Expressing Something New with the Same Sign

architect Mario Botta
interviewed by Vera Grimmer, Adolph Stiller

Mario Botta has entered the history of modern architecture as a participant of the movement of architects from the Swiss canton of Ticino, who wanted to break away from the used and commercialised modernism. They affirmed the culture of the periphery by using specific qualities of the region while interpreting the influences of larger environments. As Carlo Scarpa’s student, Botta has acquired an especially strong architectural skillset. In his early works, he defined the syntax of his architectural language which he consistently and continuously applied. His expressive buildings have become landmarks in the environment or icons in the urban tissue. Botta builds space by light, while geometry is always the starting point of his usually very complicated compositions. Materiality is connected with the memory of construction, primary elements, stone and brick which he uses to transform the natural into the cultural. 


Oris: I remember the first time I saw your work; a great exhibition of the works of Carlo Scarpa you organized with Boris Podrecca in Chiesa della Carità in Venice in 1984.


Mario Botta: Yes, with Francesco Dal Co as well.


Oris: It was an amazing homage to your teacher, one of the three heroes who have marked your beginnings as an architect. 


Mario Botta: Yes. I would like to point out that it was the first exhibition of Scarpa’s works organised after his death and we saw it as a true homage to his work. Many people who worked with him participated; Giuseppe Mazzariol, Francesco Dal Co who wanted to contribute, all these very intelligent individuals. There is also this connection with Boris Podrecca, representative of the Viennese approach and culture. I was a builder, worker, which was good because it allowed me to read Scarpa through his works. We had these large drawings and thus started to read the mystery of Carlo Scarpa. 

Scarpa was not loved in Venice; he never had it easy. He was admired by a small number of intellectuals, whereas people, even at the University – his colleagues, architects and professors – saw him as an architectural aristocrat. It was not true, though. He was excellent in his profession. He knew how to get most out of the simplest of materials. Scarpa had an amazing ability – he made each material wonderful, be it concrete, asphalt, soil or stone. So, that is how we all got together. When we prepared the exhibition, Beppe Mazzariol wanted something different. We told him that Scarpa’s drawings would float in the air and we elevated them above ground. When Mazzariol saw the prototypes of the floating metal frames, he panicked. I remember him saying: You are skilled, why have you used such heavy metal? We had our disagreements. I think it was one of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever done. 


Oris: You had an opportunity to meet your two other role models – Louis Khan and Le Corbusier. 


Mario Botta: I was destined to do quality architecture considering these three teachers...