The dream to build


     All children play at construction as a game of wooden building blocks of many colors, twigs and stone, castles of sand along the shore, perhaps, if lucky, a treehouse. But not all go on to become architects.

      Sandro Zendralli: "I chose to become an architect out of my love for drawing, something that allowed me to dream. My brothers chose to study engineering, which is the exact opposite of what I do. Throughout my studies I retained something of the spirit of my childhood years. Unquestionably, art intersects the sensibility of the architect. If he has the sensibility to understand art he adopts this principle into his constructions.

     Could someone like Mondrian be seen as a painter at this crossroads between art and architecture?

     "Mondrian does not interest me. For me he represents a geometry of color which, however, does not give me the idea of construction because it is made up of open lines that never close. They close only within the logic of their interiority: two lines that meet each other in an orthogonal manner begin the formation of a square or rectangle, but never a circle. But lines that disappear into space are lines that do not close themselves, they remain open. An architect needs to close a construction of lines.

     "For this reason I like Mondrian only up to a certain point. He is genial, but cold when it comes to unadulterated color, exclusively primary and eliminating the possibility of subtleties. I feel Mondrian perhaps lacks the poetry of Kandinsky, for example, who lets the lines transpire the space of other lines or numbers, circles, intersections, highly well-defined in space while remaining open. Mondrian and Kandinsky went in two opposite directions."

     There were more practical considerations in the choice of Sandro Zendralli to be taken into account. Doubtless the inherent instinct of centuries old Swiss-Italian common sense would in all cases swing the scale in favor of the security of the utilitarian, outweighing romantic alternatives of unknown outcome. Many are the artists throughout the world who have initially bowed to traditional family counseling and at first set aside their aspirations toward the all or nothing bohemian gamble of a painter's precarious carrier for the safer path of the steady employment guaranteed by a diploma in commercial art. From his humble origins in Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol provides but one example.

     Sandro Zendralli: "My choice to become an architect was also a question of security. This was a decision taken out of practical considerations rather than a preference for architecture over art. The down to earth spirit that my parents had taught me to favor the concrete over the abstract, made it a choice of a more practical than artistic nature. Given the fact that my brothers had also adressed themselves toward engineering, we all followed together into this field of endeavor. In any case, my story as architect has been one of following my instinct, my emotions, always in search of equilibrium and of simple lines. But behind this simplicity there was a great reservoir of thought.

     "In my constructions the equilibrium is there to be seen, the highly ordered axis that makes one ask, why certain spaces are comforting. When I try to explain the reason why, people remain perplexed. The reason is there is an order. In a certain sense I give myself greater freedom in my painting. Everything I have inside myself I project outward without a second thought, quite the opposite of my procedure in architecture. My painting is something spontaneous, for my own personal joy. It occurs that while drawing I astonish even myself because, at that particular moment, I've given no thought to the outcome. And when I come to the end and look at what I have done, I think: Who did this? Did I? And then: Why...

     "But architecture is a totally different way of thinking involving questions of order and volumetric equilibrium. There are factors that limit construction. It's necessary to work within these limits and do the best one can within a set of restrictions. But this renders construction not only a technical challenge but also a creative one.

     "Searching ways of making light enter into a space, giving a proportion to the void, to the full, to orientation, to insertion. This is also a work of experience, while painting is more immediate because one does what one knows at that moment and goes forward without even realizing it oneself. In architecture the thought is already far more complicated because it is necessary to follow certain rules that are impossible to ignore. Naturally, there can be a point at which the motivation behind both painting and architecture may merge into a single emotion.

     "When a drawing succeeds in standing on its own two feet you recognize immediately that it works. You just feel it. And this never fails to make me happy. In architecture, what comes first and foremost is always to ask oneself if there is any shadow of a doubt concerning the construction, because nothing can be overlooked, it's necessary to confront a set of rules and work within them until it is perfect, to the point that nothing can be added or taken away.

     "I arrived at this maturity in my work as an architect through a long process of rigorous discipline, maybe endlessly redrawing the same things until they became perfect, recalculating the same plan I don't know how many times, color-coding the same drawing over and over again."

     In perhaps one of the most ambitious of Sandro Zendralli's many architectural projects carried out in Canton Ticino, the "Palazzine di Ravecchia" stands out as testimony to the stubborn practical sense that lies behind his working procedure. A knowing how to work within and to overcome limits, to face everyday restrictions and find a way to transcend them.

     "With the Palazzine di Ravecchia, I practically created an entire neighborhood. Before we began there was nothing, only an empty field. Various contractors, promoters, and architects had come sniffing around and not one of them had had the courage to undertake a project. So at that point I simply went ahead and purchased the land myself, starting from nothing, without a penny to my name, and in the end I succeeded in buying the land and building on it. When I projected the first structure I remember that I made a wall in reinforced concrete as the first floor and installed the areas that required large glass windows. I don't consider it a wall, it is a construction of reinforced concrete two meters in height and twenty-five meters in length.

     "An architect friend of mine told me he thought I had gone out of my mind. But what I had wanted to do was to make a wall of twenty-five meters and behind it create a volume totally out of glass, giving rhythm with vertical structures which interrupt the glass sections so that the frangisole, or sun vizors, may go up and down, like the music of the facades all together that form one single rhythm. Then the parapets, the balconies, the windows of the furnished localities... My goal was to give these localities a different light, a different volumetric disposition. Then, in its ensemble, the principle facade came to be determined by the profile of these frangisole either closed or open, creating one over-all design.

