architect_ Miller & Maranta
location_ Castasegna, Switzerland
project year_ 2003
photography_ Ruedi Walti Fotografie

collaborators_ Sabine Rosenthaler, Tanja Schmid, Julia Rösch
landscape architect_ Jane Bihr-de Salis
structural engineer_ Conzett, Bronzini, Gartmann
building owner_ Fondazione Garbald
project leadership_ Jean-Luc von Aarburg
construction manager_ Urs Meng 

from the architects_

On the Swiss-Italian border, the road winding westwards down from the Maloya pass runs through the small village of Castasegna. The massive facades of the village houses line the road and impart an air of southern urbanity.

The Villa Garbald was, in contrast, designed along the lines of a simple Italian country house for the then customs officer Agostino Garbald by the German architect Gottfried Semper in 1862. Surrounded by garden walls, the picturesque house stands high above the road with a vine clad pergola partially screening it from view. The west side of the house forms the backdrop for the lower part of the garden overlooked by the living rooms; whereas the rear reflects the internal division and adjoins onto the domestic rooms. The topography and planting separate the garden into a lower and upper part. The pig sty and the barn are situated in the depths of the upper orchard ajar against the garden walls.

The new guest-house, which is akin to the villa, replaces the former barn. Thanks to its situation in the depths of the orchard, the new building keeps its auxiliary character to the main building. The volume grows out of the garden wall and, due to its height and slenderness, evolves into a tower-like shape. It is reminiscent of the towers in northern Italy, the Roccoli, that were once built to catch small birds with nets. The building forms the spatial conclusion at the upper delimitation of the garden. With its amorphous shape it avoids too close a similarity to the housing typologies of the valley and thereby remains subordinate to the villa. The building seeks to reflect the character of the old garden walls and vernacular village buildings without wanting to compete with the elegant architecture of the villa Garbald.

One enters the building from the garden and from the entrance hall one can either go directly into the meeting room or up the stairs to the guest rooms above. The meeting room opens out onto the garden and is furnished as a living room where one can also roast local chestnuts on an open fire in the long autumn evenings. The upper floors lie staggered according to the staircase. The guest rooms nestle adjacent to the staircase and likewise rise staggered to each other. On the landings, chairs placed in the corners invite one to tarry and open up opportunities for a spontaneous chat. On the top floor, the stairway widens out to an area with an open fireplace and a spectacular panoramic view over the valley and mountains towards Italy.

The Villa Garbald itself, whoʼs interior used to be richly decorated, has been carefully restored and subtly adapted to its new needs. Showers have been installed in the eastern part of the house above the newly designed kitchen. A later annex to the back of the house was demolished and rebuilt to its original dimensions. Connected to the kitchen, it houses a large dining room which opens out onto the narrow, cobbled backyard, forming within the complex as a whole an inspiring place to congregate.

Courtesy of Miller & Maranta.