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making places with the tectonics of local architecture


making places with the tectonics of local architecture by Cornelis Nuijten

studio Masterly Apprenticeship committee dr. J.C.T. Voorthuis ir. J.P.A. Schevers J.J.P.M. van Hoof Technical University of Eindhoven Architecture, Building and Planning June 2016

This report is about the creation of place with the tectonics of local architecture. The research is contextual and is followed by an architectural design. Earth, a locally available resource is researched and used as a local building material. I would like to thank my leading graduation supervisors dr. J.C.T. Voorthuis, ir. J.P.A. Schevers, J.J.P.M. van Hoof for their contribution to my research and design. Gratitude to Niels Groeneveld from Werkstatt for advice in designing with earth. Gratitude to dr. ir. S.P.G. Moonen for constructional advice. And a special thanks to Manon Deijkers for her support.

5 8 | 12 13 | 14

prologue abstract introduction MA KING PLACES

17 | 21 22 | 40

making places with tectonics Gion A. Caminada CONTEXT

43 | 46 47 | 56

buildings of the university local architecture of Mendrisio UNIVERSITÉ PISÉ

59 | 63 64 | 79 80 | 103 104 | 133

local building materials rammed earth a tectonic dialogue: earth and wood making place with earth

135 136 | 139 141 | 163

epilogue bibliograhpy and image credits appendice


A BSTRACT How can a place be created with the tectonics of the local architecture in Mendrisio? For the ‘making of places’ I researched the work of Gion Caminada. He describes how differences can be strengthened by what he calls a ‘Quantum of the almost same’ in order to create places. This is a tool to research locally on similarities in the surrounding, in order to define differences.

1. interview with Gion A. Caminada in Valendas

“...There are a lot of interesting autonomous architectural objects, but only rarely you will find that they contribute to the strength of a place. A place is more than just a single building...”1 Caminada creates places by understanding what is already there and ‘reduce distance to these things’. As a former carpenter he has a great understanding of building materials and often finds this ‘Quantum of the almost same’ in the used materials of the surroundings. The local architecture of Mendrisio was researched and translated into a design for a new building, ‘Université Pisé’. What kind of materials are used? How are these materials applied? Answering these questions demands a tectonic understanding of the local architecture. Talking about tectonics I’m referring to the structure and experience of a building in explicit relation to the materialization and the making of a building. Because the village is located in an end moraine, natural stone and clay are found locally. Therefor stone and brick are used as a building materials. The plaster on the majority of the local building facades needs to be protected from the wet climate of Mendrisio by a roof overhang. The brick roof tiles


demand a specific roof inclination. All these factors form an archetypical building in the local architecture and together these buildings create a recognizable place. The mass of my building refers to this archetype. Its position relative to ‘Palazzo Turconi’ and ‘Teatro dell’architettura’ forms an ensemble of buildings that create a new urban place. The walls of ‘Université Pisé’ are made from rammed earth, a construction method that compresses a mixture of soil types by ramming it into a form work. Earth is a rather complex material. It will partially be extracted locally and enriched with necessary additives. The material refers to the geographical location of Mendrisio. Every local extracted soil needs to be examined before applying in order to determine the composition of sand, loam and clay. This composition determines its resistance to weather influence and determines the strength of the material. This five-story high building demands much of the material and requires an utmost understanding. It causes the walls to have a thickness of 1100mm on ground level that rejuvenate upwards. These high walls need to be supported with buttresses that suggest a partition of the open floor plans. The massive structure is supported by an open and dynamic wooden construction made from sweet chestnut. The light character of this inner construction forms a dialogue with the massive earthen facades. It contains voids and stairways that provide an open connection between the different floors. Together with the present topography a diverse routing system is created. The combination of materials and their behavior results in interesting solutions within the construction, the execution and architectural


detailing. The tectonics of the building controlled the main design decisions. By reacting on the local architecture, this building is creating place. With tectonics this reaction is expressed and translated into an architectural language.



INTRODUCTION The report that lies before you is an explanation of the design for an additional building on the ‘Accademia di Architettura’ in Mendrisio. This is the architectural department of ‘Università della Svizzera italiana’. Swiss architect Gion A. Caminada wrote a theory about the making of places. The reason for his concern on the making of places is the disappearing of cultural diversity. He creates places by a thorough research of the context, often related to the use of materials and the craft involved in applying these materials. Tectonics is about the experience of architecture in relation to the materials and the craft involved. How can a place be created with the tectonics of the local architecture in Mendrisio? This report relates materials directly to architecture, with a research of Gion Caminada’s architecture on tectonic point of view. Also the local architecture of Mendrisio is researched. This contextual research attempts to find the reasons behind the archetypical appearance of the buildings in the local architecture. The connection of the appearance of this architecture and the locally available materials is researched. The local resources for the building materials used in this local architecture, also provide the ingredients to build with earth. Earth as a building material and the rammed earth technique result in a building for the academy.


Together with the use of a wooden structure, the behavior of both of these materials is researched. The combination of these materials results in a specific architecture where tectonics convey the use of these materials. Earth, as a building material, controls the design process. The created architecture is able to respond to the surrounding architecture and create a recognizable place in Mendrisio.



MA K ING PL ACE S WIT H T E CTON ICS The book ‘Masterly apprenticeship’ was written in preparation of this personal report. This is a research done by our graduation studio; Masterly apprenticeship. The research gives an insight on how architecture is learned and teached in Switzerland. “How does the Swiss context influence the attitude of the Swiss architect?” Investigation was done on context, architectural education, genealogy and mimesis and how this influences Swiss learning and teaching. The research on context focuses on a few restricted aspects within Swiss context: Urban sprawl, geographical context and social and political context. The research in this personal report is strongly related to context. It researches a relation between geographical context, the materials extracted from this context and the created local architecture with these materials. RELEVA NCE OF MA KIN G PL AC E S

1. Bettina Schlorhaufer, 2008

A concern within the contemporary Swiss Architectural discourse is called ‘Urban Sprawl’: the expansion of cities and their economies that are causing pressure on the existence of local cultures and the corresponding Swiss scenery in the so-called ‘Alpine Fallow Lands’. “The relevant restructuring that ensues from the industrialization of agriculture goes alongside the impact of economic and cultural globalization. The distance between town and country changes in relation to ‘global’ space…The particular is disappearing in the margins”.1 Local architecture is a big part of this particular. Gion A. Caminada is an architect who is trying to preserve the


ETH Studio Basel, Urban Typology of Switzerland

diversity in these localities. He is an inhabitant of the village of Vrin, a village that contains great cultural value. This cultural value is partially included in the local architecture. The ‘Strickbau’ typology is a building typology that represents ancient Swiss alpine building. Vrin suffers from the pressure created by ‘Urban Sprawl’. The economic pressure inflicts with the way of living of these local people. Their way is living is closely related to their way of building. Jacques Herzog said about their research, done by Studio Basel: ”We perceive rural areas in which towns exist. In fact the situation is quite the reverse. We live in an urbanized network that includes leftover landscape.”2 In reaction to this statement, Gion Caminada wrote his “Nine Theses on Reinforcing the Periphery” in which he points out the differences between peripheral and central regions and demands that a non-alienated yet cautious design of the cultural landscape should constitute an important basis for the independent and self-assured development of peripheral areas: “Marginal regions are not leftovers. It should be possible to assure them independence and autonomy … Peripheries might in this way succeed in developing their regional strengths. They would stand for stability and security…”.3