     "I said earlier that I don't follow any architect as a model, but only my own emotions. However, modernists such as Gio Ponti and ancient masters such as Vasari, Michelangelo, Borromini have always been in my thoughts. These maestri of architecture followed geometrical rules of such geniality that only to stand and look at them stimulates our emotions and uplifts our spirits."

     For the great masters of the Renaissance, and long before, there was no aesthetic turmoil attached to the passing from painting to building, from the art of the fresco applied on the wall of a church or palace and the actual designing and construction of that wall itself. The painter easily assumed the role of architect and returned with equal ease to the easel and took up the brush where he had left off.

    But in the modern era, perhaps because of the pedantic superstition surrounding all forms of "specialization," the departmentalizing of the Arts was a law inscribed onto granite in the temple of the nine Muses. Many continued to transgress these barriers and practice what was considered by some to be illicit contamination, by others, creative cross-pollenization.

     The so-called "common man," even in what are still referred to as "developed societies," persists to this day in the belief that the drama they see in a film is actually taking place and the story is really happening to the actors, that the painting in their livingroom just happened to somehow be made, that the buildings in which they live and work simply are there, all this is taken for granted, with the innocent suspension of belief of the child who listens to a bedtime story.

     The idea that a director has created a fictive illusion of the real on film, that a painter has manually rendered a scene on canvas, that an architect has conceived and concretely realized their apartment house, the local post office or supermarket-- remains beyond comprehension. As a member of the audience once asked at the end of a poetry recital, "Are those real poems, or did you write them?"     

     Sandro Zendralli: "I think I really became conscious for the first time that buildings are built by architects when I began attending high school at Lugano. Before that are my family's various displacements that brought us only as far as Biasca, where there was nothing to see. So it was only then that I discovered, for example, Rino Tami, the great architect of the library of Lugano who as it turned out I later met professionally when I readapted the postoffice at Giubiasco.

     "When I began high school I heard for the first time the name Mario Botta, a student of Titaccarioni, another great architect of Canton Ticino. Then there was Caminzinth who had done the 'Esposizione' at Lausanne. During that period I was going through my athletic phase, which brought me to go to Lausanne and in that way I was able to also discover Caminzinth. He was not equally as famous as Tami, but in any case he was in the circle of the best architects in Switzerland.

     "I was around eighteen years old and had just entered into my Stravinsky period. The course of study lasted six years. This meant one year of school, two years of practice, and then three years of school. This period was a time of discovery and I read many books while prior to that I had read very little, I had only cultivated my emotions, but successively I was able to channel them more efficiently.

     "There were also two teachers, who taught the history of architecture and the history of art, and who when they spoke did so with such true passion that they left a great impression on me. One was Gianfranco Russi, who explained things in a language that was very particular and simple, but with great enthusiasm. The way he talked of Brancusi has stayed in my mind.

     "The other was Giancarlo Durvisc, an architect of Canton Ticino who was very cultivated and articulate. From him I gained my first insights into all the great architects: Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and many more, I greatly liked listening to him, and inside myself I felt a sort of yearning for something which I wanted to achieve. I remember having a book that spoke of these three masters of modern architecture."

     Zurich has provided final refuge to such great creative spirits as James Joyce, while also having been the point of departure for bomb-throwing nihilists but fortunately also for others such as Carl Jung came to share their light with the entire world. Thus Zurich has been not only a crossroads, a haven for international exchange of innovative, and often unconventional, ways of thinking, but also a destination for generations within Switzerland itself to seek in order to complete their professional formation. One of these was Sandro Zendralli.

     Arriving from the Grigioni, the southernmost extremity of Switzerland, the aspiring architect found himself not only in the biggest city in the nation but also in a new linguistical sphere. No longer was it his familiar mother tongue that he heard when first strolling along the elegant Bahnhofstrasse but rather the unmistakable dolcet lilt of Swiss German.

     "German was something I got through school, so I already had a rudimentary notion of the language. The motive that brought me to Zurich was because I had a cousin there who was an officer in the army and friend of an architect: Jakob Zweifel. This architect, to begin, put me to work drawing working plans, which did not exactly captivate my imagination because it was such a boring task, even though naturally one could learn something from it.

     "That went on until I realized that what interested me was to do restauration projects in Canton della Runa, where there was a historical building about which Zweifel was undertaking a study. He showed it to me and I was able to work on this project. I spent a year with this architect, and then moved on to another architect in Zurich: Schwarzenbachenmauer. Here we are talking about architects who had made all of the migros e le iora of Switzerland. Migros: industrial constructions. I worked on a migrozità project at Cardenazzo.

     "I had hardly finished that year of work, I was twenty four years old but looked seventeen, and I had done all of the working plans for these constructions, when without warning the director who was supervising these works fell ill, that I was called upon to take the project in hand. I conducted the work-site reunions with la Sulzea, la Ectuat who came from Zurich. I had all the plans by memory because I was the one who had drawn them. At first, they would come into the meeting and look around, finally their eyes would fall on me and they would ask, Where is the architect? I would smile and say to them: Das bin ich.

     "They remained flabbergasted for a moment or two, until we rolled up our sleeves and I began explaining to them how the project stood. After that we got down to work. The whole thing was an unforgettable experience, and I think it was this that gave me the courage to found a studio of my own. "On my days off, Saturday and Sunday, I went home and started laying the groundwork for my studio. I began making contacts which led to the realization of my dream to found a studio, to begin with, at Roveredo."

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