Charlotte, North Carolina is not the first city that traditionally springs to mind when discussing world-renowned modern architectural structures. However, Mario Botta changed all that with his design of the Bechtler Museum of Art. In order to truly appreciate this magnificent piece, one must first understand the architect.
Mario Botta was born in Mendrisio, Switzerland April 1, 1943. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 and became a draftsman in the architectural studio of Carloni and Camnish in Lugano, Switzerland. After 3 years of being a draftsman, Botta earned an apprenticeship and landed his first major project – the redesign of a complex to replace the parish house of Genestrerio. In 1961, Botta attended college in Milan, Italy. He would complete his lessons alone and came to class to sit for the final exams. After graduating, Botta attended the Instituto di Architettura in Venice, Italy. There he met and worked with strong architects, such as Le Corbusier and Carlo Scarpa, who was a great teacher, final examiner, and a major influence. Scarpa has been credited as having given Botta his architectural philosophical views that now characterize his works, which include an appreciation for minimalism and the use and appreciation of common, natural materials in his structures. Most of Mario Botta’s designs were constructed close to Lugano, where he works. The only works Botta has created in the United States include the Bechtler Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Among these, Botta has also designed private homes and places of worship. Botta’s buildings are constructed in the minimalist style. Some of the materials he uses are traditional and natural, such as brick, terra cotta, steel and glass. His architecture reflects a powerful sense of geometry. They portray a great contrast between the heavy materials he uses to create a seemingly light and whimsical design.
The Bechtler Art Museum is a component in the Levine Center of the Arts in uptown Charlotte. It is 36,500 square feet. The museum is named after Andreas Bechtler, who has inherited over 1400 works of art in the style of 20th century modernism. The museum features art works from the most important art movements of the 20th century, including European Perspective, School of Paris post World War II, as well as American and British artists. Some artists include Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro, Max Ernst, Andy Warhol, Jean Tinguely, Barbara Hepworth and Pablo Picasso. Andreas Bechtler’s father, Hans, as well as his uncle, Walter, were the catalysts to starting the Bechtler family’s art collections. Walter frequented the Kunsthalle in Zurich as well as numerous local art galleries. They made friends with artists and started purchasing art. Hans and his wife Bessie collected art over a period of almost 70 years. They preferred art that exposed the working methods of the artists. Hans incorporated art into his workplace and passed his love of art and respect for the artists on to the rest of his family, including his son, Andreas. Andreas Bechtler became an artist and entrepreneur and inherited an extensive portion of his family’s collection. He added some of his own acquisitions and committed the collection to the city of Charlotte, where it can now be enjoyed by patrons visiting the Bechtler Museum of Art.
The museum is a 4 story structure. The main focal point is the glass atrium in the center of the building that permits light to flow throughout the building. In addition to the atrium, the museum features a series to skylights to add to the natural light. The exterior of the building is constructed of terra cotta. The 4th floor is overhanging, supported by a cantilevered column, which extends up from the plaza below. Some of the other materials Botta incorporated are the terra cotta, black granite, polished concrete and wood. Botta also designed some of the furniture inside the museum to accent the architectural elements, such as the reception desk, bar, gallery benches and globe lights. Patrons are welcomed by a statue known as the Firebird or Le Grand Oiseau de Feu sur l’Arche by Niki de Saint Phalle. It was completed in 1991 and towers 17 feet and 5 inches. It weighs 1433 pounds and is. composed of around 7500 mirror mosaics on polyester on steel armature. The piece was installed in 2009. Overall the minimalist style is very well portrayed in this museum that reflects Botta’s very strong contemporary structural elements that layers colors, texture and materials.