The rediscovery of the sacred throughout all cultures answers a deep aspiration of our age. If secular buildings sometimes have a spiritual dimension, particularly museums and spaces dedicated to art in general, what can be said of religious buildings? From the exuberance of a Hindu temple to mediaeval cathedrals, dreamt of as stones of eternity, people have rendered glory to the invisible to give a conception of the greatness of a civilisation.
Through the different religions and different types of building there is a similarity between the tangible architectural experience and the spiritual experience. The feelings induced by a visit to the church of Firminy, designed by Le Corbusier and inaugurated at the end of 2006 after 35 years of work, show the sacred in the moment lived at the sight of its particular form. All sorts of ideas have been coming off the drawing board for a decade. The silhouette of the Dresden Synagogue’s large closed and slightly off plumb parallelepiped transmits a message of respect and harmony. In the middle of the Tuscan hills, the simple and fascinating architecture of the Siloe Monastery or in Norway where the irregular stones of this church near Oslo built without mortar to let the light in and create a suggestive play of shadows inside all communicate feelings. The same can be said for the Foligno church and its particular force of expression (Fuksas Architects). The large scale stakes its claim with the huge Padre Pio project in the south of Italy designed by Renzo Piano, or the future Grand Mosque of Algeria which will accommodate 100,000 worshippers in 2014.
Ticino architect Mario Botta is particularly fond of sacred architecture. However, he is surprised when he is asked about his own beliefs. He is happy to reply that faith is a personal problem. He is interested in how a place of prayer can endure now just as it did 2,000 years ago. It is the enduring relationship between man and the cosmic values. "Sacred architecture has helped me discover the values of architecture in general: solemnity, the limit, the boundary, architecture contains the concept of the sacred."
The Archi-Europe Team
| Portrait of the month
Fifteen years after MOMA in San Francisco, a second modern art museum opened at the start of 2010 in the town of Charlotte bears Mario Botta's signature. A chance to revisit some of his projects.
Without going over an architectural journey stretching over forty years of intense activity, the starting point of Mario Botta’s work defines his thought process and formal choices. Work that has an inimitable imprint: cylindrical buildings with deep gashes, the unrelenting repetition of openings, a liking for primary geometric forms through an extraordinary capacity for using brick. The originality of expression without doubt comes from the rural architecture of his native Ticino and direct contact with the great masters of the modern movement.
Born in 1943 in Mendrisio, Mario Botta's interest in architecture started at a very young age. He was already an apprentice designer in a Lugano agency at the age of 15. From 1961 to 1969 he studied architecture at Milan and Venice. A period with le Corbusier, then his meeting with Louis Kahn and Carlo Scarpa were seminal for his future. In 1970 he opened his agency in Lugano in 1970 to dedicate himself at first to private houses which already announced a very personal style. Ten years later, he broadens his field of action to non residential architecture.
For Mario Botta, architecture is way of harmonising with space. It is a balance between constructed elements and nature. The relationship between a building and its context. The tension and quality of the building is played out here, both in the large metropolises and in the silence of the mountains. His projects of the last fifteen years also confirm the steadfastness of this conceptual approach: an ability to interpret the necessities of our times while bearing witness to the values of the past and a capacity to measure to face up with the history of the place whose intrinsic characteristics enrich the potential responses.
"My knowledge of architecture in some respects is based on churches. The history of architecture that I know is that of churches, of the Romanesque style in Ronchamp. A large part of Mediterranean culture is based on churches." For some years now, architecture has been used in the wine industry to create wine cellars as works of arts, like cathedrals for the display of wine. First in Italy, then more recently in France.
Mario Botta affirms that for him architecture transmits an idea of duration because its fundamental values surpass the duration of human life as witness to a collective value. Architecture is only made reality through an architectural work, at the moment of meeting between the theoretical world and the physical reality. Because this work is also memory, history, cultural reality.
1 Mario Botta
2 Evry Cathedral (France) - 1995
A simple carved cylinder with a green halo, the cathedral is a volume of red bricks without a main façade in accord with an ancient tradition going back to the origins of Christianity. The project takes its strength from its concern to keep in with the existing style of the town.
3 SFMOA, San Francisco (USA) - 1995
This 22,000 m2 museum, illuminated by natural light underlines a strategic location between two different urban structures. Framed by tall buildings it needed to have a strong image and be a landmark in the city. The building is made up of brick and granite steps and opens to the inside to reveal a cylindrical form.
