During Botta’s four years in Venice both Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn designed important projects for that city. With a combination of single-minded determination and youthful enthusiasm, Botta persuaded both architects to hire him; he worked for Le Corbusier on the Venice hospital during his first year in the city, and for Kahn on the convention center exhibition just after he graduated. Luck, but also a clear sense of direction, led Botta into contact with Le Corbusier, Kahn, and Scarpa. Fittingly, he has built on their tradition.
Mario Botta first gained international attention with a remarkable series of houses in Switzerland, modest in budget and scale but of strong monumentality. While clearly modernist, these houses also have ties to the vernacular architecture of Botta’s native canton of Ticino as well as to the classical tradition. Set in a spectacular landscape of hills and lakes on the southern slopes of the Swiss Alps, they evoke a clear sense of place, their bold, archetypal geometric forms often echoing those of the local vernacular. Built of ascetic materials, beautifully crafted, tactile, and sensual, they comprise a rich set of variations on a few basic themes that have begun to define a new modern domestic type which, like its classical precedents, is axially organized and presents a powerful symmetrical image, or figure.
But Botta’s modernism is not utopian. It neither pursues a machine aesthetic nor asserts the primacy of function in generating form, although current critiques would so characterize all of modernism. Botta’s modernism is part of a movement away from the technological and functional determinism of the 1920s, which came to be known as the International Style, toward a man-centered modernism that sought fundamentals within a more humanist framework, using as points of departure archaic, primitive, and vernacular sources. The idea was not to copy these sources but to understand their underlying principles of form, construction, and psychology. Paralleling contemporary ethnography, in which primitive peoples were studied in order to get beneath the encrusted layers of”culture”in Western societies to the”purer”states of man, this modernist tradition similarly sought to strip architecture of its layers of style and ornamentation in search of the timeless.
This move away from International Style functionalism was first apparent in the gradual appropriation and reinterpretation of the Mediterranean vernacular in the 1930s by Le Corbusier, which evolved into his archaizing, beton brut postwar work. Similarly, by 1935 in Scandinavia, Erik Gunnar Asplund and Alva Aalto moved away from the International Style by reintegrating the vernacular and classical into their work.A renewed interest in rooting their architecture to the earth and using natural materials emerged, partly inspired by their discovery of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work of the 1930s. And Louis Kahn, perhaps the most significant architect to emerge in the postwar years, more systematically reintegrated into the modern movement the abstracted form world of the past. While this new architecture took many diverse forms, all of them had in common a shift from a technologically and functionally driven architecture emphasizing discontinuity with the past to an architecture that emphasized the timeless needs of man and sought to reinterpret the past in the context of modern society.
A central and fascinating aspect of Botta’s work, and of considerable concern to architecture today, is the question of the continuity and evolution of the moderist tradition. Botta has acknowledged the important influence that Le Corbusier，Louis Kahn, and Carlo Scarpa have had on him. Of the three, Louis Kahn is perhaps the most important influence. Kahn’s Beaux-Arts training schooled him in classical methods of plan composition, and through his teacher Paul Cret, he developed a fundamental belief in a structural rationalism that had roots in nineteenth-century architectural theory, particularly that of Eugene Viollet-le-duc. This interest in structural rationalism, which saw as equally valid the logic of traditional means of construction as well as of modern means such as space frames was combined with an interest in the primary forms of ancient architecture. Ruins, particularly of ancient Roman and Islamic buildings, which had shed everything but the essence of their form, materiality, and structure, provided for Kahn a timeless and rational point of departure for architecture. The interest in ruins was not a megalomaniacal wish for immortality, as in the case of Albert Speer and his patron; rather, as Kenneth Frampton has said, the return to ancient sources”was for Kahn a necessary stand against the historic ‘ void’ of the modern epoch,”
The interest in the tectonics of materials, the clear articulation of parts, and the pursuit of primary geometries to create order, hierarchy, and seriality in Botta’s architecture build on the work of Kahn. His use of light to give definition to both exteriors and interiors similarly has connections to Kahn. And Botta’s ability to draw inspiration from the Ticino vernacular owes something to Kahn’s way of seeing the past in terms of essentials.
