Architect Giacometti celebrates his centenary

Bruno Giacometti in the nineties Ernst Scheidegger/NZZ

The last surviving member of the renowned Giacometti family of artists and sculptors - Bruno Giacometti - doesn't consider himself an artist.

This content was published on September 12, 2007 minutes

But family art works surround Bruno Giacometti, who turned 100 on August 24, in his home near Zurich.

"Art was not my vocation. [Instead] I have built houses thinking about their functions," he told swissinfo.

His house is hardly visible behind the hedge of his garden in Zollikon, a residential area of Zurich.

The building, which he designed himself, is both modern and plain, reflecting an architecture that places more emphasis on its functionality rather than its shape.

Behind the front door, it is nevertheless shapes that attract the visitor's attention.

Bruno Giacometti, a very lucid hundred-year-old, is surrounded by fine examples of modern art history.

There are paintings by his father Giovanni, as well as pictures and sculptures by his brother Alberto, and furniture by another brother Diego.

"These works are a part of my life. If I had to let go of them, I would go too", he said.

Preserving heritage

But in recent years, Bruno Giacometti and his late wife Odette have donated many works to the Alberto Giacometti Foundation in Zurich and other museums as a way of preserving the Giacometti heritage in Switzerland.

The family comes from a small Italian-speaking valley in canton Graubünden.

"Bregaglia is a rather special valley, which leaves its mark on you whether you like it or not. We were used to living with no sun for three months a year, and living conditions were a bit primitive", Bruno Giacometti recalled.

"But I think this experience was a good grounding to face life."

From the Bregaglia valley, the Giacometti family went out to discover the world.

Giovanni stayed in Monaco and Paris, Alberto and Diego lived for years in Paris, and Bruno trained to be an architect at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Something creative

"My parents supported me in my choice; they were happy that I should learn something creative," Bruno Giacometti said.

"My father in fact would have made an excellent architect. He designed every piece of furniture we had at home. And he planned the extension of our house in Maloja. He would have been quite a modern architect."

In Zurich, Bruno Giacometti studied with Otto Salvisberg and Karl Moser, two key figures of modern architecture in Switzerland.

He then joined the office of Karl Egender, where he worked on projects for Zurich's Hallenstadion.

After the war, he conceived what might be his best-known work - the Swiss pavilion at the Venice Biennal art exhibition of 1952.

He also worked on dozens of architectural projects, some public, others private, especially in cantons Zurich and Graubünden.

Bruno Giacometti can be considered one of the most important Swiss architects after the Second World War but he does not consider himself an artist.

"I grew up in a family of artists and art was present every hour of every day. The interest for art stayed, I collaborated with the art museum of Zurich. But it was not my vocation to become an artist," he said.

Heavy accent

The Giacometti family has never forgotten its Bregaglia roots and Bruno Giacometti still speaks Italian with a heavy local accent. He remembers Stampa, the village he grew up in, with affection.

"The barn you can see on this wall, designed by Alberto, is the same you can see here, painted by my father," he says pointing at two paintings.

"I still live in Stampa in my head. I can't go there anymore because of my health, but I still sense the climate and the atmosphere," he adds, surveying the works of art around him.

swissinfo, based on an article in Italian by Andrea Tognina

Bruno Giacometti

Giacometti was born in Stampa, in the Bregaglia valley (canton Graubünden), on August 24, 1907.

He was the youngest of the four sons of Giovanni and Annetta Giacometti.

He studied architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

In 1930 he was recruited at the architecture office of Karl Egender in Zurich, where he worked for ten years, designing, among other projects, the plans for Zurich's Hallenstadion.

In 1935 he married Odette Duperret and they lived together until her death in February 2007.

The main works of Bruno Giacometti include the Swiss pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952, the hygiene and pharmacology institutes of Zurich University (1960), the town hall of Uster (1965), the natural history museum in Chur (1982) and the schools of Brusio (1962).

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