Mario Botta on Monte Generoso

 John Hill
24. August 2018
Photo: montegeneroso.ch
Mario Botta grew up at the base of Monte Generoso and used to climb to the summit, camping there overnight to watch the sunrise. Some six decades later, the world-famous architect has capped the summit with a restaurant, a flower-like design that alternates stone and glass.
Project: "Fiore di Pietra," 2017
Location: Monte Generoso, Switzerland
Client: Ferrovia Monte Generoso SA​
Architect: Mario Botta Architetti
Manufacturer: Jansen AG
Products: ​VISS HI TVS mullion-transom facade, 50 and 60 mm, triple glazed; internal doors, fixed glazed VISS Fire TV EI60 partition walls; Janisol 2 EI30 fire safety doors
Other Manufacturers and Contractors: Schüco aluminium systems, Didier Grandi SA, Regazzi Serramenti e Facciate SA, Piergiorgio Balzaretti
Photo: Enrico Cano
The "Fiore di Pietra" (Flower of Stone) restaurant occupies the site of the Hotel Vetta, which was built in 1970 to replace a much older hotel. Vetta came down in 2014, four years after a rockslide under the building forced the closure of the hotel. The year 2014 is also when Mario Botta was hired to design a panoramic restaurant at the summit of Monte Generoso, which straddles the Swiss-Italian border and has, at 1,704 meters (5,590 feet),  gorgeous views of both countries. The mountain ridge has been a popular place since the late 1800s, when a hotel and then railway were built there. Last century came the modernization of facilities on Monte Generoso as well as the discovery of the Bear's Cave, packed with arcaeological remains just a 30-minute walk into Italy. More than 150 years since the first hotel was constructed, Monte Generoso remains a strong regional draw, and therefore a fitting setting for Botta's eight-sided "Fiore di Pietra."
Photo: Enrico Cano
Botta was influenced by the site's dramatic natural features, particularly the precipitous drop of a few hundred meters on the north side of the mountain. In turn, he designed, in his words, "an octagonal building formed by eight 'petals' that enclose a central space. To the east, this circular crown opens out to create a long terrace that follows the ridge of the mountain." The "petals" are articulated as five-story stone towers that bow out and then taper back toward the roof; this opening and closing led Botta to the "flower of stone" name. The banded stone petals are open at the level of the railway to provide access to the building, while their tops are glazed to provide the panoramic views. The lowest level is given over to an exhibition space devoted to the mountain and Botta's design; the first floor has mechanical spaces; the second floor serves as a conference area; the top two floors are given over to the restaurant and its services; and the roof is open to the public for 360° views of Lake Como, Lake Lugano, and the Alps.
Photo: Enrico Cano
Photo: Enrico Cano
Although the gray stone, quarried from nearby Lodrino, draws the most attention, the use of glass – 400m2 (4,300 sf) in total – is also important to the design of "Fiore di Pietra." In addition to the angled glass walls atop the petals, there are recessed vertical strips of glass between the petals, storefront glazing at the building entry, and interior glazed partitions. The glass facades (Jansen VISS steel system) ensure generous views from the restaurant, but they also provide thermal and acoustical insulation, and in the winter they take advantage of passive solar heating, important in this climate and at this height. Inside, where stone surfaces give way to wood, the glass partitions (VISS Fire and Janisol 2 EI30) allow for visibility between spaces but also provide the necessary fire separation.
Photo: Enrico Cano
Photo: Enrico Cano
The "Fiore di Pietra" on Monte Generoso was inaugurated on 29 March 2017. Since then an image of the building has served as the symbol of Monte Generoso, illustrating how architecture can be just as important as nature in establishing a sense of place.
The logo for Monte Generoso with a stylized graphic of Botta's "Fiore di Pietra" (Photo: montegeneroso.ch)

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