Intervention on a mountain above Locarno
– European Landscape Award Rosa Barba 2003 –

Cardada / Cimetta, Switzerland

When the aerial cableway from Orselina to Cardada had to be renovated after years of service, the question arose as to what people actually expected when they visited this mountain. For ne it was a very provocative question. Proposals then developed that I often saw a kind of provocation. They were responses to our inability, to perceive our landscape as a horizon of history, to tell fantastic stories, and to marvel instead of to limit ourselves to a reductionist and aesthetic contemplation of nature that makes a mere panorama.
My proposal included a ‘laminate’ waterfall, a meeting place, a landscape promontory that is a passageway suspended in the trees, new connecting trails past the biggest trees in the forest, a play path, a geological observatory, and a musical wood.

They were responses to a mountain that in some places was more like an urban periphery, where, as result a number of small but disturbing interventions, the landscape elements were no longer possible: a botched landscape. I also mean the increasing number of viewers, who often visit places and consume them as though they were goods. But if we give a place meaning, this will also determine our behavior.


One reaches the site upon arrival at the cableway station in Cardada, where a path leads to the hanging passage that almost unexpectedly appears from a larch wood. Emerging from the trees’ crowns, the promontory’s load-bearing structure leans forward in response to a thrust and an impetus towards the landscape. Different signs in the paved surface lead to the end of the promontory, while the cold colours of titanium and steel reflect the soft colours and light of the surroundings, just like the trees’ trunks take on a different appearance due to orientation and sun exposure. At the end to the passage one reaches a scenic platform on the lake. Here imagination can travel beyond the islands and the horizon.


The observatory is located on the Cimetta, at over 1600 meters of altitude the peak of Cardada’s mountain.
It is reached via a path that approaches it gradually and sideways, so that the slim concrete disk of 15 m of diameter that intersects some existing rocks becomes visible only at the last moment. A red track on the paved ground represents the Insubria region’s outline: along with the samples of several stones from the European and African plates, it expresses a time dimension that transcends human experience, as demonstrated by the observatory’s rocks which have age differences of millions of years. The symbols on the ground form a timeline that locates events precisely in relation with geological ages.
The observatory, therefore, attracts both on Cardada’s natural and landscape peculiarities that have made this place popular and its landscape enjoyed for its natural beauty, and on the story it conceals – a story that narrates the time of the very slow evolution of the earth’s crust and stimulates a meditation on landscape’s deepest cultural aspects, thus proposing the places’ historical background also in connection with man’s individual experience.


It had rained heavily during the night and in the morning the clouds hung heavy and low obscuring the alpine landscape. Then slowly but surely as the sun gained its height the clouds began to melt and the mists evaporated to reveal beautiful Locarno nestling as it does between the mountains and the lake. I had come to Locarno with one goal in mind, namely to visit Cardada Mountain home to Paulo Burgi’s fantastic installation of stone, metal and magic. Emerging from the cable car we step on to the plaza, and immediately I feel myself to be on familiar ground. I am instantly drawn to explore by the breadth of expanding granite paving. Here I run my hand over
the wooden fountain and marvel at the craftsmanship that has fashioned this feature from a single piece of timber, a local tree perhaps? A few moments later as I approach the infamous viewing platform, my hands are sliding over stainless steel, and here again cool granite paving and stooping down I am like a child as my fingers trace along its carvings, and now the flat of my palm caresses the seductive warmth of the opulent titanium. Just moments before we had already been treated to the magnificent panorama of city, lake, mountains and sky as we traveled up in the brand new £5 million pound cable car, but my enjoyment of this wonderful view had been ever so slightly tempered by a hint of insecurity, here however on the viewing platform I am standing safe and secure. Moving from dark into light as we pass through the tree tops I stand at last on the viewing platform, like Captain Kirk on the bridge of the US Enterprise, (but minus the warp speed.) By now the sun is high in a cloudless sky and the scent rising from the pines below is almost tangible. We are alone on the platform, and the only sounds are the sounds of nature, chiefly birdsong and including one strange cuckoo, which we are to encounter later that afternoon. Resting now on a bench of wood and granite to eat our lunch of bread and cheese, I draw in lungfulls of alpine atmosphere and breath out pure relaxation. Close by the chair lift waits to bring us to the top of the ridge where the geological platform is located. Once again we are sailing up the mountain, but this time aboard a two seater and in the open. Not far below us the soothing sound of cowbells from amongst the trees and with the warm air caressing my toes I turn to Sarah and say “This has to be the only way to climb a mountain.” Like 21st century pilgrims in search of the Holy Grail we step eagerly from our flying seat as it slides to a halt. Pressing on we reach the path that will deliver us to the platform. Like a stream of rocky muesli this path cascades down the hillside to meet us and we are being absorbed into landscape and into history. I am enchanted by the marble flag that stands as a threshold to the platform, a threshold which Paulo has installed so that as it wears down it will record the passage of countless visitors, a silent testament. The platform rests on the mountaintop like the forgotten discus of some athletic Greek god, shimmering in the bright sun. Here we are confronted by mystery and a challenge to understand the symbolism of the geological platform. The handrail does contain explanations, but sadly for us no English. Once again I am down on hands and knees and as I move along the surface, picking out the images that are embedded there, I recall most of what Paulo has explained about this area and I am able to share this with Sarah. And here they are, the rock samples from the African and the European plates, multi colours of stone mounted against the almost pure white of the platform floor, like jewels in an ancient crown. Views all around, little or no clouds, Locarno far below, Lago Maggiore, our campsite on the delta and the blue and white Alps of Switzerland and of Italy. All around us crickets sing in the sun baked grass and skylarks soar in the gentle breeze. We sit here for a long time watching people come and go and share in their wonder and enjoyment. A smooth glide and we are back down to the level that is home to the viewing platform and the plaza, but before we take the cable car back to Locarno we still have one great treat in store, the ‘ludic path’. At least I think that’s what Paulo called it, and I suppose it gets its name from the Latin Ludo…I play, for play it is. Ambling along the forest trail we come across what a first glance looks like a litterbin but with no litter. “Ah ha” I say to Sarah, “in you get”. “Are you mad Dad, That’s a litter bin.” There was nothing for it but for the ‘old lad’ to show her. Stepping in I am standing on a rotating base and instantly I am spinning fast and furious only to be interrupted by Sarah’s grasp, as she desperately wants a go. On we travel, we whisper to each other through magic posts, we swing and cavort on twin swings and dancing a crazy two step we make one piece of play equipment sing to us, yes it’s the curious cuckoo we had listened to earlier. As we journey along this path the mood changes as we pass from under one species of tree to the next and as the trees thin a little we encounter the concrete dishes that can cast our voices effortlessly over a great distance.
Walking under the cable car we are reminded that our visit is almost over and as we linger to watch the lizards dart along the ground I am so happy that I have made this trip and have experienced the delights of Cardada for myself.

Hugh Ryan