2. Studio Basel 2006

3. Gion A. Caminada, 2008

Gion A. Caminada recognizes the cultural value of localities and tries to give them back their purpose within society. By preventing a disappearance of localities he tries to maintain cultural diversity within society. He often finds the aspect that makes a place particular in the materials


used. As a former carpenter he has great knowledge on the way materials behave and what he is able to do with them as a builder and architect. The significance he grants to materials is clearly visible in his architecture. TECTONICS

1. http://www.dexigner. com/news/10765

As architects we will all be dealing with tectonics whether we acknowledge the value of it or not. “Tectonics is a way of talking about buildings whereby use, structure and experience are explicitly related to the materialization and the making of the building. Tectonics, from the Greek word tecton, meaning “carpenter” or more generally “maker”, is a concept that focuses on the way a building is made and in what way this making is made visible in the building... In other words, tectonics describes the way material and structure are used in the design process.”1 In order to understand the relation between places and tectonics it is relevant to know how tectonics is used in this research and how it can be found within architecture. This research focuses on the direct relation between materials, how they are applied, and how this application can form a core concept for the experience of architecture. Next to Gion A. Caminada, many Swiss architects are admired for their understanding of tectonics. As a research group we elaborated on this admiration by mimicking a Swiss piece of architecture. MIMICKING THE SA IN T B E N E DI CT C HA PE L

Our graduation studio ‘Masterly Apprenticeship’ organized an exhibition


during the Dutch Design Week 2015 in Eindhoven. The exhibition was portraying Swiss architects via a model of one of their buildings. The aim of this exercise lies in learning through mimicking. The saint Benedict chapel is a design by Peter Zumthor, a real master of tectonics. By mimicking a photograph of this chapel, into a 1:33 model, the tectonic experience of this building is made tangible. What feeling do the materials give to the space, how they are crafted and chosen to fulfill a certain purpose, how they challenge the user to react on them, and how these materials react on one another. Also the character of different wood species is considered. For the wooden benches a much lighter wood species is chosen, than the wood used in the construction. This understanding of materials allows the architect to fully use a materials properties and possibilities.


1:33 model of the St. Benedict Chapel


GIO N A. CA MINA DA The word place rises a lot of questions. There is not a single encompassing description of what place is. Therefore the research on this phenomenon is related to the research of Gion A. Caminada. What does Caminada mean when he uses the term place? What is the value of it and what can we do with it? C R E AT I NG P L AC ES

Since 2009 the teaching of Gion A. Caminada on the ETH Zurich specifically concern the making of places. Some topics within his studio have been; Topography (2007), Living and Energy (2009), Construction - craft (2011), The construction and its legality (2012), Idea - Origen (2015). The definition of ‘the making of places’ is explained in the beginning of every course description: “The project ‘creating places’ will conduct research on specific topics, that move us and that are considered responsible for the destruction of differences and cultural diversity.”1 Christian Norberg-Schulz describes place more thoroughly on the aspect of how places move us: “A concrete term for environment is ‘place’. It is common usage to say that acts and occurrences ‘take place’. In fact it is meaningless to imagine any happening without reference to a locality... What, then, do we mean with the word ‘place’? Obviously we mean something more than abstract location. We mean a totality made up of concrete things having material substance, shape, texture and color. Together these things determine an ‘environmental character’, which is the essence of place.”2 This essence is what gives places their particularity and what makes them different from each other. Gion


1. Gion A. Caminada, http://www.caminada.

2. Norberg-Schulz, 1980

3. Gion Caminada,

Caminada is always in search for these differences in places. He tries to strengthen places by applying local materials, involving local companies and answering to local culture. By researching local architecture, he determines the materials that are used and the craft that is involved. This could be the element which makes a place distinctive from others. “A place only arises through its difference to another. And only this can generate what people have always sought: identity and the sense of belonging. Otherness was never the actual goal, but rather the consequence of natural constraints and the opportunities to be gained from it. The constants of a place - such as climate, topography, or material resources - were the decisive factors. These contextforming conditions have been largely lost, and the contours that frame a particular space have become frail.”3


Developing ‘a place’ is how Caminada tries to give a place back its position within contemporary society. During our interview in Valenda’s (complete interview in appendix) he explained what he exactly meant with these so called ‘places’, and how he is teaching the making of these places. His research, thoughts and teachings are a guiding principle for my design decisions. He talked about the five theses he described in order to determine the particular value of a place. 1. The image of the culturally integrated place stems from the concentration of causes. 2. The search for the expression of characteristics does not primarily constitute difference to other places, but brings forth the actual place.


3. Difference is formed by a whole of specific properties of the place and the related culture. 4. Differences to other places only become effective through a ‘quantum of the almost-same’. 5. The design, which raises the question to the identity of the place, is not only of aesthetic relevance, he follows a deep human need. “A place is always also an Idea: something exists; something is added. Ideas are crucial when they emerge from the idiosyncrasies and character of a place. Such characteristics might be the unique climate, topography, or the availability of material resources – yet also the skills of local people.”4 A P L ACE CAL L ED MENDRISIO

These characteristics are all related. The idea for my design in Mendrisio is strongly related to local material resources and their application. The design is the answer to the question how I could strengthen a place with this Idea. Material resources are strongly related to the geographical context, as we researched in the book ‘Masterly apprenticeship’. Together with the local climate they form a concentration of causes. This requires a certain way of applying the materials and together they form an image of local architecture, an archetype. This archetype contains the expression of characteristics. The use of local materials is a reference to local architecture and therefor the related culture. Knowledge that is hidden in the details of surrounding buildings is researched. In these details there is a ‘quantum of the almost-same’ hidden.


4. Gion A. Caminada, http://www.caminada.

In the local architecture this reoccurring detail can be found. Through an understanding of these local details, the question to the identity of the place can be asked. For the new design, this means that the detail is not an aesthetic copy of the found local detail, but that this detail is applied for its purpose in the present architecture. The use of local resources in the form of new building materials like rammed earth, aims at a development of the local building economy. On the other hand local well-known materials are used, like sweet chestnut or strips of limestone. The relation of the given geography and the materials used in the building is a strong reoccurring syncrasy in all Caminada’s projects. The following case studies elaborate on this syncrasy. Materials and the involved craft are used by Caminada in order to strengthen his Idea’s. How could my idea of making a place with the tectonics of local architecture, be strengthened? And how would Caminada do this?




