Airolo Valley Renaturation, Airolo

Switzerland

In the context of Airolo, located at the northern tip of Valle Leventina beneath the Gotthard Massif in Canton Ticino, the challenge was to find a harmonious balance between the critical role of transportation infrastructure and the preservation of natural landscapes.

In the context of Airolo, located at the northern tip of Valle Leventina beneath the Gotthard Massif in Canton Ticino, the challenge was to find a harmonious balance between the critical role of transportation infrastructure and the preservation of natural landscapes.

Far from being a static commodity, landscape is a living, evolving aspect of nature that is continuously shaped by human influence. It serves as a reflection of society, encapsulating both historical and contemporary elements while remaining adaptable to future modifications.

In the context of Airolo, located at the northern tip of Valle Leventina beneath the Gotthard Massif in Canton Ticino, the challenge was to find a harmonious balance between the critical role of transportation infrastructure and the preservation of natural landscapes. The objective was to plan for a future that leans towards natural restoration (“back to nature”) and bolster the town’s identity through tourism.

The transformation in Airolo started with a civic movement led by the town’s former mayor, Franco Pedrini. This initiative has since evolved into Switzerland’s most significant landscape project. It marks a pioneering step in developing a sustainable relationship between urban planning and environmental preservation.

Historically, Airolo’s positioning as the southern gateway to the Gotthard railway tunnel (opened in 1882) and the subsequent A2 highway tunnel (constructed in 1980) ensnared the town within a lattice of infrastructure. This network disrupted the natural and social continuity across the valley, further compounded by the Ticino River’s channelling and the valley basin’s construction.

The recent construction of a second bore for the highway tunnel has provided an opportunity to use excavated materials for environmental restoration. Approximately one kilometre of the highway and the old railway line at the southern portal are being covered to create a green corridor, effectively mending the rift created by previous constructions. This sustainable approach facilitates the remediation of parts of the valley floor, improves access to the rejuvenated riverbanks, and creates new wooded and recreational areas, setting Airolo on a path towards sustainable tourism.

The innovative efforts in Airolo were acknowledged with the prestigious 2019 Premio Espace Suisse award, recognizing the project led by LAND as a significant contribution to landscape architecture and sustainable urban planning

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