27 abril, 2011

Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista at Mogno

Seen from outside, the building is elliptical in shape, with a slanting roof and black and white stripes. The interior has a dizzying checkerboard design in the same colors. This is the church that was designed by the well-known architect, Mario Botta - the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista at Mogno.
Mogno is a small hamlet in the Maggia Valley (Val Lavizzara) at 1,180 m, which has only been used as a Maiensäss (assembly of houses in the mountains used during the cattle grazing period) since the 19th century. In 1986 an avalanche destroyed the church and about a dozen houses that were fortunately uninhabited. In the 1990s the Ticinese architect rebuilt the small church, which is dedicated to John the Baptist.
The innovative building made from alternating layers of native Peccia marble and Vallemaggia granite was extremely controversial, but eventually became a landmark that is known far beyond the borders of Switzerland. The church has no windows, and the interior (which seats about 15 people) is only illuminated by natural light streaming in through the glass roof.

Images credits: João Amaral
Architects: Mario Botta, Lugano
Location: Mogno-Fusio, Maggia Valley , TI, Switzerland

Commissioned: Mogno Church Reconstruction Association
Construction: 1992-1998

Mario Botta – Philosopher Architect

"There are no aesthetics without ethics, there are no immoral aesthetics," Mario Botta tells me. The architect behind the recent Santo Volto Church views architecture as an almost spiritual duty. Like a baroque architect, he once said: "To build is a sacred act, an action that transforms a condition of nature into a condition of culture," Yet is Botta's striving for ethics and purity in architecture a reactionary stance from a national redoubt in Lugano or a personal crusade? Probably both.
Botta's work has a real sense of paradox, making him one of the most original architectural voices of our time. He is also notoriously difficult to define.
Crowned in his earlier career by Charles Jencks as a leading genius of 'postmodern classicism', Botta has since been described as a 'neorealist' and a 'fundamentalistic classicist'.
A decade ago he declared war on post modernism and what he saw as its resultant 'global Disneyland architecture'. One of the few living architects to have worked with Le Corbusier, Botta's sense of the epic is reflected in his opinions.
"I think architecture is a civil duty that relates to mankind, a social duty that concerns society and an ethical duty, as architecture can represent values related to the way we live," Botta tells me from his office in Lugano, the Alpine town that has inspired so much of his work since he opened his practice here in 1970. Separated by the Alps from the rest of Switzerland, Lugano is a suitably lofty base for Botta.

Sensitive historical design

Much of his work has an awesome appreciation of history. You only have to visit the Church of San Giovanni Battista in the tiny mountain village of Mogno, with its walkway jutting into the mountains, to see this. "Architecture is the shape of history," he tells me. "Therefore it has to portray the expectations, hopes and contradictions of its own time.
"Architecture is a discipline that gives an order to the space in our life, therefore it can give a structure to the organisation of the space," says Botta. "Heidegger once said that man can only live when he is able to orient himself in a space, that's why the buildings in our cities have to offer some reference points that enable man to know his own space. You feel more comfortable when you are able to control the space around you." Unsurprisingly, he tells me that he thinks the German philosopher would have made a great architect.
Botta addresses his philosophical and spiritual questions using geometry, yet there is a hermetic defensiveness in his designs. He describes much of modern architecture as commercial, disposable and artificial. So, does he seek refuge from society by creating churches, offices and apartments that look like citadels?
"'Architecture is a discipline that gives an order to the space in our life,' says Botta.""The main idea of protection is part of architecture," he says. "Home remains in our subconscious as our shelter, our protection and these values are very important in a discipline like architecture." Does he, like Heidegger, see the natural world as separated from our eksistent essence by an abyss? "I don't think we can talk about natural world. The natural world is already modified by man's work and is constantly changing."
If anything, Botta's work seeks to improve the quality and appreciation of life. Indeed, the most important thing Botta learnt from Le Corbusier is that architecture can have a far-reaching influence on society.
"There are good examples like the Masters of Rationalism and Le Corbusier, who aimed to improve the quality of life," he says. "Then, there are others who work with rubbish."
It is not just Le Corbuisier who has had a profound influence on Botta. Between 1964 and 1969, Botta was at the Universitario di Architettura in Venice. During those years, through a combination of good luck and perseverance, he was able to make contact with three giants of the architectural world – Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn and Carlo Scarpa, one of his teachers and his thesis professor.
While Scarpa taught Botta the importance of a philosophical appreciation of material structure, Kahn, in particular, held a fascination for his reduction of architecture to the essentials. "He was the one who understood the limits of technological development and the need for going back to the origins," Botta explains, adding that "going back to the origins is in fact the strongest cultural element in a society that constantly focuses on the future."
"Botta addresses his philosophical and spiritual questions using geometry."Botta has strived throughout his career to merge his buildings into the landscape they exist in. His motivation stems from an almost primeval instinct to create shelter. "The primitive still exists in what's new in the society," he says. "Architecture has the ability to demonstrate these primitive values and this is something really important for me." Yet he also strives for simplicity in creating uncomplicated, expressive designs for both the metropolis and the mountains.