Vrin is one of the traditional small mountain villages in Switzerland. The culture and the corresponding architecture are very typical. People know each other personally and the village is quite isolated from the outside world. But not totally, also the inhabitants of Vrin have developed different demands to their buildings. With this development, the demand to the building method increased. People desire bigger windows than the traditional building method is capable to provide. The connection and relation of spaces has changed. The size of barns has increased with the amount of cattle, and therefor bigger roof spans are desired. The buildings in Vrin are characterized by the building method. Within this building method lies the strength of this place. Caminada upgraded strickbau as a building method to contemporary standards by transforming it into a prefabricated system with cladding. “Admittedly, the inner logic of the construction must sometimes be stretched to its limits to accommodate this design. This is not necessary for private residences. Their dimensions are adequately served by traditional strickbau techniques that furthermore also prove cost effective�.1 The local architecture forms a part of the Identity of the inhabitants. Developing this building method and the related architecture meant developing local culture. Stiva da Morts is one of the new public buildings in Vrin built by Caminada. There is a lot of material knowledge involved in the design for this building.


1. Gion Caminada, 2008

Strickbau Developement



left craft of woodjoining right tectonic detailing Stiva des Morts


combination of materials


Craft and material play an important role in the expression of the building, details are designed with great understanding of the material. The wood is provided with space to breath, it contracts and expands with the changing of the seasons. The construction of wood is placed on a solid static concrete foundation, which does not posses these breathing properties. This combination results in big gaps between these materials. This is made visible in the facade of the building. The larch wood species can be found locally and manufactured into lumber by the local Sawmill of the village. The meaning of the architecture in this village can be found in this material and its application. The village of Vrin is placed on a steep mountain slope high up in the mountains on an altitude of 1448m. Building materials are not easily transported to this height. Therefor the use of this deciduous needle leaved tree in these vast amounts is still an obvious choice. D ISENTIS: THE IDEA , THE MOUN TA I N S A N D THE B UI L DI N G

For the interventions in Disentis the idea was; making an educational research facility for agricultural purposes. Gion Caminada often refers to Henri Lefebvre when explaining this idea for the ensemble of buildings in Disentis. “There is this theory of Lefebvre, which I find very interesting, in which he says: “In order to create good places, three requirements must be met. Firstly, it needs to produce a product. Out of this production, knowledge arises, which is the second requirement... The final requirement he says; “out of this production of products, out of this knowledge, meaning


is created.”1 The Architecture contains this idea and this is what combines the separate interventions in Disentis. As the animals are exposed in the stables of the village in favor of researching their behavior, so is the architecture in this building. The applied local timber is assembled in a very clear and pedagogic manner. The details sometimes seem to be improvised by the carpenter while assembling the timber. Some pieces of timber are measured and sawn on the job. They were clearly put in place in order to primarily fulfill its constructional purpose. This becomes of aesthetic value in the building as a whole.

1. interview with Gion A. Caminada

The stables work as an observatory. When approaching the building it first lifts you up from the landscape. Here you observe the cows, before you enter the building. Moving through this building, you go through a door where you have the feeling you are torn loose from the topography and the animals in the outside space. From this distance and position it is possible to research the behavior of these animals without them noticing you’re there. Another intervention in Disentis is a Girls dormitory for students. “Girls here not only follow the educational curriculum with ease but also become skilled in independent living, communication and interpersonal relationships.”2 In addition to the holistic idea of education, the idea for the dormitory was to create a space where girls feel at home, meet with other girls and make a place where they are able to grow up. “We attempted to put ourselves in the position of these young girls and ask, what do I need?”3


2. Bettina Schlorhaufer, 2008 3. Gion A. Caminada, 2004

up View before entering the stables down observation bridge


They got their own space, on their own floor, which they share with a few, with their own particular entrance together with the independence and responsibility. The vertical movement through the building happens through a massive concrete core. Again this element is design with great tectonic care. The possibilities of concrete are researched and applied to its extend. By sculpturally applying this material, it gets a central position in the design. The niche that is included in this concrete element, is provided with a metal treatment. It is heated underneath, and therefor the conductive property of this material lends itself to create a cozy place. The topography provides the possibility of adding entrances on several floors. By adding these entrances movement through the building is made more interesting. Girls enter the spaces from more directions, and so it will be more likely to accidentally bump into a friend. The cheese dairy is another part of the building ensemble in Disentis. The purpose of this building is exposing the making of alpine local cheese. This function comprises very specific demands to the building, also to the material. The material should have a certain capillary properties, the absorbing and releasing of moisture. It regulates the humidity of the space. The arch-shape of the building was provides the desired drift of air inside. Therefor Caminada choose a porous brick to build this building. Accordingly


up Concrete sculptural core down Entrance second level Dormitory


other spaces within the building were build with the same material. This creates a strong coherence of materials in the building. This is accentuated by minimal detailing. Elements like lintels draw attention, and give information about the building method. Their purpose is honestly shown and used add a certain tectonic value to the architecture. These buildings together form a ‘good place’, according to the standards of Lefebvre. Each building fulfills its purpose in reaching this goal. Together this ensemble of buildings create meaning.

up Esthetic brick right capillary and constructional brick





“...people tend to fall in love with a certain imagination of an object. There are a lot of interesting autonomous architectural objects, but only rarely you will find that they contribute in the strength of a place. A place is more than just a single building...” - interview Valendas

BUILDING S O F T HE U N IVE R SITY The University consists of two ensembles of buildings that are separated by the urban tissue of Mendrisio. ‘Villa Argentina’ and ‘Palazzo Canavée’ form one ensemble of buildings of the University. (Next page, in the back of the picture) ‘Palazzo Turconi’ and ‘Teatro dell’architettura’ form the second ensemble of buildings. (in the front of the picture) The added design will strengthen the latter. Turconi will transform into graduate studio’s, a library and deposits. ‘Teatro dell’architettura’, currently under construction, provides a multi functional lecture hall. The element that will turn this latter ensemble into a recognizable place is the central public space enclosed by all these buildings. Through a 1:200 model of the urban situation, the position and relation of this central public space on the surrounding area is made tangible. The understanding of the public space in relation to the adjacent buildings and the relation between the different buildings that create this urban space are both of great importance. These buildings contain a great diversity. The task of the new design will be to prevent these buildings from falling apart as an ensemble.

next Research model of the context


up detail ‘Palazzo Turconi’ down courtyard ‘Palazzo Turconi’


“... differenzen is a concept that’s based on relationships, in which active singularities are set against each other. Only by recognizing that what is different amongst these singularities, differenzen can be found.” - interview Valendas


1. Christian NorbergSchulz 1980

2. Kenneth Frampton, 1986

The aim of the research and the design is the determination and definition of place. With a clear definition of place, people are able to interact with the present architecture. “‘Existential foothold’ and ‘dwelling’ are synonyms, and dwelling is the purpose of architecture. Man dwells when he can orient himself within and identify himself with an environment, or in short, when he experiences the environment as meaningful.”1 By reacting on the existing buildings the design creates a meaningful place for the architectural first years architectural students of the USI and the inhabitants of Mendrisio. The architectural students need the best place to learn architecture. For the people of Mendrisio this created place will be an addition to their hometown. The design will need to answer both requirements. They will actually need to cohere. “Knowledge is critical and refinement essential, but these attributes are impotent without the passionate adoption of a common cultural cause, without the use of architecture as an agent for both the realization and the representation of the society and its identity. Architecture, where it is not rooted in the community and cultivated equally by both the profession and the people, has little chance of emerging as a general culture, and the conditions under which the art of building may attain this stature are subtle in the extreme.”2 MATERIA LS

