Piazza del Sole – Studio Vacchini Architetti

architect_Studio Vacchini Architetti
location_ Bellinzona, Switzerland
project year_1996-1999

text from Alessandro Massarente
Area 51, rivista di architettura, 2001

At the feet of the cliff of Castelgrande we find one of the most metaphysical spaces conceived and built in Europe in recent years.
Until not long ago, this urban area consisted of an anonymous above-ground parking lot, surrounded but not geometrically defined by multistory buildings, a stretch of town walls, a low construction housing, a supermarket covered by a dome, a group of century-old platens and the side of the cliff on which the castle is built.
This cliff wall, from which the vegetation was removed during the construction work of the project for the Castelgrande designed by Aurelio Galfetti, has become one of the façades of the Piazza del Sole, evoking the façades of the demolished houses that used to skirt it. This artificial wall, transformed by Nature and by Man, silently relates expression of mutual distances, with the abstraction of the square measuring about sixty meters per side which forms the Piazza.
As if its artificial naturalness was required to offset the abstraction of a geometric figure placed in the heart of the city. As if its form were capable of anchoring buildings and itineraries to a different centrality, as if this form existed to prepare the ground for the presence of a new large building in the city.
But this form actually corresponds to a space, even if underground, a facility which is often considered, in a city, only in its functional terms: an underground parking area, a multistory car park which Vacchini has given architectural character.

From the entrance ramp, a kind of tree-lined alley which slowly descends, grazing the castle cliff, to the bodies above round, containing the stairs and the lifts for pedestrians, from the ventilation to the cash desks, all elements of the composition are taken to such levels of abstraction that the implied use is not immediately perceived.
“ A multistory car park, even if underground, is to be considered, from an architectural point of view, as a true building with all the ensuing implications of a spatial order.”
In actual fact, the role a building of this kind may play in the process of upgrading an urban public space has to be considered very attentively, if one seeks to examine a situation, as the Italian one for instance, in which the regulation instruments – see the Tognoli law – haven’t produced the results the legislator hoped for.

Or in which the numerous opportunities to build such constructions are often left to projects showing no sensibility for the urban context they are supposed to improve, at times reporting to enormous containers created by brute engineering with reinforced concrete frames, and in other cases to the worst expressions of the mimicry which is by now more and more often appearing in old towns and sometimes to both at the same time.

The four surfacing structures placed at the corners of Piazza del Sole mark the vertical pedestrian paths, at the same time measuring the urban space, their volums suggesting the presence of the parking area below: unfinished forms which actually descend from simple geometric figures, overturned prisms of which triangular bases become walls driven into the ground, with surfaces transformed into roof, wall, entrance to the stairs and the lifts.

The large square “parterre” of the Piazza is lower than the level of the street and the surrounding areas and distinguished from them through this difference in altitude, as slight as it is significant, marked by two large steps which, due to the slight inclination of the square which becomes a large sloping surface, become long benches for resting along at least three sides of the square.

The Piazza thus becomes a potential open air theatre, a “place where one does not go to meditate but to listen, show oneself, express oneself” available for hosting public events such as concerts, exhibitions, shows, games. This theatre, meeting place and passage is commented by the “texture” of a pavement created both to express this character and to be legible from a distance, from the castle high above and from the roofs of the city.
Made in two materials, square 43 x 43 cm tiles of Riviera granite placed at irregular distances in a bed of grey reinforced concrete, this pavement features an only apparent irregularity, created by a sequence the rule of which has been skilfully concealed: a geometric criterion which leaves the installer little freedom and which is partly attributable to the application of cad rendering techniques which were not conventional a decade ago but are very diffused today, even if not sufficiently appreciated in terms of virtual potential.

Courtesy of Studio Vacchini Architetti