4 Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels (Switzerland) - 1996
Erected to the memory of a dead woman, this holy building is made of a long walkway from the mountain and a panoramic platform at the end. The desire to face up to the immensity of the mountain was Mario Botta’s main motive in this unusual undertaking where architecture and context have a very unusual relationship.
5 Cymbalista Synagogue, Tel Aviv (Israel) - 1998
This is a very symbolic architectural work centred on the identity of the place. The spaces topped with two identical conical towers are planted on a parallelepiped from which emerge two sculptured volumes produced by the transformation of the base square in a circle.
6 Petra winery, Suvereto (Italy) - 2003
Stone cylinder, cut by a sloping plain and flanked by two arcade wings, presents a very plastic form. Inspired by ancient Tuscan houses, the architectural complex is inserted into the landscape like a huge open flower on the hill.
7 La Scala, Milan (Italy) - 2004
Restored and enlarged with new buildings, the most famous theatre in the world is an exemplary piece despite the controversy it caused at the beginning of the project. The round three storey tower, typical of Botta, and the cube, both designed to be offices, dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms and cafeteria are additions which make a new Scala.
8 Leeum Samsung Museum, Seoul (Korea) - 2004
Dedicated to a collection of traditional Korean art, the building is part of a private museum complex that includes two other buildings by Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas. It is said to be inspired by the beauty of Korean porcelain. An impressive immaculate white circular staircase with a glass roof which lets the daylight in to penetrate the interior.
9 Seriate Church (Italy) - 2004
Four imposing walls in a square in perfect geometric equilibrium, the building is entirely covered by red stone from Verona and underlines the tension between earth and sky. It must endure in time by breaking free from the ephemeral. This is why the architect has chosen materials that evoke churches from the past.
10 Wellness Centre, Arosa (Switzerland) - 2006
The 5,300 m2 building almost completely disappears into the mountain and is only visible through the huge "vegetable shaped forms which arouse the curiosity of visitors, bring light into the basements during the day and light up the night in the village." This solution shows a lot of respect for the site.
11 Wine cellar, Clos de Faugières (France) - 2009
Responding to a draconian set of specifications, the wine cellar harmonises in the large vineyards of the rolling hills near Saint Emilion. The two symmetrical wings and a central body erected as a gazebo append to a partially buried central platform, equipped with the spaces necessary for the production and conservation of wine.
12 Bechtler Museum, Charlotte (USA) - 2010
The precise geometric lines of this brick building, its convex curves and the fifteen metre column that decorates the museum entrance have a very striking effect. It is still an intimate space. In effect if the size of the museum corresponds to the European standards of this type of construction it is still very modest by American standards.
| Project of the month
41 Cooper Square, New York
Architect: Thomas Mayne
This is one of the latest projects of the architect Thom Mayne, awarded for the energy and audacity of his work at the Energy Performance + Architecture Award at Interclima+Elec 2010 (Paris). The building was designed in accord with high quality environmental standards and is still the top academic building in New York, certified LEED*.
As a provocateur of the flashy style, the American used to rebellious constructions has turned "green", aware that energy efficiency must take a more prominent place in architecture. He underlines the responsibility of his role.
The Cooper Union academic centre in New York illustrates his initiative, the importance he gives to today’s social, economic, environmental, cultural, political and technical elements. The building replaces a neo classical two storey building and provides an original and profound synthesis between the town and a venerable one hundred and fifty year old institution.
41 Cooper square is presented in the form of a grouping of vertical structures, organised round a central square designed to promote interdisciplinary exchanges between students from three departments on Union Square.
The abrupt and deep cracks and large scar on the main façade reveal an impressive central atrium, the heart of the building. The lifts only stop on certain floors to encourage use of the central staircase to promote social interaction and exercise. Secondary lifts still serve each level to conform to access regulations for the disabled.
A double shell of a semi transparent screen made up of 50% perforated stainless steel panels surrounded by a glass envelope functions as a cloak to control temperature. The energy sources are essentially renewable, with use of natural ventilation, optimisation of natural light, installation of cogeneration equipment and radiating ceilings for heating and cooling, the creation of a roof garden to recover run off water. All these systems provide 40% energy saving for a standard building of this type.
Last but not least, Thomas Mayne has recycled the refuse from construction (over 80% of refuse has been recycled) as well as the refuse from the demolition of the original construction (over 94%).
* North American Construction Standardisation system for high quality environmental buildings created by the US Green Building Council in 1998.
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Responsible Editor: Jacques Allard
Chief Editor: Marie-Claire Regniers
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