|Miller Maranta - Switzerland
Via Principale 5, Castasegna
2001 - 2004
In Bergell mountain village Castasegna, located at the Italian-Swiss border, the famous architect Gottfried Semper built a villa for the customs officials Agostino Garbald
in 1862. Agostino Garbald was not only customs officer, but also led a life of almost humanistic imprint in the remote Castasegna. From the inheritance of the family,
the house passed on to the Fondazione Garbald. In collaboration with the ETH Zurich emerged a utilization concept, which provides for the construction of a conference center
for scientific and cultural events and seminars for the university. For the restoration of the Semper-Villa and the necessary expansion of the spatial program, the foundation
announced a competition, which was won by the Basle architects Miller & Maranta, with their proposal called "Roccolo". With the competition project the architects paradoxically
succeed subordinating the relatively large construction volume by proposing a tower. The existing villa and the garden have been carefully restored and converted.
The tower-like construction with apartment cells in the northern part of the garden is the most extensive of the necessary adjustments to the needs of the new use.
The village Castasegna expands in an oblong shape north of the river Maira course and terminates in the west on the border with Italy. The small town,
densely packed with multi-storey farmhouses and representative town houses along the street, receives a slightly urban character by the weight and height
of the constructions. On the western end of the town, the Villa Garbald also advances to the street front, but with the appearance of an Italian country house,
however the villa is removed from the expression of the other buildings of the village. Behind the villa the garden rises in two levels, surrounded by an irregularly
extending wall. To the north is located a small brick barn and, in the depths of the garden the extension, designed by Miller & Maranta, grows out of the wall.
The amorphous shape of the building stems from the characteristics of the immediate surrounding and pictures associated with the place. In plan the building follows
the course of the ways, of the terrain and the wall, and so translates the language of the adjacent barn into a shape which is rich in relations. Although the building volume
has a peculiar object-like relationship with the buildings of the village, it is independent and remains in a reasonable distance to the Villa. The independent,
symbolic effect is caused by the seemingly freely inserted, large openings in the facade.
The six-storey extension building contains a lecture room for 25 people on the ground floor and ten bedrooms on the upper floors. The tower is accessed
through the southern corner, which is drawn deep into the garden. Oriented to the north are the common room, kitchen and utility rooms, towards the eastside
ascends the staircase to the living quarters. The rooms of the upper floors twist along the fašade around the middle staircase spiraling upwards, at the same time
the stairs again turn around a fireplace. Almost every room is on its own level and is accessed by the own intermediate landings of the staircase.
The rotational movement of the staircase ends on the fifth floor with a common room. Through the vertical staggering of the rooms by a few steps each, the building
gradually develops gradually into the air. The irregular arrangement of openings in the fašade reflects the stacked rooms on the inside, but by no way exhibits
the complex sequence of spaces to the outside. Rather, the size and number of floors of the building are camouflaged. The rooms are simple, but realized with great care.
The floor is left as a screed, the walls and ceilings plastered smooth with a lime-gypsum plaster. The selection and processing of wood for doors, windows, shutters
and furniture designed by the architects, is made very carefully and gives the rooms a high-quality impression despite the high cost pressure.
For the external appearance the decision for a highly tactile, coarse mineral texture was crucial. The solution of an exposed concrete shell arose only in the course
of planning, during which the variant of a rough-plastered single-brick masonry was eliminated. Especially since the rooms in the tower are not distributed according
to the floors, but spiral-like stacked, a conventional building process which follows the stories would have become very complicated. Therefore, it was not built as usual
from the bottom up, but from the outside inwards. The construction phases of the outer shell and the inner structure were strongly separated. The outer shell
was constructed first as an independent component. This had some economic and aesthetic benefits. The ceilings with several vertical offsets had not to be considered
in the fašade design, and the shell was realized in as few phases as possible. Expansion joints were not required because the exterior shell and the core are allowed
to vibrate independently of each other. It is a a force fit ceiling connected to the outer walls, which was poured in grade. The internal structure of the building was built
in the second phase, where the fireplace works as a supporting core around which winds up the stairs. The connections for the reinforcing was previously concreted into
the outer shell, and later bent to be connected with the ceiling. The construction with a supporting outer wall of exposed concrete required a thermal insulation on the inside.
This insulation was made by foam glass and plastered with a lime-gypsum plaster. With these materials, a separate vapor barrier was not necessary and complex
internal protective layers could be prevented.
The arrangement of the windows of the new building makes it hard to draw conclusions about the spatial structure. The openings appear randomly distributed
and punched into the volume. This design at first glance emphasizes the block-like, hermetic expression of the tower. The windows and sliding shutters are related
constructions; they are mounted from the inside in niches in the outer wall. The soffits are therefore narrower than the wall construction. This results in an additionaly
irritating moment since the massive material contrasts with each cutout and makes the shell appear like a dress. This dress-like expression is subtly enhanced by
the superfice of the soffits, which were not water-blasted, but grinded. As sunscreen serving shutters were made of solid larch wood, and are made to be pulled in
the side guide rails of metal. The lower shutter can be folded out for optimizing lighting and ventilation. Unfortunately, the wooden shutters have not proven, and some of them
have already been replaced by textile sun protection. The larch wood used for the windows also appears in the door frames and also in the furniture. The wood surface
is protected from weathering with rosin oil. The occurring graying is in favor of the expression of the building.
Although the tower appears monolithically from afar, the imprint of the formwork, the phases and the formwork bumps remain visible after the water-blasting.
The irregularities of the surface increase the harsh expression that the building shows at first glance. The facade was built in standard grey concrete with
yellowish-green aggregates. The pebbles were exposed by removing the cement skin. The rough textured surface iridescent in its colourfulness remembers
the iregular plastered surfaces of farm buildings and garden walls usual for the region. From the surface of the outer shell 1 to 2 cm of cement skin were removed
with a high pressure water jet. This process, called Hydroabrasion, requires great technical experience to have a coherent overall expression in the end.