Renovation restaurant-bar Vignetta Mendrisio


Built at the beginning of the twentieth century and located at the centre of the campus of the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio, the building known as “Vignetta” was purchased by USI – Università della Svizzera Italiana – in 2015 to use the upper floors as offices for its staff. An osteria known as “Vignetta” which had long been frequented by the students and professors of the Accademia di Architettura used to occupy the ground floor, but had been closed for a few years. The old Osteria Vignetta was also the headquarters of the Mendrisio bowling club. Indeed, the old bowling court covered by a canopy supported by a metal structure, is still there.

The site is part of a historically significant area that extends along via Turconi and includes Palazzo Turconi, Villa Torriani and villa Argentina, their parks and the perimeter walls enclosing the gardens of luxurious villas built between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. The ISOS survey report (the Federal inventory of Swiss settlements of national significance to be protected) dedicated to Mendrisio acknowledges the evident historical and architectural quality of the area and aims to protect and preserve the structure of all buildings, elements of the urban fabric and open spaces. The plot on which the Osteria Vignetta building is built is long and narrow (13.90 x 85.5 m), bounded on three sides by tall perimeter walls and by the building that looks onto via Turconi. The building’s interior is accessed from the road through a passage (galleria) that can be closed with a large timber door.

The project involves the preservation of the old bowling court, the refurbishing of the site and external areas, the renovation and extension of the existing premises. An old gateway that had been walled in was reinstated in the back wall that marks the boundary of the plot, creating a new pedestrian route across the entire area.

The project for the new osteria entailed the demolition of the building that housed the old kitchen, which no longer complied with current regulations, and the construction of a new, larger building, with the longer elevation extending the facade of the existing building along the same plane. The new building houses the kitchen and the bar counter area, with a single pitch roof covered with corrugated galvanised sheet steel, and a large north-facing fixed industrial rooflight that draws both zenithal and reflected light into the kitchen. The ground level of the bowling court and courtyard where tables are laid out is 1.5 m higher than the internal floor level, and it was therefore necessary to build a staircase to provide access to the small external area in front of the kitchen window. This space is covered and protected by a generous roof overhang.

Technical installations and services (changing rooms for staff, toilets for visitors, storage spaces, pantry, cold store, plant room) are housed in rooms created from the former cellar and two garages located across the pedestrian route. The pedestrian access route is paved with natural granite setts; the new building has a reinforced concrete plinth with a brushed finish and is clad in plaster made from a mix of Verona red and bush hammered marble chippings.

The interior of the new osteria is long and narrow (21.6 x 4.4 m). The project aimed to create a long, fluid, connecting space. The form of the ceiling and light orientation create a perspective effect across the interior connecting it with the street and the external space beyond the building. The open-plan kitchen is equipped with a full-width window, which can be opened to access the stainless steel sill that doubles as a counter for serving dishes.

Given the character of the site (enclosed within a poorly lit courtyard) the project exploits all opportunities to draw natural light into the interior of the building through a large new fixed window opposite the bar counter, a rooflight and a full-width window in the kitchen. Colours and materials, too, were carefully selected to enhance light: walls are painted white, the new floor surface is pale and warm in colour, made from recycled rubber granules and very similar to a terrazzo floor (palladiana).

The polished stainless steel bar counter diffuses natural light from the window and reflects the surroundings, expanding the perception of space. The ceiling is designed to serve different functions, structuring space, acoustics and lighting: three separate layers of sound-absorbing materials (like the perforated panel that lines the long wall) contribute to disperse sound reverberation and house individually adjustable recessed LED lighting profiles, together with the ventilation/climate control system.

Furnishings were selected to give the interior a warm, welcoming atmosphere. The pale beech wood No. 14 chairs are manufactured by Ton, the factory founded in 1961 by Michael Thonet in Bystřice pod Hostýnem, in the Czech Republic, while the table tops with rounded edges are made from reclaimed oak beams.

Renovation restaurant-bar Vignetta Mendrisio


2016 – 2018


Alberto Canepa

Technical data

Client: Accademia di architettura, Università della Svizzera Italiana

Architects: Ruggero Tropeano; Enrico Sassi

Work managment: Enrico Sassi

Collaborators: Roberta Blasi


Civil engineer: Brenni Engineering sa

Electrical engineer: Augusto Daghini, IFEC ingegneria SA

HVAC engineer: Ehab Mattar, IFEC ingegneria SA

Fire protection consultant: Ida Puricelli, Puricelli-Mona SA

Building physics: Amedeo Leva, IFEC ingegneria SA


Contractor: Barella SA

Asbestos removal: Simatech SA

Carpentry, roofer: F.lli Colombo Sagl

Electrics: Arrigo G&A SA

Plumbing: Galli SA

Ventilation: Aerimpianti SA

Plasterwork and suspended ceilings: Michele Vodola

Metalconstruction: Agustoni Fabrizio metalcostruzioni SA

Metalworker: Francesco Talaia

Windows: Eledil srl; Mirco Solcà

Carpenter: Cavaleri Carlo & Ci SA; RK Mobili di Roberto Köchli


Painter: Giovanni Righitto, Rovio Color

Flooring: Uniquefloor AG

Tilling: Jotti Guglielmo SA

Kitchen supplier: Flavio Morosoli SA

Bar counter supplier: RK Mobili di Roberto Köchli

Fridge supplier: Marzio Sciarini, Techno Frigo Sagl

Lighting: Regent SA

Furniture: Cavaleri Carlo & Ci SA


Contractor (exterior): Massimo Grandi Sagl; Fossati SA

External electrics: Giuseppe Barone elettricista

Paving: Pavidream 2000 Sagl

Gardeners: Manuel Galli; Willy Bernasconi SA