January's Featured Architect: Mario Botta

Two architects that altered the way I think about design and buildings are Eero Saarinen and Mario Botta. Both have a striking shift in the paradigm of what buildings can do to change the very way we think about our everyday surroundings.

Botta was born in Switzerland in 1943 and attended a high school for the arts in Milan before going to study architecture at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia in Venice, graduating in 1969. While he was living in Venice, he had the opportunity to work for Louis Kahn Carlo Scarpa, and Le Corbusier, who influenced his work greatly. Shortly after finishing his studies, Botta founded his own practice in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

As I was coming of age, I became aware of their work and especially focused on and followed the career of Mario Botta. Books on his work are the most tattered in my collection as I often used them to show young architects that we can get outside the box with his imposing geometric structures made from ordinary materials like brick and stone. What he does with such simple elements is incredible.

Botta defines himself as a stonemason, using brick as one of his main materials, and designing “pure, geometric and imposing forms.” He believes that with even the most humble materials, one can “find a profound, philosophical, and humanistic meaning for what one is designing.” His use of ordinary materials to create geometric masterpieces is awe-inspiring. Using materials such as stone, Botta’s buildings give a sense of weight to their environment, and the use of light and shadows within the buildings inspire reflection and a feeling of “lightness.”

Mario Botta uses architecture as a way to express the sacred and to connote the power of human memory, and has designed many sacred spaces. He has designed buildings for all three of the major monotheistic religions and is perhaps best known for the San Giovanni Battista Church in Mogno, Switzerland, and the Cymbalista Synagogue and Jewish Cultural Center in Tel Aviv.

Botta creates more than sacred buildings, however. Over the last 50 years, he has also designed single-family homes, schools, banks, administration buildings, libraries, and museums. One of his most well-known museums is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His career, however, has not been limited to design — Botta has taught extensively throughout his career and even founded the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture — one of the best architecture schools in Europe. His research and teaching have taken him all over the world to give lectures and seminars.

For more about Mario Botta and his work, you can visit his studio page or even watch the documentary created about him and his work: The Space Beyond.

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