Field Trips Galore

Friday was a relaxing field trip day, though it was rainy off and on throughout.  We had an early start, taking an 8:42 a.m. train to Mendrisio, site of the Architecture Academy for the University of Lugano.  We met with Architect Enrico Sassi, coordinator of the Institute for the Contemporary Urban Project (i-CUP) at the academy, and two recent graduates.  They shared information new research and planning efforts in both the Ticino Canton and the city of Lugano. The research on the Ticino Canton is the foundation of a comprehensive plan for urban development. For example, the researchers have analyzed how the opening of a new tunnel through the Alps will benefit Ticino through increased connections to Zurich and northern Switzerland.

We also learned about new ideas to entice towns to center development on train stations. (One amazing fact was that the Swiss railway system earns 60% of its revenue from rent in buildings it owns surrounding train stations and not from tickets!) Another research project discussed, called La Nuova Lugano, is a regional visioning and planning effort to encourage the city of Lugano and its surrounding municipalities to work together to create connections on a range of issues from transportation to land use to the protection of forests and agricultural land. (A case in point: every municipality in Switzerland has a different tax rate!)

It was interesting to learn how some of the same problems that plague the U.S.—urban sprawl, poor planning coordination, and fragmented government— also affect Switzerland.

After we left the Academy, we walked through Mendrisio to the recently constructed offices of the famous architect Mario Botta, a Le Corbusier protégé whose architecture is renowned throughout Ticino and the world.  While Mr. Botta himself was not available to meet with us, we were able to marvel at the building his practice will soon occupy.

We then returned to the Villa Maderni for an excellent tortellini lunch before we embarked on our trip to Lugano.  Lugano is a city of about 45,000 located about 10 miles north of Riva.  The largest city in Ticino, it also functions as the third-largest financial center in all of Switzerland.  It has benefited both from its location in the Swiss tax haven and its proximity to major Italian cities like Milan.

Juan Carlos Lam, a graduate of both Virginia and Virginia Tech doing research in Lugano sponsored by the ThinkSwiss initiative, met and led us on a tour of the city’s major sights.  We explored the Chiesa San Rocco, near the city’s core.  Artwork covered almost every inch of the church’s interior, from the mural on the ceiling to the statues adorning the altar and walls.  We also strolled through the Parco Civico, where the city has planted a great variety of flowers and trees that greatly add to the lakeside experience.

In addition to welcoming us, Lugano also hosted the Harley Davidson convention this weekend.  The city was inundated by thousands of motorcyclists and bikes in town for the festivities.  It was quite a sight to see all that orange and black in Switzerland!

The rest of the afternoon and evening, we students explored Lugano on our own.  Most of us wandered around town, either ogling the high prices for clothing or picking up some souvenirs from the Swatch factory.  Many students also ate dinner in town, taking advantage of Lugano’s exquisite culinary opportunities.

Tomorrow, we’re headed to Bellinzona to explore Ticino’s capital and its famous farmers’ market before finishing the weekend with our projects analyzing the Canton’s strengths and weaknesses.


Author: Will Feeney, Undergraduate, Government and Urban & Environmental Planning, U.Va.

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