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
Today there is widespread disillusionment with the modem movement, which is seen as a failure. Yet your work indicates that you continue to believe in its evolution. What do you see as the essentials of the modernist tradition in architecture?
The architectural expression of the modem movement was rather diversified, and within the movement we find a great variety of personalities and contents, from expressionist to organic to rationalist architecture. We must keep this in mind to avoid blaming all of today s ills on a generation of architects who worked with great dedication and made many extraordinary contributions to the field.
One fundamental shared hope united the differences within the modem movement; this was the hope that the new means available to architects — advanced techniques, new materials, industrialization — would provide more satisfactory answers to the problems of twentieth-century man and help to create better living conditions.
The architects, like the avant-garde painters, sculptors, and poets of the time, had glimpsed the great future possibilities offered by this new society of technology and advanced communication. Yet man remained the point of reference. What brought experiences so diverse as those of the modem movement together was the use of abstract elements in the form of geometries, rational laws, and the removal of traditional ornament and elements of expression. In this new modem vision, in most cases, the column, stripped of its expressive elements, became a cylinder, and the architrave was removed from the trabeation. The new composition aimed at reflecting the function for which it was realized rather than at celebrating different architectonic elements. This was a sign of the faith in technology.
What do you see as the failure of the modem movement?
The masters of the modem movement, among them Aalto, Le Corbusier, Loos, Mendelsohn, and Terragni, were all architects of great ability who created new forms of architectural expression. It is the subsequent debasement of their work and teachings that has brought about the impoverishment we witness today.
The moderns all shared the belief that architecture could play a major role in the shaping of society. In my opinion, the modem movement did not betray this belief; the movement itself was betrayed. Industrial society lost sight of the original objectives and forced man to conform to the laws of technology and mechanization. In this sense, we can fault the modem movement for failing in its goals.
The greatest failure was in town planning, in the vision of the modem zoned city. In fact, it is necessary for man that the organization of living space in the city be more complex than the division of the city into different functional zones utilized at different times of the day. There must also exist in the city large, ample spaces in which history, memory, dreams, imagination, and poetry can be linked and which are not dedicated to strictly functional uses. I believe this is an ethical problem: to make man again the center of interest in the organization of space and not simply to utilize him as an instmment. In the final analysis, the aesthetic always reflects the society that supports it.