From his countryman Le Corbusier, Botta learned a sense of the social dimensions of architecture, an understanding of the interrelationship of architecture, as he put it, with social, political, and economic concerns. More particularly, having both a social and formal dimension, Botta’s predilection for the open plan would seem to have derived from Le Corbusier, and on a more exclusively formal level so would Botta’s dynamic method of plan composition. But while Le Corbusier was a master of free form, combining order and freedom, organic and geometric forms in a generally dynamic asymmetrical interplay, Botta tends to compose with primary geometric forms, arranging them into a dynamic relationship along the main axis. This has allowed him to synthesize some of the basics of Kahn’s static geometric plans with the more dynamic compositional methods of Le Corbusier.
The Le Corbusier influence is apparent in the house at Stabio of 1965-67, built while he was in architecture school, with its splayed exterior stair in a dynamic relationship to the main rectangular mass of the house and the asymmetrical end facade. The most recently completed house, at Morbio Superiore(pages 36-37), with its complex curving composition within the rectilinear building shell creating a strong dynamic tension, echoes Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye.
While Carlo Scarpa was not a great conceptualizer of new architecture like Le Corbusier or Kahn, his importance for Botta lies in his emphasis on detail, texture, and materials. Scarpa explored freely this aspect of modernism. While Botta’s preference for ascetic materials and matter-of-fact but carefully conceived detailing in his houses and early buildings is clearly in the spirit of Kahn and Le Corbusier, the more intricate detailing and use of richer materials that have emerged later in his work owe more to Scarpa.
Botta’s ability to synthesize all these influences into an architecture that is clearly and consistently his own as well as his extraordinary sense of materials, craft, and detail give his projects their authority. And two issues of wider importance demonstrate how Botta has evolved beyond these architects. The first issue, Botta’s departure from a strict structural rationalism, relates to Kahn in particular; the second issue, Botta’s introduction of center and figure into his architecture, relates to both Le Corbusier and Kahn as well as to the modernist tradition in general.
For Kahn the clear expression of structural logic was of primary concern. There is usually no confusion as to what constitutes bearing walls, what is cladding, or how things are held up. For instance, the cantilevered corners of Kahn’s Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Building clearly reveal the reinforced concrete trusses that hold them up. However, in Botta’s work structure is concealed, as in the cantilevered corners of the house at Pregassona，and in the brick-clad stepped facade of the office building in Lugano, which is articulated as thick enough to be read as a bearing wall but does not make explicit how it is held up. The precariousness of the massing is fundamental to the experience of the building.Structural logic is deliberately subverted for perceptual ends.
For Botta contextual concerns take precedence over structural consistency, and it is in this larger conceptual framework of priorities that one must see his break with Kahn. The logic of his wanting to articulate a strong corner and, at the same time，tie the office building into the existing fabric is clear. Infreeing himself from Kahn’s structural rationalism, Botta was able to recognize the demands of the surroundings and the need for a strongly articulated corner as well as entry, the latter particularly being almost always subordinate in Kahn’s architecture.
Modern architects of the 1920s struggled to break away from historical styles, which they viewed as having been made obsolete by new techniques and materials, and from the formal ordering methods of historical architecture, which they viewed equally as an architectural representation of a moribund social order. For historical architectural paradigms-they substituted new architectural paradigms-universal space, column grids moveable wall planes, and an asymmetrical and non hierarchic order-in what must partly be seen as an architectural effort to create a more egalitarian society. While they succeeded in creating a new architecture, which in its openness and lack of traditional hierarchies may have appeared more egalitarian, it is questionable whether this new architecture had any ameliorating effects on the social order. Where they did succeed, not entirely unwittingly, was in providing a model for a utilitarian way of building and a rationale for it, which was then appropriated and debased by society’s economic forces.
Botta’s generation is struggling to overcome the resultant loss of a sense of center and place that today pervades the architecture and urbanism of the industrial mass democracies. For Le Corbusier, an important priority was to develop an architecture that freed itself from the rigid axiality of the French tradition. Botta has, it would appear, almost by instinct, moved toward reintroducing axiality and a sense of center to a modern architectural tradition that formerly proscribed it. Efforts in the postwar years to reappropriate older paradigms in the context of modern architecture produced some paradoxical and many unconvincing results.Perhaps the most paradoxical was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s reintroduction of classical symmetry into his late work.Because of the dematerialized nature of his glass-and-steel architecture and its undifferentiated grid, as well as his refusal to articulate the vertical dimension of space, space was never contained nor hierarchy expressed, and thus the sense of center was subverted. Other postwar efforts at a modern American monumentality, such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, were less than convincing.
