Bones and Bricks

Any intervention must come to terms with the structure of the place   Luigi Snozzi   (1932 – 2020)

Switzerland’s most famous architect is undoubtedly Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965).  Luigi Snozzi is a name that is less well-known outside his home country. He died last month of Covid in Minusio near Locarno.

Snozzi believed that understanding history was crucial to his work: Architecture must not invent but must be rediscovered, he said. He taught his students the importance of learning about a city before attempting to design or re-purpose any of its buildings. He used Trieste as an example, a city which was once part of the Roman and Habsburg Empires, was invaded by Napoleon and occupied by the Wehrmacht during WWII; a city with many layers, all of which, according to Snozzi, needed to be respected and understood.

Luigi Snozzi’s best known project is at Monte Carasso in Switzerland’s Ticino. In 1968, he was commissioned to design a new elementary school. He refused orders to build it on the outskirts of town and chose instead to centre the new building within the grounds of a decaying church and monastery at the heart of the village. This created a new sense of community and a vibrant public space.

Snozzi once said that in his long career he had never knocked down a single wall. He wished, not to break with the past, but to understand it. He realised the importance of synthesis and integrity and recognised the value of acknowledging those things that had been significant and meaningful to his predecessors.

As the writer, Lisa Iversen says We are not as original as we think we are and if we disconnect ourselves from our history, be it architectural, social or ancestral, we are at risk of losing something substantive, including the ability to nurture and express our own originality.