Man's values are the essential values architecture must advocate
The Foundation’s buildings and its underground exhibition area were old and needed refurbishing. The Board of Trustees decided to build a new museum that would be better suited to house the Foundation’s treasures.
It was a challenging project that only a bold and creative architect could take on. The Board chose Swiss architect Mario Botta. Mr Gabriele Rossi of Archilab was responsible for the site and presided over the buildings committee in charge of operations. Both the deadlines and the budget were respected. Work started in the summer of 2000 and the museum was inaugurated on 21 November 2003.
The churches Mario Botta had built, like the one in Mogno, were full of intense emotions and the strong use of natural light accentuated space and shadows. As he himself said, he ‘refused to bequeath to future generations a world that was poorer than the one received.’ As a humanist, he understood from the outset what the Bodmer Collection represented: a human heritage. He was enthusiastic about building a ‘temple’ of universal written works.
‘In a contemporary city’, he said, ‘the museum has the same status as a new cathedral – it is as a place of memory, and a place where the works of art on display help us to relate to other eras … The older I get, the more I understand that the territory on which the architect has to work is that of memory.’
He respected with great humility the existing environment and adopted an architectural approach that focussed on an underground area between the two buildings. The outside features of the project were a courtyard made of alternate rows of granite and marble. There were also five aligned wells of light that hinted at the presence of an underground exhibition area while drawing the visitor’s attention to the lake and across the water to the opposite shore. The main entrance was on a lower level at the end of the courtyard. Inside, Botta’s stroke of genius was to play with the display cabinets’ three-dimensional space. It was his idea that books should be suspended, as if caught in flight. It was out of the question, he said with a touch of humour, that ‘books be aligned like chocolates in a box’.