By Frank Schwaibold
The Mendrisiotto, in southern Ticino, is the opposite of fashionable Lugano. With an architectural landmark on Monte Generoso, he received a spectacular lighthouse.
Capolago – Contrasts could not be bigger at 1700 meters. Like a lighthouse, the so-called stone flower towers on Monte Generoso in the sky. A five storey building with two restaurants and a terrace with spectacular views. It was built by local star architect Mario Botta. At the foot of the stone flower is a dual-track station. The Clericetti family farm is only a few hundred meters away. Cheese producers live with twelve cows and about 20 goats and sheep from May to October on the mountain.
Marisa Clericetti and her husband Aurelio produce 90 pieces of fresh Formaggin cheese every day. Their centerpiece, however, is Zincarlin, a fresh cheese certified by Slow Food. There are only 40 of them a year. Another particularity: the farm has an old snow cellar, called Nevère. The cylindrical stone buildings were once built to store the milk before being processed into butter and cheese. On Alp Clericetti, one can guess how much the peasant life ended five generations ago, when the ancestors of the Clericettis settled in Monte Generoso.
Take the cog railway to Monte Generoso
Whoever wanders from the farm to the stone flower, experiences the opposite. An ultramodern architecture has arrived here. The cog train takes you from Capolago to the mountains. An elevator takes visitors to the observation deck of the stone flower. Thanks to the imposing building Mario Botta, one of the leading architects of Mendrisiotto. It builds around the world – currently a huge university campus in China. There is a large church in South Korea, a wine cellar in Bordeaux and an ice hockey stadium in Ambry. Its most famous building in Germany is the municipal library of Dortmund.
But the stone flower on the Monte Generoso was a special challenge for him – and a matter of heart. As a child, he had already climbed the summit several times. "It's my mountain," says the 76-year-old. That's why he wanted to create something special – something "that connects the earthly to the heavenly". This required special measures: with a specially constructed temporary cable car, the building material had to be reassembled. Although the historic Ferrovia Monte Generoso (FMG) runs on the mountain, it was not possible to transport the longest components due to tight curves and tunnels. The train was blocked.
Towers like petals
After two years of construction, an extraordinary octagonal structure stands on the mountain since 2017. Covered with granite stone from the valley of lavender, inside the wood. This is why the five-story arched towers resemble those of the petals. This form of "one feels in the restaurant that floats above all," says the architect. In any case, Mario Botta feels it as follows: "You stand above the mountain and you feel it well." On the ground floor, information panels tell the changing story of Monte Generoso. Since 1890, the cogwheel train has attracted tourists to the mountains. Especially from Italy, many visitors came in the late 19th century. But after the heyday of the first years followed the decline. After the global economic crisis that paralyzed tourism and the outbreak of the Second World War, FMG 1939 ended its railway operations. The rescue took place in 1941 by Migros founder Gottlieb Duttweiler. He bought the cogwheel railway. 2010, then another setback: the rocky ground under the mountain restaurant Vetta then lowered. As a result, the inn had to be demolished. FMG operators have considered closing everything down. But then, they decided differently. The commitment should continue – with an architectural exclamation point. And if we build here, none other than Mario Botta.
The view extends to Milan
From now on, visitors can still enjoy a magnificent view from the observation deck of the fiore di pietra, as it is called the stone flower in Italian. Below, Lake Lugano and Mendrisiotto, beyond the Bernese and Valais Alps. On the other hand, the view extends over the Po Valley. In good weather, she stretches out to Milan. Botta is happy that this has happened: "Here it is almost spiritual," he philosophises. And then, "just a restaurant on each mountain top". Especially as the year of the great jubilee is coming: in 2020, the Monte Generoso railway will be 130 years old.