Buildings that reconcile the past with the present

Distinguished architect Mario Botta shared his thoughts at the Athens Concert Hall recently, as part of the Megaron Plus series of lectures. Talking about the old and the new, Europe and the world, Botta presented a series of his contradictive works, which range from Milan’s La Scala to an office building in Seoul; he finally focused on creative composition and architectural changes throughout history. A convincing and powerful speaker, Swiss architect Botta, who has created buildings in Athens in collaboration with Greek architects (on Kotzia Square and on Syngrou Avenue), based his speech about architecture on his obsession: the legalization of the new and the reading of the old. At Milan’s La Scala, one of his recent works, he entirely reconstructed the stage as well as the technical support area, creating a new link between the 21st and the 18th centuries. He proposed creating things that will endure in European cities. Botta leaves his distinctive mark on the buildings he creates. As an architect who embellishes and renews religious architecture with powerful intellectual feelings and an almost mystical devotion to humanistic values, Botta is an artist who elevates the users of or visitors to his buildings to protagonists. «He creates buildings that could look like ruins, with primitive backgrounds, low-tech facades and high-tech interiors,» said architect Marios Philippidis in his speech, shortly before Botta took the stand. It became obvious how much Botta feels drawn by the challenges of European cities’ historical framework, which sets them apart from American or Asian cities, regarding architectural changes throughout history. He spoke about the multitude of architectural «languages» that can coexist in constructions, such as at La Scala or in the baroque San Carlino Church in Lugano. Botta has also designed museums of modern art that stir powerful emotions, such as the Friedrich Duerrenmatt Museum in Switzerland or another in Rovereto, near Verona in Italy. Botta’s work initially awes the visitor with a religious experience at a public venue, where emotions run deep as if one is abandoning the weight of daily life. The shiny cleanliness of the exhibition halls that follows, where the exhibits take on the leading role, lead to a reverse experience; architecture willingly falls to the wayside, so that the internal, bright yet also mystical dialogue between the visitor and the work of art can be developed. The challenge of mystery runs through Botta’s work, as the architect presented it himself in a kaleidoscopic way. Encouragement regarding the new, the modern, takes place «without violence, without anger» and without a «hiatus.» The reconciliation of the past and present should, according to Botta, take place with a light approach.