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‘If you take out the art, the building itself can’t stand’

Inside an architect’s whimsical home, a “living sculpture” in Switzerland

The house at the bottom of a valley in the Alpine village of Rossa, Switzerland (population 150), is a whimsical synthesis of contradictions.

It combines contemporary art and archaic nature, public and private, patrician and rustic, candy stripes and whorled pine. The house’s timber facade erupts in painted stripes of white, green and magenta, marking from a distance the joyful spot where the village ends and the lush valley beyond begins.

This weekend cottage is the work of of French conceptual artist Daniel Buren and one of its inhabitants, Lugano-based architect Davide Macullo, whose ancestors hail from these parts, and it was designed in collaboration with Mario Cristiani, Galleria Continua, and a slew of other artists. Macullo describes it as “a living sculpture” that exists “on the cusp of art and architecture,” a statement that, though seemingly dramatic, isn’t hyperbole.

The Davide Macullo- and Daniel Buren-designed house (center) sits in valley in the Swiss town of Rossa, population 150.
An upward interior view. The house is lined with knotty pine, in a nod to materials used in the local vernacular style for residential architecture.

In 2017, Macullo established a foundation called RossArte with Mario Cristiani, the co-founder of Galleria Continua (San Gimingano, Paris, Beijing, Havana) to promote contemporary art and culture in the Calanca Valley, in which the town of Rossa is nestled. “[Italian artist and designer] Bruno Munari once said that civilized people live amongst their art,” says Macullo. “In the house, we don’t hang paintings; we invite friends and artists to do installations there, in situ.”

Macullo, who studied the psychology of space at university, used four “elemental” forms in Rossa: the cube, sphere, spiral, and pyramid. “These shapes are about symbolism, on the one hand, but on the other, they are shapes that touch the human senses and emotions. When you are in the house, you have a feeling of total peace and calm.”

Completed only last year, the house now incorporates a growing catalog of artistic interventions by the likes of Adoka Niitsu, Marta Margnetti, Flavio Paolucci, and Lola Cambin, along with a “site-specific” section of the roof by Swiss artist Miki Tallone. “Conceptual art is integrated into the architecture, meaning that if you take out the art,” Macullo says, “the building, itself, cannot stand.”

The entire house is, essentially, a permanent site-specific artwork by Buren as much as it is a work of architecture by Macullo. In the 1960s, Buren began a long and luminous riff on conceptual work, often incorporating what has become signature vertical stripes.

In Rossa, Buren’s stripes wrap the soft edges of the building, the two patterns of color meeting in a swagging line around the middle. Green and white stripes on the lower portion of the facade echo the rise and fall of grass underfoot, while the magenta and white stripes above reference the color of a local flower and a hue that often ruddies the summer sky at sunset. The color is native to this landscape, but it can also feel slightly artificial, giving the building a fairytale-like quality: the familiar wrapped in the fabulous.

The house is festooned with vertical, green and red stripes that measure 8.7 centimeters wide: a signature feature of the work of French artist Daniel Buren, who collaborated with architect Davide Macullo on the house.
Each window is positioned to allow a specific view of the valley around the house.

The house’s roof blends into nature and yet is also skewed unnaturally: It was designed in the shape of a cross but, seen from overhead, it appears to rotate around its axis, a slight torque visible from both inside and outside. In fact, two crosses—the beams and the gables—are superimposed but offset. Otherwise, the roofline follows the forms of the surrounding mountain peaks and, below it, window openings have been mapped to look out onto specific views. “The house seems to be a strange thing,” the architect says, “but at the same time, it is completely in harmony with the landscape.”

The cruciform roof contributes to the house’s dynamic, graphical character.But, Macullo explains, the house also represents and overlays two local types of architecture: Its volumes and dimensions recall a traditional patrician home when seen from afar, but takes on the (architectural) complexities of one of the region’s rural farmhouses as one approaches.

The dining table, a thick pine slab with geometric cutouts, is a reproduction of one of David Macullo’s first designs.
Another view of the double-height communal space on the first level.
The house’s basement, framed with board-formed concrete, is the only space in the house not paneled in pine.
The architect outside of the home.

”We shaped a new model [for something] that’s been designed like this for thousands of years,” says Macullo. “Out of something very old and traditional—a typology that seems to have no potential to evolve—suddenly you discover a big potential for evolution.”

Inside, each of the house’s two floors has its own mezzanine and forms a separate apartment: one for Macullo, upstairs, and one for a friend and her three daughters, downstairs, where there is also a communal kitchen. From floor to ceiling, the interior is lined with untreated pine wood (minus a concrete basement and recycled-paper insulation). Much of the furniture is also pine, including three long, slender tables with geometric cutouts, copies of the first table Macullo ever designed more than 25 years ago.

The connection between indoors and out is carefully choreographed. “From outside, you can’t see inside,” the architect says, “but from inside, you have 360 degrees of light coming into the house and you will never see the neighbors, only untouched nature.”

The web of exposed beams are another nod to local residential design.
The house’s stripes take on a new dimension once night descends.

The public, who get an eyeful from a distance, are also welcome to enter: “People are curious to come in,” says Macullo. “It’s beautiful to see the expressions on their faces: They’re astonished, and children love it. Everybody comes in. It’s a house, but everyone is welcome to come have a coffee. If we’re there, you’re welcome.”

From each window, a different wonder is visible, like an advent calendar: wildflowers or waterfall, an ancient church or the eternal Alps. “The house is a center of energy that is drawing into it all the elements that are outside. “We don’t hang paintings,” Macullo says, “because the windows are paintings.”

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