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Roccolo, Seminar Centre, Retreat, Miller & Maranta, Castasegna, Val Bregaglia, 2004, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on


Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

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Castasegna is a picturesque border village in Val Bregaglia, a mountain valley between the Maloja Pass and Chiavenna. A  stone’s throw from the Italian border, a polygonal, pebble-coloured concrete tower stands high above the main road, exuding an unexpected sense of urbanity. It sits in the orchard of Villa Garbald, a stately 19th-century country house designed by Gottfried Semper. Inspired by the Lombard bird-hunting towers known as ‘roccoli’, Quintus Miller and Paola Maranta designed the Roccolo Tower as a contemporary companion to the Semper building, which they had also renovated. The pioneering reinterpretation of Bregaglia architecture has earned the Basel office international attention and recognition.

The five-storey guesthouse certainly makes a bold statement – for all the right reasons. Its windows may be unevenly placed, and its roof looks like a stranded submarine when viewed from above – but the ambitious new building blends in perfectly with the narrow houses, winding alleys, vast chestnut groves and towering mountains. This is because the Roccolo is essentially a local product: the concrete slabs were sprayed with high-pressure water jets shortly after demoulding to expose the gravel of the River Mera. The uneven, mottled surface is a perfect habitat for the local moss population. While the walls of the tower are already taking on the characteristic shades of the surrounding area, the larch window frames and shutters will eventually fade to the same grey as the traditional slate roofs.
In 1862, Agostino Garbald, the young regional director of customs, and his wife, the poet Silvia Andrea, commissioned Gottfried Semper to design a villa. Built in the style of a Lombardy country house, it is the only project completed by the 19th century “starchitect” south of the Alps (although Semper famously never set foot in Castasegna). By the late 1990s, the villa was fast fading from view. An urgent rejuvenation was needed. In 2002, Basel-based architects Miller & Maranta won the competition to restore and extend the villa. Today, the Roccolo Tower and the villa, which are maintained by the Fondazione Garbald, are available to groups and researchers from the ETH and the University of Zurich as a seminar centre and retreat. The premises are also used for scientific, cultural and business events.
Roccolo, Seminar Centre, Retreat, Miller & Maranta, Castasegna, Val Bregaglia, 2004, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Swissmill Tower, Haarder Haas Partner, Zurich, 2013-2016, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on
Hardau, Zurich, 1978, Brutalism, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on
Brunnadern, Residential Buildings, Atelier 5, Bern 1970, Brutalism © HEARTBRUT / Karin Bürki
Saurer Tower, Saurerhochhaus, Georges-Pierre Dubois, Arbon, 1958-1960, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on