Swiss architect Mario Botta’s sacred buildings

Swiss architect Mario Botta’s sacred buildings

The spiritual architecture of Swiss architect Mario Botta is the subject of an exhibition at the Ringturm Exhibition Centre in Vienna. Building studies, drawings and photography are brought side by side to reach an understanding of how Botta conceptualises and designs religious experiences through the built environment.

Religious architecture is a typology that Botta has continued to return to. His very first architectural project was a chapel at the Bigorio Capuchin monastery in Ticino, Switzerland, built in 1966, and since then, he has completed 22 spiritual buildings over his 50 year career.

san Giovanni Battista Church
San Giovanni Battista Church designed by Mario Botta. Photography: Enrico Cano

The geographical spread of Botta’s spiritual spaces is broad. His chapels can be found across Europe, in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland. The two vast cylinders and square base of his synagogue in Israel are made of red stone from the Italian Dolomites, while a Swiss timber ceiling lines and softens the interior. Soon his reach will be even wider, as three more of his religious buildings are currently under construction including a mosque in China near the Monogolia border, a Catholic church outside of Seoul, and an Orthodox community centre in Ukraine.

While each is unique, his religious buildings hold certain stylistic similarities. Botta plays with heaviness (and lightness) using materials to create experiences of contrast – forming finite and infinite sensations. Daylight and shadows are highly controlled, as well as the human pathway through the architecture, tempered by walls, transparency, paths and thresholds. The experience is a shifting journey between states of compression and expression. 

Kirche Papst Johannes XXIII
Kirche Papst Johannes XXIII designed by Mario Botta. Photography: Enrico Cano

Botta’s religious buildings often appear like objects in the landscape, like geometric charms or symbols cut out of natural materials. In Seriate, Italy, his Church dedicated to Pope John XXIII (completed in 2004), resembles a sacred pattern or a detail of a relief carving – the building’s solidity is accentuated further still by its singular cladding material of red Verona marble. Completed in 2013, the Granatkapelle chapel in Zillertal, Austria, takes the dodecahedral form of the mineral granite after which it is named. Citing Le Corbusier, Kahn, Michelucci and Scarpa as references, Botta understands how the power of architecture can define a moment, and make a spiritual statement. §

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