a mONOGRAPH CELEBRATES THE ARCHITECTURE OF MARIO BOTTA
Originally published November 6, 2014 in New York Times' T Magazine online.
The Swiss architect Mario Botta once described his hometown as “madre e matrigna” — “mother and stepmother” — an apt description for the Italian-speaking Swiss province of Ticino, which possesses cultural sensibilities of both nations. And just like his nuanced patrimony, the architectural style Botta has honed over a 50-year career stems from a mixture of influences. His half-century of work is celebrated in “Mario Botta: Architecture and Memory,” a monograph just released from Silvana Editoriale ($60 at artbook.com).
The book’s release follows, by two months, a major exhibition with the same title at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, N.C., which Botta designed in 2009. Americans may also know Botta as the architect of the iconic 1995 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His buildings combine elements of Neo-Rationalism — which privileges symmetrical spatial arrangements and bold geometric formations — with the minimalist tenets of high Modernism, which Botta gleaned from working briefly in the studios of Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier. “Architecture and Memory” recounts stories from Botta’s time with these masters — including his task measuring the circumference of trees for Kahn’s unrealized Venice congress center. Botta’s design process relies on patience and slowness, a refreshing counterpoint to the rapid-fire modular design of today.
This intense concentration is evident in Botta’s churches and chapels, especially in the Church of San Giovanni Battista in Mogno, Switzerland: a vertical tower that stands out against Ticino’s sheer mountainsides, with a façade of alternating bands of dark gray granite and white Peccia marble. Inside, the monochromatic banding produces a transcendent vertical illusion that almost erases the geometric transformation of the church’s rectangular floor plan into a sublime circular ceiling.
The book features a heavily illustrated index of Botta’s public projects — including the many sacred spaces he designed, as well as museums, theaters and libraries around which the exhibition was organized. One highlight is the unfortunately destroyed “San Carlino” monument to Botta’s fellow Ticino architect, Francesco Borromini — a scale wooden cross-section of his famed Roman Baroque church. Botta pays further homage to Borromini in a section of the book entitled “Encounters,” a 50-year mood board of sorts, comprised of personal anecdotes on a constellation of influences. As for his own career, Botta embraces a spirit of humility: “One is not born an architect,” he reflects, “but becomes one.”