via designbuild-network

07 abril, 2011

New Carver Apartments

At six stories tall, the New Carver Apartments doesn’t exactly tower over the Santa Monica Freeway that zips past its windows. Yet the drumlike structure is impossible to miss, even at 65 miles per hour. Los Angeles–based architect Michael Maltzan’s design is as formally iconic as the cylindrical Capitol Records building, which makes the fact that it was built for one of L.A.’s neediest populations—the chronically homeless—even more surprising than the novel architectural expression.

The client was the Skid Row Housing Trust, a nonprofit that has spent more than two decades building supportive housing—first by renovating dilapidated hotels near downtown L.A., then by embarking on new construction. The Rainbow Apartments (completed in 2006), Maltzan’s first building for the organization, is adjacent to Skid Row (otherwise known as Central City East), but the New Carver Apartments is farther afield, sited in South Park, a rapidly developing neighborhood near L.A. Live and the Staples Center.

The location is strategic on two levels. It houses residents in an area with access to transit and grocery stores, and it is a statement to Los Angeles: Affordable housing is not a blight that needs to be hidden away.

“It is a controversial concept. When we first showed [Maltzan’s design] to the investors, they wondered why we were making such a dramatic building,” says Molly Rysman, the Trust’s director of special projects and external affairs. “We had to convince them that it doesn’t need to be bland. Affordable housing improves the neighborhood and creates an anchor in the community. It’s not about blending in, but about having an impact.”

The interplay between urban fabric and the community that is fostered inside the 53,000-square-foot building begins with the ground floor, which hosts gathering spaces and tenant support services: a communal kitchen and garden, counseling rooms, and staff offices. There, Maltzan expressed the public character in exposed concrete, a choice inspired as much by the elevated freeway just outside the lobby doors as by the material’s economy and durability. The concrete continues into the central courtyard, forming a dramatic stairway (that also doubles as stadium seating).

The New Carver’s 97 units loop around the central courtyard. Fins of custom-made bent galvanized sheet metal form a privacy screen around the 40-foot-diameter void and disguise the structural steel columns, roof drains, and guardrail posts. Individual apartments are efficient: At 304 square feet, they’re monastic studios with small kitchens—so residents rely on the shared spaces. They gather on the sixth-floor deck to smoke and take the occasional yoga class. Painted bright yellow, the space offers residents a sweeping view of the city.

However, it takes a lounge and laundry room on the third floor to see Maltzan’s design at its most polemic. A window looks out over the freeway, and L.A. drivers can see through the thick, acoustic glass into the all-yellow space where the formerly homeless fold laundry, check e-mail, and watch TV.

“The excruciating irony of the homeless is that because they are so much in the public view, they are shut off from the world. The building creates opportunities for public interactions, and gives them a chance to re-emerge,” explains Maltzan. “It is important that people see that [the residents] are part of the greater community—it’s not to put them on display, but to see them as real.” It’s a charged, eye-to-eye situation, a risky attempt to humanize an outcast group.

And Maltzan’s employees take pride in having a quick and direct impact. “I’ve found that many of the people in the office are clamoring to be involved,” he says. “These projects have just as much potential to be ‘architecture’ as any of the projects we do. And because they are such a fundamental part of the urban, social, and political fabric of the city, architecture is even more necessary.”

Images credits: Iwan Baan

Rainbow Apartments

Skid Row Housing – Rainbow Apartments, affordable housing project in Los Angeles was designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture. Located in an area of downtown Los Angeles, United States, becoming one of the largest homeless populations in the country, Skid Row Housing 43.000 sf Rainbow Apartments examines the role of creating a space in a transformation urban context and socio-economic extremes. As a dense mass of 6 floors, Skid Row Housing consists of 88 units of transitional housing with a series of common spaces such as a dining area, common kitchen, meeting rooms, gathering areas open air, and a laundry. In addition, the building includes offices and conference rooms on the ground to provide social services and workshops for tenants as part of their aid in the transition back into society.
The project deals with how to counter insularity and hermetic nature of the daily lives of residents amid concerns about the safety and security through the introduction of open and social spaces in order to enable their reintegration into public life. Arranged in a partially open U-shaped configuration of five floors of residential units cradle a central courtyard over a basement parking and administrative functions on the ground floor. A chain of public spaces and gathering places are carved out or extruded from the mass of eroding apparent solidity of the building, creating a variable depth of connection and views between the internal life of the court and the outside world.

Also interesting this NY Times article about the project.