Leisure Center

  • Locarno, Switzerland
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The landscape is architecture, the architecture landscape


What an incredible site… What a fantastic programme… And what a runway for high-flying architecture! The site has grandeur, in both the geographical and the historical sense. Its heights are haunted by memories of Isadora Duncan and Rudolph Steiner. It is serene because it is calmed by the mountain peaks that surround it in the distance, made peaceful by the tall trees that flank it sheltering quiet bungalows, and stilled now in the memory of its aerodrome.


The first architectural move will be to cultivate these sensations of grandeur and calm. Amplify awareness of the serene spirit of this place guarded by mountains, for people who will have the privilege of spending time there.


These sensations derive mainly from the site’s perfect horizontality, the absolute contrast between the terrain and the affirmation of this long table. I propose to assert both horizontality and length to create an architecture-landscape that draws its nobility from putting these notions into perspective.


In this way the programme will unfold on the axis of the runway, from the most public to the most private places : parking lot, theatre, casino, hotel, meditation area, thermal baths, pool.


I propose an architecture of terraces. Born of a random crossing between a garden “à la française” and an Italianate garden. Terraces surrounded by free-growing trees, so as to invite the English garden to this Swiss rendezvous. The highest terrace will be that of the theatre, on which will rest a beacon roof, a clear signal to the driver on the motorway of the importance of this new complex. The theatre will read like a bastion of cyclopean walls screened by trees, a bastion that carries tall pergolas to link hanging gardens, dressed out by a high waterfall-wall. These gardens are those of the casino. In the axis of the composition, the casino – to the south – commands a deep perspective that integrates the golf course scenery and the alpine backdrop. Linked to the casino by a covered place, the hotel unfolds in depth its rooms, restaurants and services. The lobby too opens a sightline that plays on the effect of boundless depth, scanned by light from above. The rooms and suites are made specific by this place. Laterally, on the raised ground level to the east, high rooms like artist’ studios open views of the mountain skyline and the remnants of the aerodrome, the old hangars, the veteran aircraft…


In symmetry, to the west: the same typology of rooms, but with the appropriation of large private gardens in transition to the neighbouring houses.


On the upper floor, on either side rooms with terraces open onto the central area ; these rooms have a garden whose geometry is rigorous and yet full of surprises, fragment of a labyrinth.


Open to the east and the west, the rooms invite dialogue with the faraway mountains, by means of a terrace and an opening over the entirety of the high angle of each volume. The suites are exceptions to be discovered, privileged by their terraces and fantasy-rich gardens.


The restaurant occupies the slope between two levels of terraces in the axis of the composition, with views onto the gardens of boxwood, laurel and rhododendron around the thermal baths.


A sequence of glazed rooms set in masses of plant life, the thermal baths extend the composition laterally. To the south, in the axis of the landscape, the pool emerges from a modern grotto in the form of a long rectangle, a plane of water continuing the golf course, an evocation of the old delta made up of free-form and elongated ponds.


Thus architecture becomes territory, plant life material to build with, water the pervading theme.


And Ascona will be marked for a long time to come by this exceptional coming together of an architecture, a history and a geography.



Jean Nouvel