As millions of students around the world head back to university digs, the residents of Casa dell’Accademia have it much better than most. Here’s a lesson in inspired design on a strict budget.
Memories of cramped rooms filled with mismatched furniture are undoubtedly familiar to anyone who has done his or her time in a university halls of residence. The Swiss prove there can be another way. The Casa dell’Accademia student accommodation opened last September in the small town of Mendrisio, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, and is home to 72 undergraduates studying architecture at the Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI).
Designed by husband-and-wife architect team Jachen Könz and Ludovica Molo, in collaboration with Carola Barchi, the building’s angular concrete and plywood structure is a quirky interpretation of traditional university living.
“We thought a long time about how students like to live and wanted to create something different. The design is an open-plan, collective family unit based on the idea of symmetry,” says Könz. Built on a tight budget of 7.2m Swiss francs (€4.3m), the blueprint is disarmingly simple.
The building, comprising 18 apartments, is made up of two separate but identical, three-storey rectangular wings that face each other across a central, sloping lawn. The lawn is decorated with a snake-like sculpture by Italian artist Chiara Dynys. Each apartment has four bedrooms, two shared toilets and an open-plan living and kitchen area with glass fronts running the length of the apartment. “The design is like that of a ship: there is the long deck, the galleries of living spaces and cabin-like bedrooms at the back,” says Molo.
The interior design is equally smart and precise. Each of the apartments is kitted out with desks, a large wooden dining table, a sofa and spacious storage units designed by the architects.
Suspended ceiling lights by Artemide, Moroso coffee tables and chairs by Ron Arad lend a style and attention to detail rare in student digs. Each floor of the building is colour coded and the splashes of red, orange and yellow are a playful touch. “The colour was a bit of a fun game for us,” says Molo. “The climate is very good here and it was important that the students could live outdoors so we wanted to create this very open feeling. Student residences can get badly treated. We wanted something low maintenance but liveable.”
When Monocle visited the campus on a blistering hot July day, students were in in the middle of their exams and making full use of the open, communal design. Doors and windows were thrown open while, inside, students were huddled around tables revising together. Some were lounging on the outside stretch of terrace. One young man with dreadlocks lay on the lawn, shaded by part of the overhanging concrete structure.
Occasionally students called over to one another from opposite blocks. Throughout the day, local residents could be seen strolling through the grounds. As one student put it: “It’s as if the architect really wanted to bring us all together, all the time.”
The architects’ studios are based in Lugano, Switzerland. Jachen Könz started his practice in 1992 and Ludovicia Molo joined as a partner in 2000. Working mostly on residential projects in Switzerland, they have designed seven buildings together. This is their first collaboration with Carola Barchi, a good friend. Barchi also began her practice in 1992 and she mainly designs private residences in Italy and Switzerland.
Könz Molo Architetti
2002 Master lecture halls at the University of Lugano, Switzerland
2006 Residence in Pregassona, Switzerland
2007 Residence in Zuoz, Engadine, Switzerland
1994 Restoration of Barchi residence in Manno, Switzerland
1997 Feigenwinter residence in Locarno Monti, Switzerland, in collaboration with architect Aurelio Galfetti
2007 Netcenter complex in Padova, Italy, also in collaboration with Galfetti
First year, age 19
At first when you come here it is strange because everything is new and you have to all live together. Sometimes you want privacy and this can be hard to get but, overall, I like living here. I have my guitar and it’s nice to get together with the other musicians and sit down and play together. In my bedroom I have my Italian flag. I got it after we won the World Cup last summer and just had to put it up. The bedrooms are quite small but we don’t tend to spend much time here. Mostly we are at lectures or working.
First year, age 20
At first I didn’t really like the building’s concrete but I am used to it now. I put fairy lights up in my room and pictures on the wall to make it warmer. I really like the bathroom because there is lots of storage for all of my cosmetics.
Pau Ramon Coll
Fourth year, age 23
It’s a bit like Big Brother here – you can see everyone doing everything, especially at night when the lights are on, but I like the community feeling.
Fourth year, age 31
I like the location here. You are near lots of different countries and cultures, so you can visit places easily. I also like the quiet and all of the surrounding nature.