During more visits to the concerned area, an important part of researching was done by cautious observation. What materials are used for building


left local archetypical detail next material and context


in the area? A picture that I took from the wall next to the church reveals the strong relation of the context and the materials in local architecture. By understanding such a detail, a lot can be learned about the context; the geographical location, materials of the vicinity, culture, topography and climate. ‘A decaying wall is bordering an entrance space towards the square together with the old church. Wounds in the plaster reveal its baked clay structure. The top of the wall is articulated with coppi. This is an old roman way of roof covering, also consisting of baked clay. The maintenance of the wall is a job for this architectural element, but it barely succeeds in protecting the plaster. The infringement of nature on the artificial seems to be accepted in this place. Rain forms a curtain before the alps in the distance.’ By observation of the present architecture the particularity of this place is found within the use of these materials and their application.

former mendrisio right archetypical building mass

On the contrary to other landscapes in Switzerland, where stone building is only something of the last few centuries, stone is a pristine building material for architecture in Ticino. The construction of houses was defined by easily accessible building material of the place that was built in. From the middle ages until the 19th century the transport of building materials was impossible because of infrastructural or financial reasons. This makes the Ticinese architecture unique and typical, a vernacular architecture.




1. Max Gschwend, 1976

The land of Ticino descends from 3000 to 196m above sea level. Mendrisio is lying in an end Morain of the mountain, which provides the area with a clay and loam soil. “The marine, yellow, ferruginous clay (clay that contains a lot of iron) in Mendrisiotto becomes yellow-red when baked, while the glacial gray blue clay (tera negra) turns white when baked.”1 This is recognizable by the typical colors of the architecture in the area, and the materials used on the roofs and walls. ‘Bauernhäuser des Kantons Tessin’ is a book about the materials used in the Canton of Ticino. The book explains the direct relationship of the source of this building material and the geographical situation. This literature research and a field research proved the big amount of clay used in the area, instead of the stone used in the North of the Canton. The clay is baked here in order to withstand the climate. The roof overhang is present to protect the plaster. The use of ‘coppi’, the roof tiles in this area, demands a certain angle of the roof surfaces, which give them a particular archetypical look. Mostly this is a hipped roof, with surfaces in an angle of 25 degrees, in order for the roof tiles not to fall off. Since the archetypical element is created by the angle, the shape of the roof may vary. It is a projection of the shape of the floor plan.




“ Everyone recognizes it just makes no sense to transport everything around the world, shifting materials back and forth..” interview Valendas

LOCA L BUIL D IN G M AT E R IA LS Research in the local architecture and geographical context revealed Mendrisio’s clay and loam soil. Caminada develops local typical building methods in order to preserve them. With the need for a new University building, and the given context, the use of clay as a local building material could be developed in Mendrisio. This material is able to make a new place that responds to the local architecture. Erecting the walls from earth is a direct reference to its geographical location. This geographical location of Mendrisio is the main cause for the appearance of the local archetype. The upscaled archetypical building mass of the design forms a cultural reference to the surrounding architecture. The use of the monk and nun roof tiles results in the same angle for the roof surfaces as in the surrounding buildings. These roof tiles are ceramic and possess various colors because of the mixed different types of clay. Sweet chestnut is a common local tree species of the area. This species has been used as a building material for centuries in the south of Ticino. It is a deciduous species and therefor it is really tough and stiff. The tannin acid in this species causes the wood to be perfectly applicable in the open air. On the other hand, this acid causes a reaction with steel. The constructional use of steel in combination with this wood is therefor avoided. The inner structure, the window frames, the roof overhang and all other cladded elements are made from sweet chestnut.


The developed material is earth. The application of ramming this material in a form work is new to the area. The conditions are not optimal, but with the combination of horizontal strips of limestone, this new earthen material can withstand Mendrisio’s wet climate. These strips of stone prevent the rain that is inflicted on the facade to form a stream along the facade. This will cause a much faster erosion of the earthen facades. Through the combination of earth and stone, no material needs to be covered or further protected from the climate.

right two sections of the rammed earth wall





RA MMED EART H The combination of the research in local building resources and the shape of the local architecture together resulted in the decision to use earth as a building material. With the rammed earth technique, this material can be erected as big plain surfaces and withstand the local climate. EA RTH A ND THE CONTE XT

Mendrisio does not have the perfect conditions for an earth building, this is probably why a lot of the earth used in the area is baked into bricks before applying, and protected with a decorative plaster. The climate is Mendrisio is very mild, it hardly freezes and the temperature does not rise above 26 degrees Celsius. The average rainfall is 1311mm, even in the driest month there is a lot of rain. It will be inevitable that erosion will happen with earth structures, but the design enhances all anti-erosion measures necessary for this climate. First of all, a roof overhang of one meter works as a protector of direct rainfall. Secondly, pebbles are being sieved from the mixture for the rammed earth wall, and can be crushed to a smaller size into gravel. This gravel will be used in the mixture; it strengthens the wall, and therefor erosion is reduced. Thirdly, horizontal pieces of limestone are included into the wall while ramming the earth. They are placed on one side in the earth’s cast, 400mm above each other. Lastly, there is a one meter wide strip of gravel in front of the facade, to prevent water to splash up from the surrounding soil. This allows to avoid a concrete plinth. The earthen wall will vanish into the


up optimal moisture content test right a weak mixture


ground because of the sloping topography. Though it will seem like the building arises from the soil of the plot, it will need to be protected from this moist soil. A PPLY ING LOCA L EA RTH

Earth as a building material has a very strong character, esthetically and structurally. There are a lot of possible ways to process this material. As observed in Mendrisio, it could be baked into brick, but it could also be rammed, poured, hand-molded, stacked or extruded.

1. H. Guillaud, 1994

In Europe, earth is not a conventional standardized building material. Loam exists out of clay, silt, sand and aggregates. The loam that is found locally needs to be specified in order to know what is possible to built with it and how to built with it. The amount of the different components within the mixture defines its strength, processability and resistance to weather influences. The shrinking of the material is strongly determined by its composition. When more clay is used within the material the shrinkage will increase. Therefor it is desirable to keep the amount of clay in the composition low. “The composition of usable soil for construction is identified through the mixture of types of mineral components; pebbles (20 to 200mm), gravel (2 to 20mm), sands (0.06 to 2mm), silt (0.002 to 0.06mm) and clays (smaller than 0.002mm). The mixture of these particles determines its structure and texture.�1 Though when building, it would be likely to work with the material provided by the plot or the vicinity.