The most convincing efforts at a new monumentality were those of Le Corbusier and Kahn. But although both reintroduced great centralized spaces and variations on axial planning, there remains in their work a strong ambivalence, in the case of Kahn, and a clear shunning, in the case of Le Corbusier, with regard to the articulation of center and figure. While the work of both architects provided powerful images, these forms were usually derived from, and celebrated the monumentalization of, functional elements-whether canopies, ramps, stair towers, or structural and service elements. They were asymmetrically composed in the work of Le Corbusier and usually in series in the work of Kahn.
In the work of Le Corbusier important spaces tended toward the periphery of the buildings while the center was occupied by an undifferentiated column grid or circulation area. The examples are numerous. In his monumental assembly building at Chandigarh the assembly chamber has drifted off to the periphery of the interior column-filled space and been turned thirty degrees off the orthogonal, completely subverting a sense of center or procession. Similarly, the courtyard of the monastery of La Tourette is crisscrossed by corridors denying its usual historic role as a central focus.
Kahn’s was a serial monumentality, achieved by repeating similar architectural and structural units. His emphasis on structural systems and seriality subverted the sense of hierarchy and figure. Even in his most monumental effort, the parliament building at Dacca, which occupies the central point of an essentially symmetrical axial urban composition, Kahn subverted the perception of clear hierarchy of facade and entry by rotating the complex forty-five degrees and repeating aseries of almost identical architectonic masses around the central assembly hall, giving it a sense of equal weight in all directions.
Kahn’s emphasis on seriality was shared widely in this period especially in the work of architects such as Aldo van Eyck. While he and others were much concerned with creating a sense of place and human scale and, like Kahn, had a strong interest in primitive vernaculars, they focused on a free, picturesque arrangement of repetitive units and continued to take a prohibitive attitude toward axiality, monumentality, and figural articulation.
But the false linkage between centrality, monumentality, and a reactionary social order so prevalent, especially in Europe. until recently is no longer convincing for a generation for whom the loss of place, center, identity, and communality has been much more critical. Equally critical has been the problem of how to find an authentic way to bring back centrality and figure without resorting to historical pastiche. in other words, how to convincingly separate these paradigms from the styles or parodies thereof.
Lost in the late 1960s debate stirred up by Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi, whose ideaswere best demonstrated by the house for his mother, was that house’s reaffirmation of a strong figural presence. While it wa seen as demonstrating how one establishes an order only tosubvert it to accommodate the realities of the program, its single most far-reaching influence may very well have been th gestalt of its strongly figural front facade, split apart at the center. It broke the unspoken prohibition on articulation of figure as well as the prohibition on direct stylistic quotation, an issue it flirted with. And while the house’s progeny, so to speak, tended in the direction of a literal stylistic revival, its influence was also to have an important effect on Botta, firsttentatively in the house at Manno of 1975, subtly in the house at Ligornetto of 1975-76, and more overtly in the house at Pregassona and the project for a house at Caviano, both of 1979.
The evolution we see in Botta’s architecture from the studied asymmetry and seriality of his early work to the strong articulation of center and figure is not an isolated phenomenon. What remains unique to Botta, however, is that there is an interal consistency and logic to this evolution. He remains true to his modernist vocabulary and achieves a consistency between plan and facade within that context, avoiding pasted-on facade motifs or eclectic poche plans. Inthe process, he has broadened the range of expression of the modernist tradition.
我们在博塔的建筑中看到的演变，从他早期作品的研究的不对称性和系列性，到中心和图形的强烈表达，并不是一个孤立的现象。然而，博塔仍然独一无二的是，这种演变有内在的一致性和逻辑。他仍然忠于他的现代主义词汇，并在那个背景下实现了计划和立面的一致性，避免了粘贴的立面图案或折衷的大杂烩计划。在这个过程中，他拓宽了现代主义传统的表达范围。Published on the occasion of the exhibition Mario Botta November 20,1986-February 10,1987
Department of Architecture and Design
The Museum of Modern Art