Story: A conversation with architect Guido De Sigis

Constantly evolving

Ticino's artistic heritage is everywhere: from ancient historical finds to modern artworks. Lugano seen by the eyes of an architect.

With its tours around Lugano, the i2a international institute of architecture aims to highlight the town’s cultural richness and showcase the urban development of the last two centuries. Its contemporary architecture and modern street art bear witness to its status as a rapidly evolving, lively town. A tour led by experts.


Guido De Sigis, architect

Guido De Sigis, architect
We show things in the town that require nothing more than opening your eyes.

Lugano is a town with a stunning landscape, as well as a place that bridges different cultures. The Alpine region meets a Mediterranean atmosphere, farm life meets urban style and tradition meets progress. All these influences can be seen in the townscape where the Renaissance meets the modern age and nineteenth-century urban art comes face to face with recent street art installations. 

Famous local architects have worked in Lugano, helping to shape the urban landscape which is internationally renowned for its contemporary architecture. Lugano is constantly evolving; life never stands still. From tourism to finance, the times always bring new challenges with them. And they’re easy to spot in the architecture and art. 

The i2a international institute of architecture organises town tours around Lugano, with architects explaining the different changes visitors can see. Guido De Sigis, architect and lecturer at CSIA School of Applied Arts, is one of them. 



Passion is what motivates architect Guido De Sigis to take tourists on tours around the town. Just like all his colleagues from the i2a Institute, whose Director, Ludovica Molo, is also President of the Federation of Swiss Architects. They see it as their mission to raise awareness of Lugano’s architectural wealth. 

The visit goes through the urban development of the last two centuries from Romanticism to Modernism, visiting unique architectural and artistic sites which were ground-breaking when built. It also includes current innovative landscape projects such as around the mouth of the Cassarate.


The tour lasts between 2.5 and 3 hours. To see everything, however, it would take more than 20 days.


And if visitors only have very limited time, where would you take them? 

“Just one place? I would choose the pedestrian passage between Via Pretorio and Via Pioda! It has a wall installation by artists Gysin & Vanetti that you don’t notice at first. It’s a series of manipulated prohibition signs – white circles with black bars – on the walls of the Palazzo Pretorio, courthouse and cantonal police force building. I think it’s really well done.”

As architects, it is our job and our mission to promote artistic cultural richness.

That area isn’t one of the typical picture postcard views of Lugano, right? 

“Exactly, but that’s not what it’s about. This neighbourhood has some really interesting architecture unique to Lugano. It is home to one of the three eighteenth-century Palazzi Riva, the Palazzo Ransila by Mario Botta from 1985 and the Palazzo Macconi by Livio Vacchini from the 1970s overlook Via Pretorio. Via Pioda is also home to the Cinema Corso designed by local architect Rino Tami in the 1950s.”


“The courthouse by architect Bruno Bossi is an example of 1960s brutalism – the béton brut.” 

Pro tip
LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura, one of Switzerland's leading cultural reference points, used to stage performances by the Compagnia Finzi Pasca and the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana.
Architecture or Street art? Both! Lugano offers fans of these themes the possibility of various accompanied or solo tours.
Just choose!
The campus at the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio is of great architectural interest thanks to its neoclassical and modern buildings, including Mario Botta’s library.

But what does Lugano have that other towns don’t? Lugano always seems to welcome the latest trends in architecture, particularly over the last few decades. We’re really lucky that a lot of great masters have worked here: Mario Botta, Aurelio Galfetti, Livio Vacchini. At the end of the 1980s in particular, they created a local architectural style which would replace the functional constructions of the previous years. They combined functionality with artistic elements, developing their own distinctive style: Botta with his round windows, for example. Or Livio Vacchini, who based his projects on abstract geometric figures. 

The Architour focuses on both contemporary architecture and classic buildings. The visit begins outside the Town Hall, with the route taking us to the lake and the Parco Ciani for the Renaissance. The heart of the town has changed completely throughout history, going from a fishing village to tourist destination by 1900. Later, in around 1940, more radical changes took place. The Quartiere Sassello, the old town centre, was completely torn down and redesigned. An incredible project that’s unthinkable nowadays.


But things keep developing; the town is constantly changing and that includes new type of art such as street art.


Does that mean things like graffiti springing up? 

“No, we don’t have a Banksy here. Many of the murals around the town were commissions. We’ve been very lucky over the past few years to attract some interesting artists. The first pieces came about in 2010, some as part of the LongLake Festival. They paved the way for new art in public spaces which had to be accepted by the inhabitants first.”

Among the most recent works there are also some brilliant new ones. Nevercrew are internationally renowned artists from Ticino who deal with environmental topics. But where can we see more of these murals? On lots of different walls, particularly between the Lido and the University. The pedestrian tunnel by Besso station is also a hotspot for regular installation pieces.


New street art appears there all the time. And maybe this could inspire young people – the town still has lots of surfaces available for artistic expression.


“We want visitors to understand that the town centre is very modern.”




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