To many, the name Ca’ Rezzonico may bring memories of a lavish baroque facade facing Venice’s Grand Canal and a rich collection of marbles, frescoes and paintings. In the Swiss city of Lugano, however, that name is more often associated with the Riziero Rezzonico Foundation, a hillside retirement home with a reputation for excellent care and lake views. The foundation is named after Giovanni Riziero Rezzonico, a wealthy cloth merchant born to a patrician Lugano family in 1809. Throughout the 19th century, hospitals in Ticino were not only in charge of patients, but also cared for orphans and people without the means to support themselves. Preoccupied with this issue, Rezzonico supported the Santa Maria hospital in Lugano financially, and stipulated the establishment of a new hospice dedicated to the old and destitute upon his death in 1887.
In charge of its construction, architect Giuseppe Fumagalli drew inspiration from the baroque palazzi that had been built in the area a century earlier for the Riva family. The three wings of unadorned stone masonry and brick-framed round arched windows were arranged in a horseshoe formation, enclosing a small courtyard. The hospice opened on December 30, 1897, its operations led by a small contingent of sisters from the St-Vincent-de-Paul convent.
Originally, a large garden surrounded the property, where a gardener grew fruit and vegetables for the residents, but it gradually fell victim to the needs of the expanding city. In 1909, Giuseppe Ferla’s Ospedale Civico opened its doors nearby, replacing the older Ospedale Santa Maria. The construction of the (now defunct) Lugano-Cadro-Dino railway and the widening of Corso Elvezia and Via Madonetta in 1911 brought the bustling city life right underneath the hospice’s windows. Anticipating the growth of the Ospedale Civico, the city made several offers to relocate the Rezzonico institute, but it wasn’t until 1961 that a deal was struck and the hospice moved to its current location on Via Torricelli. By then, plans to expand the Ospedale Civico had fallen through, and the former Ca’ Rezzonico was used by the municipal school directorate until the foundation of the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in 1995 gave new life to the area.
The new institution took over the Ospedale Civico, which had stood more or less vacant since the hospital relocated in the 1980s, as its main campus building. The former Rezzonico hospice had by then become the home of the Dalle Molle Institute, a research institute on artificial intelligence, but with the creation of the USI, the building was reallocated to welcome the new university library. Its transformation lasted between 1999 and 2002 and was led by Michele and Giorgio Tognola.
The Tognola brothers added a distinctive fourth wing, enclosing the courtyard and reorienting the building towards the university campus to the east. The new facade, with its lattice of square elements, provides a visual signature to the library. Relocating stairs and lifts to the modern extension opened the floors of the former hospice for reuse as reading rooms and book storage. More workstations are situated along the former corridors, facing the now enclosed courtyard.
Among the most distinctive features of the modern wing are the individual cubicles that fill the distinctive blocks of the east facade. Akin to the cells of a beehive, each holds a work table lit by small windows and surrounded by wooden lattice panels.
The images illustrating this post date from my visit in September 2022.
This post is part of a series on adaptive reuse in libraries. See the list of such projects I am maintaining or view other posts in this series.
- Camenisch, Y. (2008). Per una storia della Fondazione del Luogo Pio G. Riziero Rezzonico. Bollettino Storico Della Svizzera Italiana, 109(2), pp. 421–454.
- Tognola, M., & Tognola, G. (2002). Il campus dell’Università della Svizzera Italiana a Lugano: Biblioteca. Archi : rivista svizzera di architettura, ingegneria e urbanistica = Swiss review of architecture, engineering and urban planning, 2002(4), pp. 48–53.
- Anchora, D. (2021). Biblioteca universitaria. Lugano Storia.
- Biblioteca USI. (n.d.). Vitruvio.ch. Retrieved March 4, 2023
- Hauser, A. (1991). Lugano. In INSA : Inventar der neueren Schweizer Architektur: Städte = Inventaire suisse d’architecture: Villes = Inventario svizzero di architettura: Città: 1850-1920 (Vol. 6, pp. 205–355). Orell Füssli ; Gesellschaft für schweizerische Kunstgeschichte.
- Lessico storico dell’USI : Lugano. (n.d.). USI25. Retrieved March 4, 2023
- Guidi, M. (1944). Il Barocco nel Ticino (Sottoceneri). Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte = Revue suisse d’art et d’archéologie = Rivista svizzera d’arte e d’archeologia = Journal of Swiss archeology and art history, 6(3), pp. 135–143.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!