2. Gernot Minke, 2006

“The composition and varying properties of loam depend on local conditions. Gravelly mountainous loams, for instance, are more suitable for rammed earth (provided they contain sufficient clay), while riverside loams are often siltier and are therefor less weather resistant and weaker in compression.�2 Different aspects of the context put their demands on this choice as well. Considering the idea of strengthening the place by responding to local architecture, an alienating hand-molding technique is undesired. BUILDING TECHNIQU E

Soil is everywhere, and is everywhere to be used. Local conditions demand a method of appliance of the substance. Ramming the earth is seen as a dry method, though the earth is moist when processes. Shrinking of the material is reduced and its strength increased. Because the soil substance is rammed into a form work, it is likely to create big plain surfaces that can respond to the local architecture. Because the earth is rammed layer by layer (from 150mm to 80mm), it is possible to include elements; structural, esthetically or as a protector of the facade.

up facade of the rauch haus down axonometric rauch haus detail

Martin Rauch is a Austrian earth building expert. Together with Roger Boltshauser, they made an experimental design for his new house, the Rauch Haus. This house is an experimental project to built with clay. It is made with rammed earth, on the same kind of topographical situation as mendrisio. Local soil is sifted and crushed to the right grain, in order to make it suitable for ramming on the building site. Within the framework



ceramic tiles are added to the earth wall, to make sure it can withstand the stream of water over the facade in this wet and cold climate. Rauch calls this ‘controlled erosion’ in the book ‘Haus Rauch’, since real ‘erosion is inevitable’. A reinforced truss ring beam is included in the wall in all floor heights. This combines all the earthen elements to provide each other strength and stability. The wooden floor constructions are laid directly on the earth, so are the wooden window frames. Earth namely extracts moisture from wood. Therefor the combination of these materials can result in very simplistic detailing. In the Rauch House however, not enough space was reserved for the different amount of shrinking of these two materials. In time, all frames needed to be replaced. The shrinking of the earth through the years put so much pressure on the frames, they cracked. Earth shrinks until it reaches its equilibrium moisture content, while wood is a material that expends and contracts according to the seasons and other climatic conditions.

up construction ricola building down axonometric

Herzog and de Meuron also designed a large earthen structure. The material comes from an excavated quarry nearby the building site. The excavated material is transported to a hall, where it is prefabricated into big rammed earth blocks. These blocks are stacked and masoned together with the exact same material that the blocks are made from. After placement the joints are finished with the same material.

ricola building detail



When manufacturing rammed earth in a hall, it needs to be transported. The limited weight of the elements causes that the material can merely be applied as a cladding of the facade, held up by the inner construction made of concrete. Faster building on the construction site is made possible and the manipulated conditions inside a hall shorten the duration for drying. The idea of developing this building material locally, demands a great consideration of the way the material will be processed. Using prefabricated elements is making a mask of the material. Rammed earth is heavy, thick and robust. These necessary properties enable the material to create an own architectural language. Transporting prefabricated earthen elements in this surrounding would be undesirable. There is a big open space in front of the construction yard sufficient to store and mix the building material. Therefor the ramming of the earth will be done on site. The excavated soil needs sieving to get out the bigger pebbles that are probably present in the soil on the plot, and some components may be added to the mixture if necessary.

next construction

The way of constructing will be very labor intensive. A team of people with less knowledge can be steered by a well-educated Earth Master. Students and inhabitants of Mendrisio could work together on this new building, resulting in social coherence and the development of a local material.

seperated by levels









A TECTONIC D IA LOGU E : E A RT H A N D WOOD The construction of the building consist of a shell construction made of rammed earth that is supported by a inner construction made of wood. The locally excavated shell construction needs the support of the inner wooden construction to withstand variable horizontal loads on the facade. The divers properties of the two materials demand a tectonic architecture. BUILDING SEQUENCE

In the first phase of the construction the total wooden structure is build together with the roof. This means that this inner wooden structure needs to be able to stand on itself and support the rammed earth wall. This wooden structure is stabilized by two constructional cores.

left process construction sketches next wooden structure

In the second phase of the construction the earth wall will be rammed. As the wall will be erected, layer by layer, it will be connected to the wooden structure on every floor level. A sliding connection detail of the floor and the wall provides space for the two materials to work together. When the rammed earth wall reaches the height of the roof, it will be left to dry. The compositions of a rammed earth construction reaches it’s EMC (Equilibrium Moisture Content) after about 28 days. As these tests are done for prefabricated rammed earth and the climate in the lab is controlled, the drying time is shorter. It is likely that the structure will be drying for several months. During this period the wall will need to be protected from weather influences until it is dry. The difference of the floor imposition on the earthen walls is that big, that this property of the material needs to be


left wooden structure right earthen structure



combined structures




1. Beckett, 2015

up shrinking

handled within the execution phase of the project. With a shrinkage of 2% the floor imposition lowers 273mm in the drying process. “Depending on the amount of clay and sand used, the amount of shrinkage under controlled environmental conditions range from 18.82 mm/m (with 10% of sand) to 4.52 mm/m (with 40% of sand). Both composites are mixed with 10% of water.”1 Because of the properties of the materials a gap underneath the wooden roof structure will be left over after the drying of the wall. This gap is accentuated with the design of the detail. This tectonic expression of the building reveals the function of both elements, roof and wall, and how the two work together in this building. The roof structure is not resting on the wall, but protecting it like an umbrella. In the third and last phase of building most of the shrinking of the earth has happened. Because of the enormous amount of material used in this building, it will be very likely that the building will keep on shrinking for months or even years. The placement of the window frames and floors is done in this phase of the construction. These wooden elements are connected, since they have the same properties. They rest together on the wooden main construction, while the rammed earth wall will be shrinking and sliding next to them.

consequence 1:10 right sliding detail 1:10

The properties of earth are deciding factors in designing. This material really demands understanding, and devotion to the material from the designer. Niels Groeneveld from Werkstatt mentioned; ‘it is form follows material’.


The buttresses that are needed for the constructional demands of the material, also form a structure for the space inside. On the first floor and the second floor they form the basis for the space arrangement. On the higher floors they suggest spaces in the free floor plan. This means that the way of building with this material suggests a certain usage. The floor plan is open on the levels of the studio, but groups could be formed within the suggestion of the structure. The wooden construction is made from sweet chestnut, this is a very strong local deciduous tree species. It allows the construction to cantilever and support the earthen wall on all floor levels. The rejuvenating columns carry the load of the main beams. Because these beams hold the earthen wall in place, also these buttresses need to rejuvenate along with the columns. The weakness of the earthen wall is its height. This demands a very thick wall that rejuvenates in order to provide its own stability. For this design this meant a wall, which starts on a thickness of 1100mm to reach the roof at a thickness of 500mm. Reinforced ring beams connect the different parts with each other to form one solid structure. With buttresses this structure is stable on its own. The wooden construction keeps the facade in place with a sliding detail on every connection of the floors and the buttresses. The wooden columns rejuvenate along with the thickness of the

up fourth floor right front facade section



The earthen walls are erected to form a space. To abide these spaces recesses in this massive wall are needed. The recesses allow light into the space and provide visual connection between the outside and the inside. The way window frames act in the facade has a strong relation to the climate. By playing with the depth of the window within a special designed frame, the use of the sun’s energy is optimized. By putting back the window on the south facades, the building does not heat up in summer when the sun is on a 68 degree angle burning on the facade. The north facade does not need to hide from the sun, and the windows are therefor placed outwards as much as possible. This results in a niche within the wall, that can be used in relation to the adjacent inside space. The building needs an harmonious consistency in the different facades, as the topography already differentiates them. To prevent a difference in the two north facades and the two south facades, this special window frame was designed. The reveal of the window can differ according to its position without causing a different appearance to the facade. These frames project the changing thickness of the wall on the outside of the building, and therefor strongly express the tectonics of the building and the material. Recesses of doors and frames are detailed and expressed accordingly. The places where you are able to move through the rammed earth wall are detailed like wholes in the structure.

