Decade Hillside: The Sigirino Depot

[Point cloud visualization of existing and constructed hillside in the Sotto Ceneri mountain range]

As described by Christophe Girot in Topos’ current Issue (Building With Landscape), the Sigirino Depot is “the landscape byproduct of the largest infrastructure project in Swiss history, where a series of tunnels are transpiercing the Alps from north to south to allow for high-speed trains to reach Italy in record time.”  In the process of creating the Ceneri Base Tunnel (15 km long; a small portion of the entire NEAT tunnel project) 3.7 millions cubic meters of pulverized gneiss mined from within the Sotto Ceneri mountain range will be amassed on the Sigirino hillside, raising its finished elevation over 150 meters.

The depot lies just across the river from the picturesque village of Sigirino and is part of an east-west wildlife migration corridor through the Alps.  The region is a tourist destination, and as Atelier Girot’s project description claims:

Because of its sensitive location, the exceptionally large quantity of material to be stored and the commitment to preserve tourism and environmental quality, the client understood the requirement to add, from the onset, a landscape architect to the design team. The [designed] stepped and faceted morphology of the depot provides a system of water collection and paths for visitors. 3D topographical analysis as well as visualization technology was used extensively, due to the complexity & scale of the project.

[Ceneri Tunnel construction in progress]

[Above and below: pulverized rock from tunnel boring being placed above ground at the Sigirino Depot]

[Just across the valley is the Village of Sigirino, seen in the background.  Above four images courtesy and © AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd]

In collaboration with the project’s multiple engineers, Atelier Girot provided design, model and site insertion studies; another example of designers exploring methods to integrate logistical waste streams. Graphics and animations were further polished through Girot’s own Landscape Visualization and Modeling Laboratory (LVML) at ETH Zurich using the latest geo-referenced point cloud technology with data acquired from terrestrial laser scanners.

Thankfully the project didn’t just test its accuracy of representational models, but also experimented with actual test plots on the hillside.  Given the unconsolidated quality of the new base material, achieving steep slopes (2:3) will be challenging because there is nothing to hold it all together.  To counter that another anthropogenic waste stream was utilized to cohere the construction: varied formulations of urban compost mixed into the pulverized gneiss.  The results of these and revegetation trials fed back into design studies for the volumetric digital models.

[Renderings of the reclaimed hillside]

On a technical level, the project offers a generative method for working with really large anthro-accelerated displacements of earth – literal byproduct landscape produced by tunnel boring, open-pit mining, dredging or from whatever else.   Rather than such industrial detritus becoming monumentally incidental landscapes, they can be deliberately rendered – graphically and physically – as intended geological futures within an accuracy of within 30 centimeters.

Aesthetically speaking, it gets more interesting.  How will the different generations of Sigirinos place it?  Those people living in the backdrop of state-of-the-art post-natural geology adjacent to all these scattered, still-standing medieval villages?  They get the fun of integrating both those temporalities, as well as the confused faces of tourists looking at their jaw-dropping “borrowed” landscape of overburden.   Over the next 10 years (estimated construction/reclamation time) I imagine their kids watching hillside manufacturing and playing hide and seek in ruderal ecologies; an inversion of the two piles of rocks watching the rise and fall of urbanity in a flash, as in the short animation film Das Rad.  Here new breeds of geographers will arise, as well as landscape architects with the same constructed landscape sensibility as the Dutch, only it will be in the Z axis.

All unlabeled images by and courtesy of Atelier Girot.


  1. Carter · ·

    Interesting post.
    I checked out Atelier Girot’s website. One of their listed fields of expertise is Landscape Infrastructure. I then tried to find a book (title) on Amazon about landscape infrastructure and found “Landscape Infrastructure: Case Studies by SWA”. Would you recommend that book, or another one, for someone who would like to learn more about landscape infrastructure?

  2. I have yet to get a hold of a copy of the book you mentioned, and I’m very curious what it is like. Based on some of the book’s contributing authors, it could be interesting and a stretch beyond promo material for SWA. Recent publications I am more familiar with and would recommend are the DVD proceedings from The “Landscape Infrastructures” conference (not a book, but a long viewing), Pierre Belanger’s essay Landscape as Infrastructure, ( a very quick entry point into the dialogue) which you can also find in the book “Ecological Urbanism”, which generally deals with a similar range of ideas, and Infranet’s Coupling: Strategies for Infrastructural Opportunism. There’s plenty of others out there and footnotes within these can lead you to them.

  3. Thanks a lot for your recommendations. I appreciate it.

  4. Serous infrastructure as can only imagined in Europe in the 21st Century -…. while Africa weeps…..

  5. namhenderson · ·

    I actually interviewed Gerdo Aquino president of SWA and and principal of their Los Angeles studio, a few months ago. Have a copy of the book too. The interview can be found here

    We mostly spoke about landscape infrastructure but also about extending the term infrastructure in terms of “the social”….

    I would recommend the Coupling collection or Belanger’s essay as the best place to start, Carter. Although the SWA book does a great job of placing their specific work in a critical context particularly by no surprise Waldheim’s.

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