Monday, September 10, 2012

Three Buildings in Chiasso

M.A.X. Museo and Spazio Officina by Durisch + Nolli (2005) and Double Scholastic Gym by Baserga Mozzetti Architetti (2010)

Chiasso, a Swiss border-town, can hardly boast of the architectural treasures that neighboring Como, Italy does, but on a recent visit I was impressed by an unexpected contemporary urban assemblage. Three buildings -- a museum, a multi-purpose hall, and a sports center -- are individual design statements that still have an interesting conversation going on. The outdoor space they share is more parking lot than piazza (empty save two cars on my visit), but this surface unites the glass, metal, and concrete buildings.

Two of the buildings come from architects Durisch + Tolli -- M.A.X. Museo and Spazio Officina -- who referred to the site as a "no-man's land" when they received the commission in 2003. M.A.X. Museo was established by the wife of the late Max Huber, Aoi Huber-Kono, and appropriately it is focused on graphic design. The building, covered in translucent channel glass, meets the sidewalk, giving this precinct of contemporary architecture an urban presence. A dramatic cantilever signals the entrance, which faces away from the shared lot that connects the various buildings.

Spazio Officina is set at an angle to M.A.X. Museo, meaning that it is hidden on the main approach but that its picture windows come into view once past the museum. The four projecting lightboxes do a good job of tipping off to people that something special is happening inside, though on my visit it looked like the skylit interior was being used for an architectural jury, given the carefully ordered models and drawings ringing a long table with chairs. The open space is clearly built for flexibility, unlike the third and last element on the site.

The "Double Scholastic Gym," designed by Baserga Mozzetti Architetti houses, as expected, two gymnasiums, meaning the building is a wrapper for a large space. But the volume is lower than both the M.A.X. Museo and Spazio Officini because the architect placed the courts for basketball, volleyball, and other sports (there is some flexibility, after all) below grade. Concrete walls on four sides are propped above glass walls by V-shaped columns located at the halfway point of each side. Five years after the two cultural ingredients, the gym is a great addition to the architectural complex in Chiasso.