up space and frames down north and south windowframe






left windowframe 1:10 right door 1:10



left rear facade right front facade





facades and topography 1:300




The high facade facing towards central Mendrisio possesses a very institutional character. Vertical lines in this elevation mark this character. The northeast elevation has a more private character and does not contain the openness of his neighboring elevations. It responds to the square. The addition of the new mass creates the University square at the back of the building. The square is the central element that causes the buildings to form a strong relationship with each other. All building will be accessible from the square. By making the relation between the inside of Université Pisé and the square very strong, the building enriches the square and all connected buildings. The adjacent elevations of this space react on one another through their size, composition, rhythm and their height and positioning towards one another. This makes an ensemble of the buildings, that together enclose a personal urban space.

former Buildings of the university

The back facade of Turconi and the back facade of Université Pisé are parallel and a central axes crosses the center of both buildings. These two factors creates a strong connection between the two.

left Design in research model of the context next urban situation








The architecture of UniversitĂŠ PisĂŠ plays an interesting game with its surroundings. The image of the building reacts on the local architecture. From this image, the knowledge was extracted to build a building that reacts to the local climate of Mendrisio. The mass and the facades of the building give importance to the surrounding buildings. This results in the creation of a new urban place. The routing and space arrangement within the building adds up to the reaction on the local conditions. The building takes advantage of the sloping topography around the building. This topography together with the specific use of local materials guide the user through the building. The relation of the different materials plays an important role in the use of the building. The massive rammed earth wall is a strong border. A relation between the separate stories within the building is created with voids in the floors. These voids also spread the light over the separate floors. The height of the different stories is adjusted to the function of that story. The groundfloor that is entered by the main entrance is an open lobby space with a heigh ceiling. A visitor is able to meet with the students through the exhibition of their work on this floorlevel. Low stairs are taking the visitor up the slope through the exhibition space. The back entrance of this floor is connected to the exhibition space in the cellar of Turconi. This route is combining the exhibition spaces of the two buildings.


The visitor can also choose to go up the building via the stairs or elevator. The stairs will take you up to the floor where the teaching takes place. The side entrance in the north east facade is for teachers and students. This entrance allows to enter the floor directly. It reduces the amount of people on the stairs, and enables students to quickly visit their teachers. These two optoins of entering this floor creates an interesting entanglement of routes. The single recess in the thick earthen wall, makes a strong private gesture towards the user. Because of the topography, light comes in from only one side of this story, the other side of this floor is rather introvert. This is where the classrooms are situated. On the front facade where the light comes into the space, the offices of the teachers are situated with a view on the town of Mendrisio. The space inside the windowframes is accessable on this north facade, so the teachers can enjoy their ‘living Mendrisio painting’.

firmer section building relation 1:300



left entrance hall right entering from side entrance



former left entrance hall former right entering from side entrance left isometric view groundfloor right floorplan groundfloor 1:200



left isometric view first floor right floorplan first floor 1:200



On the second floor the workshop is located. This space is connected to the public space on the back of the building. Five doors connect the outside and inside space. This connection defines the character of the public space through the openness and accessibility of the inside space. Also the offices for the assistant professors are located on this floor. The assistant professors form the connection between the dean, Mario Botta, and the students. The gesture of the stairs toward the studio spaces are different than the gesture of the central stairs. They are more personal, and suggest the more private character of the upper floors. The two upper floors mainly provide studio space, and are strongly connected again by a central stairs. These floors have an open character, where a lot of light is able to penetrate the rammed earth wall. The deep window frames can be used as small light studio’s in order to research the made models. The lack of a parapet opens up the space through the thick wall, and provides a wonderful scenery of Mendrisio. Through a tectonic architecture the building is given a pedagogic character. Especially on the levels of the studio’s the detailling is almost demanding a discussion. Conversations between the teacher and the student about the use and application of materials seems inevitable. The first year students will be able to really experience this building and be introduced to architecture.





former left workshop former right studio’s left isometric view second floor right floorplan second floor 1:200



left isometric view third floor right floorplan third floor 1:200



left isometric view fourth floor right floorplan fourth floor 1:200



UniversitĂŠ PisĂŠ is the conclusion of a local research. The knowledge contained by the present local architecture is developed into a new architectural language with the application of a local material. This building is a reflection on the local culture of Mendrisio and therefor it is contributing to the making of place. Earth is a building material that could be used in any culture, climate or time. Its complexity, diversity and aesthetic appearance offer great possibilities for good architecture.


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Frampton, K. [1986]. Mario Botta and the school of Ticino. In T. Boga, Tessiner Architekten. Zürich, Switzerland: ETH. Gschwend, M. [1976]. La casa rurale nel Canton Ticino [Vol. 1]. Basel, Switzerland: Krebs.

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IMAG E C RED IT S All images, unless otherwise stated, are created by the writer. p. 31 a-caminada-dorms-for-a-female p. 33 p. 58 rammed-earth-house-rauch-family-home/5100620 p. 60 zog-and-de-meuron




interview and technical statements

INTERVIEW WITH GION A . CA M IN A DA Wednesday 6 April 2016 Haus am Brunnen, Valendas (CH)

C+R+J In your educations three different phases can be recognized. During your younger years, you started working as a carpenter in Vrin. After this you started your study at the Arts & Crafts school in Zurich. And finally you attended your postgraduate studies at the ETH. How would you describe these three moments? G I had to do something and there was a carpentry workshop in the village of Vrin. Even though I enjoyed sports much more than working, I felt like I had to do something. Carpentry is about the craft and constructing in a concrete manner. One learns about materials, their properties and how to construct; a pragmatic approach of building. The experience I gained during this period, was valuable for me in a later stage as well. I learned how to handle materials like wood, as well as other materials. If one understands the intricacies of something, then it becomes easier to understand other things as well. Most of the time it’s much more about the process and the understanding of this process. The building materials might differ, but the structure and the process on how to deal with these materials are universally applicable.


