Architects today are called on to develop innovative forms of competence to enable them to work on different fronts, from the design of individual buildings to planning regional development, from the reuse of the historical legacy to the redevelopment of the landscape, from eco-friendly buildings to aesthetic exercises applied to different architectural typologies. For this reason Mendrisio has created an interdisciplinary teaching model that goes beyond the traditional specializations so as to train architects who are both humanists and generalists as required by the times. Practical work in the design studios is combined with technical-scientific courses which explore contemporary problems and historical-humanistic courses which investigate historical, artistic, philosophical, critical and sociological issues. Its educational model ensures that the future architects acquire an architectural culture with an open, critical, relevant approach. As their studies progress they can choose ways to explore the approaches to architecture best suited to their individual sensibilities.
The Academy of Architecture is one of the five faculties of the Università della Svizzera italiana, USI. The university in Canton Ticino, with its home campus in Lugano, is a member of the Swiss university system, consisting of ten Universities and two federal Polytechnics. The USI has close ties with other universities in Switzerland, Italy and other countries, reflecting the rapid growth of its international authority, distinguishing itself both by the development of research programs and by the important recognition awarded to its professors. To the guarantees of quality and rigour that have always been inseparable from the reputation of Swiss universities, the Academy of Architecture and the USI in general have added a simple administrative structure and a system of communication in which the student is always at the centre. Many administrative procedures can be carried out simply online.
Mendrisio is a small town midway between Lake Como and Lugano, some 60 kilometres from Milan and Malpensa airport, occupies a privileged point of exchange between the Mediterranean world and Central Europe. The outstanding tradition of cultural openness in this region is confirmed in the architectural sphere by the prestigious traditions of its architects: from the Maestri Comacini of the Middle Ages to the protagonists of the Renaissance and Baroque down to major names of twentieth-century Rationalism and the contemporary Ticinese school of architecture. This international vocation in the region’s history today makes the Academy a new laboratory, thanks to the presence of professors of international provenance as well as students from dozens of different countries. This means that the interaction of teaching and socialization is especially rich at the school. Since Mendrisio is on the axis connecting the Milan metropolitan region with Northern Europe, transport by air, rail and road is excellent and this infrastructure is now being strengthened.
Over thirty nationalities are represented in the student body and the teaching staff. They make the Academy of Architecture and the other faculties of the Università della Svizzera italiana an especially useful centre of cultural exchange in a period like the present, which has to train new professional and intellectual figures, to cope with the processes of globalization. The faculty members are outstanding for their authority and international reputation. For this reason Italian, which is widely used in most of the courses, is replaced by English as well as by the other two languages of the Swiss Confederation, French and German, in specific cases which favour their use in teaching. The school’s cultural receptiveness thus also trains students in greater linguistic competence. This is made possible by the close teaching relationship established with the faculty members. The dimensions of the Academy of Architecture and the USI’s faculties are carefully controlled so as to prevent the kind of overcrowding that today penalizes numerous schools. There are some 2700 students in Lugano and 700 in Mendrisio, which means that classes can be kept to a limited number of students. The architectural design studios also contain a maximum of about 24 students, whose work is supervised by a professor, in every case an eminent architect, and at least two assistants. In the different fields of teaching it thus applies a “familial” model in which the teachers’ role as tutors guarantees formative protocols of the highest standard.