Mario Botta, contemporary architect, lives in Ticino, a small canton in southern Switzerland, in an extraordi narily beautiful landscape separated by the Alps from the rest of Switzerland. Most of his projects have been built within a few miles of Lugano where Mario Botta works. This area reflects Switzerland's peculiar situation: politically it is Swiss, yet culturally it is Italian. This setting has somehow produced an unusual empathy between the architects practicing here, and has inspired what Mario Botta describes as "a love for one's own habitat, in a constructive tradition which is extremly rigorous and closely fitted to the minimal contitions and demands of living'.
Mario Botta was born in Mendrisio on April 1, 1943. He attended primary school at Genestrerio and secondary school at Mendrisio. By his own admission, Mario Botta never liked going to school; as long as he could remember, Mario Botta went againist his will. At age 15, Mario Botta quit school and became a draftsman in the architectural studio of Carloni and Camenish in Lugano, Switzerland. In that capacity, Mario Botta soon ralized that his natural talent for drawing could lead to his final career choice in architecture. After three years as a draftsman, Mario Botta became an apprentice and was given his first major design project. Mario Botta was put in charge of the design for a new complex to replace the parish house of Genestrerio that was to be demolished when a village road was widened. The excitement and enthusiasm with which Mario Botta developed and completed this first major design responsibility has never left him.
In 1961, Mario Botta left the Carloni and Camenish office to attend art college in Milan, Italy. He describes himself as an external student who did not attend classes but prepared his lessons alone, then sat for the final examinations at the school. After graduation, Mario Botta journeyed to Venice to enroll at the "most sophisticated and least technical of the Italian architectural schools," the Instituto Universitario di Architettura (IUA). Mario Mario Botta remained in Venice from 1964 to 1969; during those years, through a combination of good luck and perseverance, Mario Botta was able to make contact with three giants of the architectural world Le Corbusier (1965), Louis Kahn (1969) and Carlo Scarpa who was one of his teachers and his thesis professor. Mario Botta credits his association with these three for the fact that Mario Botta is "condemned" to do well: "I cannot allow myself not to do well . . ".
Le Corbusier has been characterized by Mario Botta as being, for him, "the history of architecture." Corbusier represents, in Mario Botta's early training, most of his impressions of modern architecture as well as the notion that the profession of architecture can assist society. Mario Botta worked in the master's studio with Jullian de la Fuente and Jose Oubrerie on a new hospital project for Venice. Mario Botta was there six months, but the master died at the beginning of his tenure. His influence, however, has been long lasting. The hospital project was exhibited in 1967 when Mario Botta designed his first single-family house at Stabio in Ticino, Switzerland, for a friend. Mario Botta was in his first year of architectural school and had just completed the work in Le Corbusier's studio. The house was meant to express the contrast between man and nature. Mario Botta describes his design time as a preoccupation with "the quality of the 'artificial', that which is designed by man and as such in dialectic contrast to nature". This project exemplifies the teachings of Le Corbusier in the use of light, in the spatial organization, and in the expression of the exposed concrete frame.
It was not until 1969 that Mario Botta had the opportunity to meet Louis Kahn who was in Venice to install the exhibition of his project for the new Congress Building (Palais de Congres) in the Palazzo Ducale. Mario Botta felt it was very important to meet Kahn, and managed to help him with the exhibit and to assist Kahn in completing plans for that building. Of the time in Venice, Mario Botta has suggested that he and Kahn did not understand each other very well. Kahn spoke no Italian, Mario Botta no English, so all conversations occurred through an interpreter. Yet, Kahn's brilliance, his ability to distill any architectural issue to its essence, and his ability to clearly define the purpose and the depth of a problem etched a permanent impression on Mario Botta. Not only was it possible to ask Kahn's famous question "What does the building want to be?", but in his contact with Kahn, Mario Botta found the answer: "It is not what you want, it is what you sense in the order of things which tells you what to design". Carlo Scarpa, who acted in the capacity of teacher and final examiner at the completion of Mario Botta's studies in Venice, showed Mario Botta the "innovations of modern architecture as they were interpreted by the neo-Rationalist movement". Scarpa also imparted to his apt pupil his intense love for materials, for the composition and order of those materials, and for the differences between their expressions. Scarpa's sensitivity toward the understanding of their structure and his concern for detailing materials intelligently gave Mario Botta a philosophical direction and an appreciation for even the most common materials that has since characterized all of his built work.
After graduating from the IUA in Venice, Mario Botta returned to Switzerland to work as a professional architect with a studio in Lugano. Mario Botta's first built work after graduation was a single-family house at Cadenazzo in Ticino, in progress from 1970 to 1971. Having only a few months before completing his work with Louis Kahn in Venice. Kahn's lessons provided a fresh vision for Mario Botta:
...the light, the silence and the memory entered as structural and essential elements of architecture . . . Architecture, beyond the fantastic images and as a messianic vocation, reproposes itself every day as a system of life, as a profession, a labor, a craft. Now in this perspective architecture is essentially to me, it is a system for living, for seeing and evaluating what is around me. With this attachment every theme, every occasion of work becomes a new and enthralling adventure, a fantastic encounter and confrontation in the struggle for the transformation of reality.
Mario Botta's career has spanned more than two busy decades; in addition to his practice, Mario Botta has served as a visiting professor at the Ecole Polytechnic Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the past ten years. In 1982, Mario Botta was made a member of the Commission Federale Svizzera delle Belle Arti, and in 1983, became an honorary fellow of the Bund Deutscher Architeckten (BDA). The American Institute of Architects (AIA) conferred honorary fellowship upon Mario Botta in 1984. Today, Mario Botta continues his active lecturing in Europe. North America, and Latin America.