Suddenly I realized that there must be more, that yet had to be discovered, perhaps at another place or at another educational institution. Attending the arts and crafts school was more of a transitional period, other things were important here. We discussed design, proportion and the tools used for designing, topics that I already got familiar with during my experiences as a carpenter. But the focus here was a lot more about solving a design issue with a lot of precision. The postgraduate studies did have a much more didactic approach with a different structural build-up. For me there was no true critical moment, it was more of a linear process. The growth in the different topics evolved in the same pace and intensity. This is what I try to achieve in my work and life in general as well, and hope to continue doing so in the future. Not knowing what is exactly on life’s path is what makes life interesting and exciting. C+R+J Part of our research was the presenting of the transfer of knowledge amongst Swiss architects. We found a lot of connections between architects that furthermore have influenced other contemporary architects. However, you seem to be least connected within the ensemble, aside from your interest in Aldo Rossi and professional relationship with Peter Zumthor. Where do you get your inspiration from? G Of course I’m familiar with Aldo Rossi’s publishing’s and Peter Zumthor is a good colleague of mine, we meet regularly. I’m interested in


his work and find it wonderful what he does, but I cannot say that they have influenced me. There are influences, but not per se in architecture. For example, the theories of writers such as Umberto Eco and Henri Lefebvre, people who actually have something to say. There are many other sources from which I am absorbing information from, to use in my work, such as history, art and theology. What interest me in history is only one thing; can I use it for the moment I am in? How can I translate my observations into a new pragmatic approach? Converting these into my own reality so to say. There are countless realities, so there is not only one reality. To convert strange images in a way that they no longer appear alien to you but become your own reality, is something I find highly interesting. This may be derived from philosophy, but could also find its source in theology. At this moment I am very interested in the theory called 'The Second Naiveté'. I have a friend who is a priest, he explained it in a wonderful way. He said: “as a child one is naive, and then goes on to study theology. At some point explanations appear telling you; “forget this sh*t, it is not real, this is superstition”. He is devastated, retreats and reflects on his thoughts. At a certain point, on a certain day he finds himself preaching, to overcome this discourse.“ This is like a ‘Second Naiveté’. This means one approaches it once again in a totally different way, with a different set of experiences. A child is carefree, everything they encounter excites them. Afterwards, these


experiences need to be somehow coped with. It’s difficult to describe it, but if I had to I would say these experiences start at the bottom, and they gradually evolve. Throughout your life, the experiences and tools you have gained accompany you and you get to employ them when needed. A positive mind set is precondition for the ‘Second Naiveté’ to work. The world is actually good. Why would I say that it is bad? If it is really so miserable, then I can just as well kill myself. A positive attitude with joy and confidence is necessary, but with some reservations. A certain amount of scepticism is required. Scepticism and doubt do not necessarily need to encounter and one does not exclude the other; they both accompany you throughout. This is what interests me at the moment. Within the studio Orte Schaffen, the theme of ‘Empire’ is chosen. This is the idea of a new global order based on the research of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. They say that there are no clear borders anymore, everything is permeable and the global world is functioning in a completely different way. Nomads used to come and occupy the premises, only to leave and be replaced by other nomadic peoples. There used to be a great deal of diversity among them, something that’s disappearing. That is the reason why we oppose towards this development with our theme ‘resistance and idea’. At a certain point I came up with the idea of cosmopolitanism, this is different from Hardt and Negri’s globalism. Cosmopolitanism is actually focussing on the specific location. However; I have to know how the world functions, I need to have an idea of this cosmos, whilst still focussing on the specific


place. At this point I have three themes that are important to me. The first one is about cosmopolitanism, because the focus is specifically directed towards something, in contrary to Empire. The second point that is important to me is the formation of differences which results in diversity. A beautiful theory which Lefebvre developed. For me, differences mean to enhance qualities that are already present, which is the opposite to the ideas of ‘Empire’. Within Empire, locality seems prohibited. But I think especially now, we realize that we, as a society, have to cope with these differences. This also can be seen in the development of Europe. One just cannot make an Italian person German, right? We have to accept these peculiarities, this specific quality… Not accept, but rather respect. ‘Accept’ is a terrible term! Respecting something means: yes, this is good. So we try to strengthen these differences at certain places even more, resulting in a strengthened identity and unity. And I believe, unlike the Empire, we do not need to build physical barriers, but to rather appoint limits and boundaries. If someone is not aware of the territory they belong to, then it becomes difficult for them to take responsibility. Thirdly; locality as a driving force for realisation. Locality for me doesn’t mean the backwoods, like living only in Vrin. It is generally defined as something rural and absent in the city, but I consider locality as something completely different. Locality for me means to be very close to the matter and to understand it. In that sense locality takes place everywhere, whether in


a rural or urban context. In regard to this attitude, I like the theory of Levi Strauss of Bricolage / Bricoleur. The idea is to somehow create something clever out of simple materials, something I did in Vrin for many years. Doing this I could create jobs, strengthen the identity and differences. And suddenly you realise that there is another dimension embedded as well, namely an ecological dimension. Everyone recognizes it just makes no sense to transport everything around the world, shifting materials back and forth. For this reason, I really like the idea of bricolage and I also sense an architectural quality within this idea of Bricoleur. Nowadays we tend to separate all the disciplines, for example separating art and architecture or the separation of lay knowledge and expert knowledge. We often rely on the concept of creativity, a terrible term. Everyone wants to be creative but somehow only arbitrarily. However, I believe if one has to be creative due to the preconditions of using only simple materials, then creativity is something completely different, as opposed to a situation where everything is readily available. It could well be that with Bricolage, these separations between art and architecture become dissolved. This is the goal I want to achieve. C+R+J After your education you started your professional career as an architect. Can you describe your first projects? And how did your educations contribute to them?


G The development of my career went a little bit different. I started my postgraduate studies after already having built quite a lot. In that sense it had the same continuity that I mentioned before. However, learning happens during a complete lifetime. I am probably learning the most right now thanks to the students and the experiences I have gained. In light of the learning process, I find the work of Alberto Giacometti fantastic, with wonderful sculptures. This dog, is the most beautiful, crawling and sneaking over the road. Apparently Giacometti once said: “I saw myself on that road, I embodied that dog.” I believe that he had to engage with the matter, otherwise he would not have been able to modulate his sculpture into this presence. Apparently he has always said, or people say, that he was continuously destroying his work every morning, and starting again the day after. He furthermore said in a wonderful sentence (I am not sure if this is the exact phrase he used, but this is how I remember it): “This time I am really close”. Imagine starting over again every day and feeling confident that this time you’re really getting close. This is a huge driving force. This feeling will take you infinitely far, I believe. If you no longer feel this sensation, then you might as well stop working as an architect. C+R+J At a certain point you decided to become a teacher. What moved


you to take this step? G I never would have come up with the idea of teaching at the ETH. There was a vacancy as an assistant professor, which is usually how you start out. There were 957 applicants. I did not apply, but someone asked me; would you like to come by? I went by to tell them my story and explain what interests me. They eventually chose me. I would not have come up with the idea to do this, although I am grateful that it went down this way. C+R+J In the description of your studio “Orte Schaffen� you mention that there is no recipe to develop a place, but rather an attitude. Can you describe your studio and what characterizes this attitude? G Creating places actually means to effectively come closer to the matter and to infiltrate a place so to say. And to furthermore try and understand the processes that are going on. But also try to get a sense for the possible risks. I believe that in the end, when I comprehend these things, new meanings will arise. And I am convinced that only meanings will eventually lead to culture. What you find important, and that which means a lot to you, are values worth living for, I think. There is this theory of Lefebvre, which I find very interesting, in which he says: "In order to create good places, three require-


