History of the Academy

Accademia di architettura Mendrisio, Mario Botta 1996
Mario Botta, 1996
Aurelio Galfetti, Leonardo Benvolo, Accademia di architettura di Mendrisio
Aurelio Galfetti e Leonardo Benevolo
Accademia di architettura Mendrisio, Peter Zumthor 1996
Peter Zumthor, 1996
Accademia di architettura Mendrisio, Kenneth Frampton 1996
Kenneth Frampton, 1996
Accademia di architettura Mendrisio 1996

The Academy of Architecture was founded in Mendrisio in 1996, at the same time as the Università della Svizzera italiana was established in Lugano. The School was created on the basis of a project developed to a political commission by the architect Mario Botta, who involved a small group of scholars and architects, with the support of State Councillor Giuseppe Buffi, who was responsible for education in the years 1986-2000, and the mayor of Mendrisio, Carlo Croci. Its profile distinguished it sharply from the traditional polytechnics and architecture schools that already existed in Switzerland. Its intended cultural and educational purpose was inspired by the strong imprint of the humanities, understood as a new synthesis between technical knowledge, the human and social sciences, practical skills and critical and historical thinking. In this spirit, with the title of “Academy” evoking humanistic traditions and their related interdisciplinarity, the school in Mendrisio declared that it intended to act as a cultural link between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean world. A role faithfully reflected in the figures who developed the project and launched its activities: scholars such as Werner Oechslin, William Curtis, Francesco Dal Co, Leonardo Benevolo, Kenneth Frampton and Carlo Bertelli, architects such as Aurelio Galfetti (the school’s first director), Peter Zumthor, Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Panos Koulermos, Elia Zenghelis, Esteban Bonell, philosophers like Massimo Cacciari, scientists like Albert Jacquard, mathematicians like Alberto Albeverio, art
experts like Harald Szeemann...


From its early years, the new school was notable for the international character of its architects and professors. In the design studios we see figures who come from the different linguistic areas of Switzerland, from Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, Britain, Belgium, Holland, France, and later also from India, the Far East and Africa... The origins of the professors of history, theory and technology are also varied, here with a Swiss and European prevalence, but including authoritative figures from overseas. The nationalities of the students themselves soon became equally numerous. In addition to the Swiss from the various linguistic areas, we find a strong Italian representation and significant representatives of many other European and non-European countries. The interdisciplinarity of the cultural project was translated into cultural internationalism.
As evidenced by the composition of the teaching staff and the plans of study (which also drew inspiration from some great experiments in teaching such as the Ulm School and the earlier Bauhaus), from the very beginning the educational path ran on parallel tracks, with practical learning in the studios being supported and strengthened by interdisciplinary learning that ranged from technical-scientific knowledge to an artistic and humanistic culture.
The teachers have always been chosen on the basis of their cultural authoritativeness and, in the case of architects, their artistic and professional reputation, calling on both experienced and emerging figures of the new generations. The small initial group of architects and professors from the various disciplinary areas has expanded together with the full implementation of the courses and the continuous increase in the number of students, to the point of constituting a Council of Professors currently exceeding twenty faculty members, together with the numerous guest architects and lecturers.


The Insubria region, extending from the Swiss Canton Ticino to contiguous Upper Lombardy, has boasted exceptional traditions in architectural art for many centuries. Starting with the Comacine and Campionese master builders, protagonists of the international Romanesque, the tradition led to the great architects of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque, such as Pellegrino Tibaldi, Domenico Fontana and Carlo Maderno. After that extraordinary season, culminating in the great architect Francesco Borromini, other exemplary periods followed, as in the migration of neoclassical architects from Ticino to Russia. Then, all through the twentieth century, the Insubria region would produce many outstanding Modernist architects. An example of this is Larian Rationalism, with figures such as Giuseppe Terragni, Pietro Lingeri, Cesare Cattaneo... The Modernist climate finally gave rise, in the second half of the twentieth century, what is termed the “Ticino School of Architecture”, which included Rino Tami, Peppo Brivio, Tita Carloni, Luigi Snozzi, Flora Ruchat-Roncati, Ivo Trümpy, Livio Vacchini, as well as Mario Botta and Aurelio Galfetti, founders of the Academy of Architecture, a school that has come to crown these extraordinary traditions.
The need to introduce an institution of academic and university level in Ticino numbered the politician Stefano Franscini among its nineteenth-century pioneers. With his Lombard friend Carlo Cattaneo, he developed institutional proposals for this purpose. Though they were not immediately fulfilled, the problem of higher education in architecture would find an answer in the reforms of the Drawing Schools advocated in particular by Augusto Guidini, an architect and scholar of great civil commitment (he designed the Liceo in Lugano). Thanks to figures such as the architect Guidini and his artist friends Luigi Rossi and Vincenzo Vela, as well as the architect Luigi Fontana before them (the director of the Scuola di Disegno in Mendrisio, he designed Palazzo Turconi), and later the forestry engineer and philosopher Arnoldo Bettelini, between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Ticino preserved the purpose of endowing itself with institutions for higher academic and university education.
The presence of important European intellectuals in Ticino was a sign of the canton’s rich cultural life in the second half of the twentieth century. The artistic experiences of Monte Verità, the Eranos encounters on the history of religions, the rapid development of its museum system, the birth of artistic and cultural foundations, the emergence of new writers and scholars of European stature, the presence of a Nobel Prize winner such as Hermann Hesse and philosophers like Max Horkheimer and Friedrich Pollock (their houses at Castagnola were designed by two architects of the “Tendenza Ticinese”, Rino Tami and Peppo Brivio): there were strong reasons for Ticino to endow itself with an academic institution. They culminated in the foundation of the Università della Svizzera italiana in 1996, of which the Academy of Architecture is a part.


Salvatore Settis

Art historian, 2014-2015 Borromini Chair of the Academy of Architecture

“From the start the Academy has focused on rediscovering and redeeming the cultural ties that had been overshadowed by specialised knowledge and skills. First of all, the ties between technical culture and humanistic culture, not as a mannered interdisciplinary approach, but as contaminatio in the Latin sense of the term, namely a mingling, mirroring and convergence, or even fusion”.