Monday, October 21, 2013

Benvenutto a Italia, right?!

On Sunday, we loaded up the bus in Lausanne at 8 am and hit the road. We had an appointment at 12 at a place four hours away, so we were on a time crunch. The journey from Lausanne to Como was absolutely stunning, we had to cross the Alps to get from point A to point B. The Alps are unlike any other mountain range I've seen. The Blue Ridge mountains are more like gentle peaks, and the mountains out west are red and massive and spring up out of the flat ground. The Alps are like the mountains you see in the Lord of the Rings, or your wildest dreams. They're snow capped and beautiful and hilly and people just build their houses into the hillside.

And I actually took no decent photos of them from the bus. WHAT A SHAME

On our way to our stop, we drove through a series of tunnels through the Alps. One tunnel we went through was 17 km long, which is a really long distance to be driving underground. I felt kind of like a dwarf, tunneling into the mountain. Except I was on a tour bus. And I don't have a beard like a dwarf.

We reached our destination, the visitor's center for the AlpTransit tunnel project. Our guide was a former exchange student who studied at Virginia Tech in civil engineering and architecture. She told us about the tunneling project and the building that the visitor's center is housed in. Switzerland is creating two rail tunnels through the Alps to improve trade routes through Europe. The Ceneri Base Tunnel, the project our guide was working on, is short, only around 15 km (AND THAT IS THE SHORT ONE WHAT). The Gotthard Base Tunnel is going to be over 60 km long. Construction has been going on for over a decade, I do believe, and it is expected to be finished around 2016 ish.

Sadly, it was rainy, so photos aren't that great...

Our guide in front of the project map, and inside the visitor's center

The visitor's center was really, really awesome. The two long walls were made of Gabian walls, which are wire cages filled with rocks. The rocks in question here were all residue from the blasting in the Gotthard tunnel, so it was a really neat way to reuse materials. The structure of the building was neat, too. It was a two story building, and the second floor was hung from beams above. You have columns that support the beams, and then there are cables that run from the beams to the floor. Everything is stable, so it doesn't move, but it freed up the walls inside so that they could have completely glass walls. You can see the stone walls from inside the visitor's center, which was neat. And they buried the columns inside the Gabian wall, so you don't even see them! It's a magic building!

A look at the gap between the glass building and the rock wall. Then up at the roof, which has rocks on it too


Front and back of the building

We arrived in Como around 4:30 and traded off professors. Mario headed off to the airport in Milan, and Gene Egger and Sal took over. We went to dinner at 7 and got completely stuffed with antipasti, "personal" pizzas that were the size of a serving platter, and tiramisu. Plus wine and breadsticks. It's madness.

Como is a beautiful little Italian town. The border between Italy and Switzerland is like 10 minutes away, and we actually spent our first day in Italy, in Switzerland. But apparently, George Clooney lives in Como, so I'll be looking out for that gorgeous man.

Our first stop was one of Mario Botta's first buildings. It's a house in the middle of the hillside and it is awesome. It is 10 meters by 10 meters by 13 meters, so it's a very tall thin building. You enter on the top floor via a little bridge, and the ground drops away beneath you.

This was a really hard building to photograph. It's very narrow and the rooms are small and there were 25 of us (20 kids, 2 professors, 2 friends of professors, and the owner), so it got a little cramped. But despite that, I really enjoyed the building. It's cool to think about houses in a way that isn't the typical American suburb or apartments. People can live and thrive in cubes, or tall houses, or nestled into the hillside. The family there has been in the house for over 40 years. And they still love it! And let's be honest, if I got to wake up to that view every morning, I would love it too.

These are some crazy wonderful terraces

And there is an occulus in the ceiling, above the "living" part of the house

Crazy yellow staircase! It's yellow, to remind you that you're walking up towards the sun


Good ol' Egger, hitting the streets of Italy

Dem mountains

Next, we visited a middle school by Botta. It was designed in "houses" and was very modular. The houses all looked separate, but they were all connected by a hallway on the third floor. Once again, this was another difficult building to photograph. The kids there were stoked to see us. We were a nice distraction from their lessons. They would stare out the windows at us.

I did a nice sketch that illustrates the layout of the building pretty well. It's really hard to describe in words or photos because of the scale of it

But there are some nice atria :)

At lunch time, we went and visited Riva San Vitale, which is the home of the architecture school's other study abroad program. There are 7 undergrads and 7 grad students there currently, plus like 35 business students. It was super awesome to meet up with our friends (including my roommate, Andrew!). Also, I got to watch a little bit of the extended version of the Fellowship of the Ring. Any day with Lord of the Rings in it is a win in my book.

Their studio space, and Erica and Andrew! I miss that kid

We ended our day with a visit to Mario Botta's office in Mendrizio (by the way, Como, Riva, and Mendrizio are all like four minutes away from each other). Mario himself was SUPPOSED to be there, but was called away to China on Friday to work out the kinks in a university he's designing there. Oh darn. So his son showed us around the office instead. We got to see the drawings and models and renderings of the project in China, as well as the building (which Botta designed himself). The whole thing is clad in a special vein of terrazzo marble mined in Jordan, so it has a wonderful yellow/amber/orange color.

What is life


It doesn't look very orange in the close up photo, but that's because it was taken through a window. They made BRICKS out of the marble!

These chairs look suspiciously like a project I did first year. I think Mario Botta stole my project

The tour itself was super awkward. Botta the Younger's English wasn't spectacular, and Sal was being super pushy and commenting every two seconds about how he and his dad should come to Virginia Tech and give a lecture. You could tell it made the son (and all of us students) really uncomfortable, I'm just not used to professors being pushy like that. In my opinion, it was a little rude. We'll see how the rest of Italy goes!

Today is the 21st of October. I fly home on the 8th of November. That means I have 18 days left over here in Europe. It's really crazy to look back at my time here. I've been gone almost two complete months, and I've seen so many buildings I can't even remember them all. But I do know that I'll be coming back to Europe someday! These feet of mine were made to wander the world.

1 comment:

  1. I love that house! How awesome are hey hose terraces? If I had views like that I doubt I'd ever leave... Hard to believe your Europe trip is drawing to a close! Where did this semester go??