Mario Botta was born in Mendrisio on 1 April 1943, and lives in Ticino, a small canton in southern Switzerland. 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 enrol at the ‘most sophisticated and least technical of the Italian architectural schools,’ the Instituto Universitario di Architettura (IUA). 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, he soon realised 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 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. Mario Botta approached all projects with the same excitement and enthusiasm, which he developed and completed this first major design project with.
Mario Botta remained in Venice from 1964 to 1969; during these years, through a combination of good luck and perseverance, Mario Botta was able to contact 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 he is ‘condemned’ to do well. 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. In 1967, when Mario Botta designed his first single-family house at Stabio in Ticino, Switzerland, he was in his first year of architectural school and had just completed the work in Le Corbusier's studio. Meant to express the contrast between man and nature, Mario Botta describes his design time as a preoccupation with “the quality of the ‘artificial,’ 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 organisation, and in the expression of the exposed concrete frame.
Mario Botta is keenly interested in history and in the study of man's habitat through time. Because the home has been the one constant through history, Mario Botta feels this architectural type deserves both, study and elaboration. It is not only the individual needs, but also the collective requirements of societies that fascinate him. Another theme pervading, single-family houses, is the search for the roots of a design and man's identity in a particular place. Cultural traditions are important throughout Mario Botta's projects; his forms are derived – not copied – from ‘the environment as a testimony of history and memory’. Mario Botta's designs have evolved to more formal layout, where the central axis usually carries a stair to the north, a framed view to the south and a carefully composed and structured skylight as a crown. His house forms are simple, elementary volumes where the exterior is independent from the interior. Internal planning is developed with a grid and suggests a layering of planes that introduce carefully framed views and long vistas into the interior, reminiscent of the times before the Ticino landscape was consumed by a building boom.
Essentially modernist in approach (with post modern elements), Botta’s buildings are often based on simple geometric forms, such as the cylinder and the cube, while respecting topographical conditions and regional sensibilities. He is more concerned with interacting with nature and landscape rather than technology and mechanisation.
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.
His quotes to remember:
"I cannot allow myself not to do well… ". Le Corbusier has been characterised by Mario Botta as being, for him, "the history of architecture."
To 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".
Botta states that "Every architectural work has its own environment...The first action involved in doing architecture is the consideration of its territory"
Res. in Riva San Vitale, at Ticino, Switzerland, 1972 to 1973
Residence in Cadenazzo, at Cadenazzo, Switzerland, 1970 to 1971
School in Morbio Inferiore, at Morbio Inferiore, Switzerland, 1972 to 1977
SFMOMA, at San Francisco, California, 1995