Rino Tami (1908-1994) was a Swiss architect born in the Lugano district of the Ticino canton in Switzerland. He attended the high school of architecture of Rome and the Federal Polytechnic of Zurich, and later went on to practice under the guidance of architect Otto Rudolf Salvisberg. Between 1934 and 1953, Rino practiced in partnership with his brother Carlo Tami and the two were involved in the design of several prestigious projects. Subsequently, they split up and Rino went on to practice independently.
Often regarded as the founding father of modernist architecture in Switzerland, Rino’s philosophy was to “marry the house with the ground”. An exponent of sensible, sensitive architecture that was regarded by nature, his designs were rational as well as idealistic, intellectual as well as pragmatic.
1. Church of the Sacred Heart, Bellinzona (1936)
Designed in partnership with his brother Carlo Tami during his formative years as an architect, the Church of the Sacred Heart lends heavily from traditional architecture while maintaining a modern simplicity. While the arched colonnaded portico, rosette window, and thick stone walls are elements borrowed from the Romanesque style, the neat straight lines, and smooth finishes remind one of the modernist movement.
2. Cantonal Library, Lugano (1941)
Generally considered the first modernist building in Switzerland, the Cantonal Library in Lugano is an exemplary model of the modern rationalist style of architecture that the Tami brothers ushered into the Swiss landscape. Designed for the Ticino canton/state in partnership with Carlo Tami, the library consists of two perpendicular wings, housing the library with reading areas overlooking an adjacent park, and a warehouse for future expansion.
3. Solatia Apartment House, Lugano (1952)
The Solatia Apartment is considered the first luxury high-rise housing project in the city of Lugano. The design was marked by its spaciousness, natural lighting and ventilation, and beautiful terraces and balconies. Yet another example of minimal modern language back in the day, the building was renovated and altered considerably after Rino Tami’s time.
4. Cinema Corso, Lugano (1954)
Situated in the urban Via Pioda in Lugano, the external facade of Cinema Corso movie theatre is a departure from Tami’s hitherto sober neutral palette. Finished in warm terracotta bricks and punctuated by the orthogonal lines formed by concrete columns, this complex stands out not only on the street it rests on but also amongst Rino Tami’s body of work. An interesting design feature is the series of illusory black-and-white colored triangular bands painted on the ceiling from the projector to the screen.
5. Palazzo delle Dogane, Lugano (1954)
Another of Tami’s signatures in Via Piode, the Palazzo Delle Dogane was conceived in tandem with Cinema Corso with similar design language and palette, and thus are two-of-a-kind. The building is set back from the street, thus creating a public plaza of sorts, lending a whole new identity and vitality to the area.
6. Casa Torre, Lugano (1957)
Casa Torre or the House Tower represents the conviction of an architect unwilling to conform to and be boxed by his style. The novelty in the use of bright, striking colors against solemn concrete finishes, and the angular fenestrations and surfaces as opposed to his usual smooth facades coupled with the fact that the tower was the tallest structure in the neighborhood made it an iconic landmark in its own right.
7. San Salvatore Tunnel, Melide (1968)
Rino Tami worked in his capacity as aesthetic consultant for the design of the Ticinese belt of the Swiss motorways between 1962 & 1983. The San Salvatore Tunnel of Melide, one of the portals of the galleries of Melide and Grancia, was designed during this period and completed in 1968. A truly contextual designer, Tami adopted a brutalist, sharp, aerodynamic form for the tunnel which blends in with the surrounding hills and mountains.
8. Church of Risen the Christ, Lugano (1976)
Rino Tami banked this project by winning a public design competition. A work that was undertaken in the twilight of his career, the design embodies philosophical and symbolic underpinnings. The church rests on a platform, hovering above a height exceeding that of the walls of the adjacent cemetery. This platform houses the program of the church, whose volume ascends to a modest utilitarian bell-tower rather than a literal bell-tower, the integrity of which could not have been upheld, owing to the nature of the surrounding urban landscape. The design also relies on pauses and movement, allowing for a deliberate and measured journey to the sanctum space. The play of light and shadow with the help of vertical fins on the masonry adds layers and metaphors to the design.
9. Casa Nadig, Maroggia (1957)
One of Rino Tami’s older works, this lakeside holiday home was designed in collaboration with contemporaries, Peppo Brivio and Oscar Hoffman. The entire residence rests on two orthogonal walls locked between the steep rocky terrain and the lake itself, almost as if it were perpendicularly cantilevered from the sharp topography. The design is humble, direct, straightforward, and minimally invasive in the surrounding landscape.
10. Usego Warehouses, Bironico (1950)
Another of Rino Tami’s nascent works, the Usego Warehouse is an example of industrial architecture of the 1950s, a subsect of the modernist movement introduced by Tami himself in Switzerland, with its green fural roof perched on top of what seems like an office building from the modernist era with its emphasis on rectangular form, horizontal and vertical elements.