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The History of Villa Helios, Lugano, Switzerland

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DSCN2646 - Lugano, 20 June 2014 - Resized

Lake Lugano, the city of Lugano, and San Salvatore, one of the many mountains in and around Lugano

I’ve been gone on holidays (thus the lack of posting – I DO know how to leave work behind… well, almost), and thought I’d write about a place I’ve come to know over the years:  My in-laws have a holiday flat with an amazing view over Lago di Lugano here in Switzerland, and we’ve come for a week nearly every year for the past 20 years.  The photo shows part of our view (I’d have to do a panorama shot as our view goes from Casserate to Caprino), and for as many years we’d looked down upon Villa Helios, watching her rot away like an abandoned old lady.  I don’t know her history; it may be one of the dozens of cases around Lugano in which there is an inheritance squabble, and the property is shut up until the cases are settled; if the parties pass away in the meantime and the issue of inheritance goes to a new generation that frankly doesn’t want to be saddled with a decaying mansion with pretensions of palace, it continues to sit. A few years ago we were pleased to see that at long last, renovation had begun.  And it continues still; the exterior is beginning to take shape, though as far as I can tell the inside has a long, long, long way to go.  I have heard through the grapevine that it is intended to become individual apartments, which will take some major work inside to divide up, wire, add plumbing and create separate entrances.

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The dome of Villa Helios

Precisely because we’ve looked out over the villa for more than 20 years, speculated, wondered, and asked questions of the passing hawks because no one else seemed to have any answers, my writer’s curiosity took over and began to form a novel; I work on it when we’re down there as a nice change of pace from my other novels and writing projects.

I do know that the villa was designed by architect Otto Maraini, who was born in Lugano on 8 November 1863, and died there 16 January 1944. Helios Villa in Castagnola was built in 1901-1902, including a series of walls and terraces that formed part of the lake shore. I came across a few historical photos at arteeidee – thank you for sharing these old magazine photos (“The modern building” monthly magazine of architecture and construction practice, August 1904)!  Check out that blog post for the older photos (click on them to enlarge); The photos I’ve added here are current shots. For the writers out there, find an interesting old building in your own area, research into its history, and create a story with the building as one of the characters and not merely a location.

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Villa Helios, as seen from the lake

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The terraced walls leading down toward the lake shore

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The front entrance of Villa Helios, under construction

Gold Dust in History

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Dust is an amazing thing, when you stop and think about it:  It’s made of us (the death of our cells), of pollen (a sign of the life of spring), and a myriad of other ingredients that make up that gathering layer.  It might be annoying to clean away sometimes, but when it’s stirred up in the golden light of the morning sun it’s magical.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

The same goes for proverbial dust:  Abandoned building (urban dust), or a fallen tree (rural dust).  For some, those things might represent failure, for others progress; some may only see waste, others potential.  Click on the photo below to follow the link to a list of abandoned sites around the world:  Some may see them as a sad indictment of human waste, but I see those places as monuments to someone’s ingenuity, to meeting the needs of the times, perhaps to false planning or miscalculation, but either way they are rich pickings for my imagination as a writer – I imagine the human stories behind their creation, at their demise, and those still affected by the fact of these sites now.

Abandoned Military Hospital in Beelitz, Germany

Abandoned Military Hospital in Beelitz, Germany

 

Lines of Desire

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Photo Credit:  Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

No, this isn’t about how to write romance novels – it’s about architectural landscaping.  The previous article on the topic of paper towns and trap streets reminded me of this term that I’d come across while researching for a novel (in draft currently, in the queue of manuscripts to complete!).

Also known as desire lines / paths, social trails, goat tracks, cow paths or bootleg trails, these unnamed ways are the path of least resistance and most direct distance between their origin and destination.  The wider the path and deeper the erosion, the more proven a path it is.  By some landscape architects they are seen as a failure in proper planning of physical space, but by others they are seen as simple proof that one cannot always impose an empirical will on human choice.  If you zoom in on any large park in Google Earth, such as Hyde Park in London, you’ll see desire paths criss-crossing their shortest-path way throughout the park.

There are all kinds of urban legends about retroactive paving; I leave the verification to those who have expertise in this area, but here are two examples:  New York’s Central Park’s networks of paths are said to be designed around these desire lines, pavement making them retroactively official; however, it actually seems like a poor example as the paths marked do not readily fit the criteria of straightest path or path of least resistance.  Also, Columbia University is said to have turned the desire lines into sidewalks under the guidance of its president Dwight Eisenhower (before he became the 34th president of the US).  Whether such stories are true or not, it would seem like a logical solution to the problem of worn grass patches, rather than needing to re-seed them each spring as people forge their own lines of desire through winter snow.  Why fight human nature?  Or animal instinct.  In Scotland one is wise to follow the sheep paths up in the bonnie highlands; they are proven, solid paths avoiding the hidden streamlets, gigantic holes of souterrain entrances, and the mire of a hidden bog (usually – though the latter seems to bother sheep less than it does me).

Do you know of any “desire lines” in your town?  Have you taken them yourself, or are you one to stick to official paths?

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