ments must be met. Firstly, it needs to produce a product. Out of this production, knowledge arises, which is the second requirement. So you gain knowledge by doing it, by failing and by experiencing. This knowledge is in fact the opposite of the term information. The final requirement he says; “out of this production of products, out of this knowledge, meaning is created”. This way of thinking can be linked with the concept of Ernst Cassirer, in which he explains that the most important thing about culture is meaning. Or the other way around, meaning that eventually leads to culture. I hope that this is achieved, by understanding, by being intimate with the matter and by continuously working on the same thing. Continuously working on the same thing is something that is important to me. I believe that one can learn the most by repetition, only then you will notice what exactly is changing. When I am working on different things, I will never experience these changes. But when these small changes occur, only you will be able to notice the value, whilst someone else might not even detect it. C+R+J To create differenzen (diversity) it’s necessary to maintain the character of that specific location. It’s necessary to recognize the common divider and consider that in the design process. You define this as the ‘Quantum von fast gleichen’ (Quantum of similarities). How do you find this quality and how do you teach students to recognize this? G It is difficult. It requires a lot of effort along with experience, which comes with maturity. It is impossible to learn everything, but learning


because of curiosity throughout your life, makes it easier to recognize these qualities. Differenzen is for me something else than a singularity, which connotes being isolated. If someone is an introvert and maintains this attitude, then that person becomes isolated, something that’s only interesting on a specific level. However, differenzen is a concept that’s based on relationships, in which active singularities are set against each other. Only by recognizing that what is different amongst these singularities, differenzen can be found. When I stayed at the well in Valendas for example, I tried to recognize its assets. In this case it is the use of stones and the chalk which characterized this place, even though I prefer to build with wood, but that was out of the question. These assets are the Quantum von fast Gleichen and comparing them gives the place its strength. If you see a cow, a goat or a sheep then you will only recognize that they are singularities, but when you see a herd of cows, then you will be able to distinguish their strengths within the herd. However, this is not about the singularities being congruent or copies from one another, but rather distinguishable by nuances. In the fourth part of my 5 thesis I explain how in order to express these differenzen a Quantum von fast Gleichen is necessary. This brings me to my critisism towards contemporary architecture; people tend to fall in love with a certain image of an object. There are a lot of interesting autonomous architectural objects, but only rarely you will find that they contribute in the strength of a place. A place is more than just a single building, which does not mean that a single building is not important, but


the end goal should be to create a strong ensemble of buildings. C+R+J Do the students always manage to find this? G No, on the contrary, even we as professionals sometimes struggle to find it. Trying and failing are an important part of life, but if someone is really interested in something, then it will gradually become more understandable. It’s not about having to understand my method and we tell the students that we don’t want to enforce any methods but rather hand over a set of tools that they can use to assess their own beliefs. The main goal for me is to improve the autonomy of each individual and to get a sense for everyone’s qualities, to eventually improve or refocus them.   C+R+J How do the terms Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society) contribute to this? G There is a clear distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft is being able to cope with someone else in good and bad times, whilst in Gesellschaft you can desert the situation. A Gemeinschaft requires from a person to cope with the bad moments as well as the good moments, making the good moments even more pleasant. The project in Valendas was about the Gemeinschaft and the challenge to win back the community. If everyone within the community has visions, and we get to sit down and talk about them, then we can reach a common under-


standing, eventually leading to wonderful results. There always is a common interest. This brings us to the theory of Francois Julien, who mentions the triangle of the Universal, the Specific and at least as important, the Common Interest. The thing that unites these 3 elements is important for me to recognize. Within the building process, every nincompoop can get a responsibility attributed to them and I think that I can learn from everyone. Perhaps I have the proper skills in assessing people’s qualities to understand how they can contribute within a project. Giving people responsibilities within a community is the key in shaping that community. A community is not a homogenous, conflictless group, which means that we have to be able to withstand conflicts. At the same time, coping with conflicts is what makes Differenzen difficult to bear, yet something that we have to deal with. C+R+J You seem to start with an idea or even a utopia. This needs to lead to a realistic project, which still contains the original idea. How does this process of idea up to realisation work in your office? G For example in this project (edit: Gasthaus am Brunnen) I was wondering about the event; what has to occur here? For something to occur, we need people that are willing to take up the challenge, whilst on the other hand we need the building that can facilitate the event. These three things I find interesting. In Valendas I enjoyed a positive experience in setting the event as my point of departure. Ideas are important, they are something


superordinated and almost something metaphysical. And a good idea is something like a comprehensive metaphor whilst still providing the freedom to roam. I believe that strategies and concept can arrange all sorts of things quantitatively, but anything on a large scale requires idea’s. You have to be able to touch people with an idea. The idea is something dialectic between utopia and reality. If I’m just utopic minded or just realistic, I will end up with nothing and will be left jobless. C+R+J What are your design tools and when do you apply them? G This varies every time. Here in this restaurant (edit: Gasthaus am Brunnen) the starting point was the phrase “winning back the community”. We worked a lot with abstract models, which I have had good experiences with. It’s common to do renderings as well, and they can certainly be useful in order to experiment, but I prefer to work with abstract models. With these models I can always modify something, a good abstract model is able to show the essence of what is important to you to convey. Is the essence still present or is it diluted? In an abstract model this is easier to assess, assuming that I can capture the essence in the first place. Sometimes when I am stuck, for example, during sketching, writing will lead me to new insights. I cannot say what will work better, but the combination of these tools will eventually take you a step further.


  C+R+J These last few years mark an increased interest towards your approach. Not only in the context you are operating, but internationally as well. What do you notice from your increasing role as an inspirer? G I have no clue to what extent this inspires. I live back there somewhere in a town called Vrin, so I don’t get to experience all the fuss that goes around in the world. However, I do notice that there is an interest in my work. Last year I visited Japan, where they expressed their interest in my works regarding the development of the mountain areas in Switzerland. Japan obviously is totally different from Switzerland, the cities and towns have a different relationship with each other. The mountain area in Switzerland is being promoted differently. For example, Italy has numerous villages similar to Vrin, but they have been abandoned years ago, whilst Swiss villages receive state funding in order to preserve them. That does not always work, but at least the right intention is present. This is not a problem in my view, I like to deal with these challenges. I continue to work, and believe that with every step I get closer. But especially valuable to me is my professorship at the ETH, where I can research my theories. If I would only work in my office, I would have neither the money nor the time to do this, so I find myself in a privileged situation. At the end of every semester I write a new program, that gives me the sense of inching closer every time, and I gain new experiences, which eventually result in something new. It is not always easy, but it gives me a lot of pleasure.


C+R+J How do you envision the future of your office? Do you have any future dreams? G Every day is a dream, we have wonderful projects going on right now. We want to build a monastery in Vrin, but not one with monks and nuns or religions, but a monastery as a place to think and to discuss. Another project that we have going on right now is a place to educate craftsman’s. They have to do more than just creating things; they will learn to sharpen their perceptions, improve their way of communicating and the building will contribute to the culture of that place.


Graduation report Cornelis Nuijten  
Graduation report Cornelis Nuijten