openings for intimate rooms and generous panoramas for communal areas.
The design takes account of the ever-changing light and weather conditions, and the need to alternately heat and cool the building. To help cool it, a cascade and pool are carved into the rock midway up the site - it’s mirrored surface stretching out to the surface of Lake Lugano in the distance.
The villa is located on a very steep terraced slope, in the village of Aldesago above the town of Lugano and in the region of the lakes in the Swiss-Italian county of Ticino. Orientated to the south-west toward the lake, it has grandiose 180º panoramic views of the Alps, Monte Rosa, Monte San Salvadore, Lugano and Melide toward the Italian border. Ticino has a longstanding tradition of outstanding architecture and construction – from 16th century stone-masons using their skills on famed Italian buildings, to the architect Borromini, to a new generation of contemporary Swiss architects.
The landscape is distinctive. Located at the point where the Alps meet the Pô Valley – creating a cross between an Alpine and Mediterranean environment - it has extremely varied plant species from evergreens to palm trees. This luxuriant vegetation benefits from a microclimate of short cold winters and very hot summers, with an extended mild season.
The extraordinary nature of the site, a section of granite mountainside, challenged us to think about its topography and its geology. The road at its upper edge, that curves down past the site and then hairpin bends back along the bottom edge, suggested a stepped promenade moving down through the site between the upper and lower road access points (like the fountain and water after which Casa Fontana is named). This could then be expressed as a series of interconnecting layers – strata carved into the rock.
Walking the site for the first time with the client, he expressed his wishes in the form of a narrative: “I work in the cool of those shading pine trees there”, “I make breakfast here looking this way”. These vignettes were then strung together into a kind of ‘living diagram’ across the site.
Getting to grips with the problem of how to capture and relate the infinite spaces beyond the house, we carefully surveyed viewing lines. Photographing, measuring, balancing on ladders, we established angles and sequences across the site. We knew that the scale of the lake and the 50 mile view to the mountains could dominate any spaces that we might create and so our effort was to protect, frame, hold and even to obscure the views rather than to present conventional open panoramic vistas.
This sequence of manipulated views then suggested a series of locations, solids and opennesses that relate to activities within the house – closely framed openings for intimate spaces, more generous apertures for communal areas. The entrance sequence expressed the contrast between open and closed at its most extreme. At the entrance door in a solid ‘carved’ space against the mountainside, views are withheld. As you enter and move forward into the house, views are suddenly released and you are suspended, floating out over the lake and the infinite space beyond.
Spaces are characterised by light and shade, and by temperature. The orientation of the site exposes the granite slope to the full effect of sunlight and heat during the afternoon. The ‘compressed’ space between the house and the rock is shaded during the day and cooled by the granite overnight. Light is drawn down through this space and scooped into the living areas.
Coolness is brought to the open terraces with water – a cascade and pool are carved into the rock midway up the site – with the spatial quality reinforced by a lining of green granite.
The local untreated materials (travertino stone, white oak, teak and granite) will weather gracefully and acquire a patina over time, allowing the house to eventually blend into the landscape.