Castasegna is a picturesque border village in Val Bregaglia, a mountain valley between the Maloja Pass and Chiavenna. Just a stone’s throw from the Italian border, a polygonal, pebble-coloured concrete tower high above the main road exudes an unexpected sense of urbanity. It is located 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 to complement and provide a contemporary counterpoint to the Semper building, whose renovation the architectural duo also undertook. Their pioneering reinterpretation of Bregaglia architecture brought the Basel office international attention and recognition.
The five-storey guesthouse certainly makes a bold statement. But not in a negative way at all. Its windows may be unevenly placed, and the roof looks like a stranded submarine when viewed from above – but the ambitious new building blends in perfectly well with the villagescape. The tower effortlessly complements the narrow houses, winding alleys, extensive chestnut forests and towering mountains. This is down to the fact that the Roccolo is essentially a locally sourced 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 in time fade to the same grey as the surrounding slate roofs.
In 1862 Agostino Garbald, the region’s young customs director, 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 object the 19th century «starchitect» completed south of the Alps (although Semper famously never set foot in Castasegna). By the late 1990’s the villa was fast fading from view. An urgent rejuvenation jab was called for. In 2002, Basel-based architectural firm Miller & Maranta won the competition for the restoration and expansion of the estate. Maintained by the Fondazione Garbald, the villa and the Roccolo tower serve today as a seminar space and retreat for the ETH and the University of Zurich, as well as for other groups and events in the fields of science, culture and business.
© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut