Interviewed in Zagreb, March 12th 2005
Mario Botta was born in Mendrisio, in the Swiss canton of Ticino. He has designed buildings all over the world, but he has remained closely attached to his birthplace over his entire career. After graduating in the class of Carlo Scarpa and Giuseppe Mazzariola in Venice, he opened his own practice in Lugano and embarked on what is now a wide opus, from family houses which first brought him international attention, to his recent acute interest in churches. Over almost four decades, Botta has used more or less the same architectural style, insisting on elementary, often symmetrical compositions, archetypal forms, rational approach to typologies and use of finishing materials like stone and brick. His buildings have out-of-time iconic features, a strong presence and a traditional relationship with the ground. Mario Botta is not only a builder and designer, but also an active lecturer. In 1996, he prepared a teaching course for the newly founded Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, where he lectures today.
ORIS: You started your career as an architect very early, working as an assistant in an architectural office. Then you went to university and met some great modernist architects. You were taught by Carlo Scarpa, you participated in the work of Le Corbusier’s studio on the project for the Venice hospital, and you worked with Louis Kahn for a while. How would you describe those formative years? What were your relationships with those great masters and how did they influence your work?
Botta: As you said, I started studying architecture only after I practiced it in an architectural office. I worked as an apprentice draftsman and then left for Venice, having acquired a certain professional experience. While in Venice, I met three great men – Le Corbusier, Carlo Scarpa and Louis Kahn. I met Le Corbusier in 1965, when he came to Venice to design the new city hospital. I entered his studio as an apprentice, a learner, and worked with his associates and assistants, who moved to the Serenissima to open the studio. It was a chance for me to be in contact with an exceptionally important figure, who marked the history of architecture.
Although I did not work with him directly, I participated in developing the project for the new Venice hospital, in which we can find a synthesis of all modern architecture. That project made new insights into the relationship with the town, the adoption of urban rules through an interpretation materializing the comparison/conflict of the new and the old.