Page D3.2 . 10 March 2010                     
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    Bechtler Museum by Botta


    Contemplative Excitement

    From the exterior, the museum announces its purpose with Sol LeWitt's vibrant, grand-scale Wall Drawing #995, visible in the main lobby through the glass front. Standing outside, where Niki de Saint Phalle's mirrored Firebird sculpture rises 18 feet (5.5 meters) high, a museum visitor can stand under the cantilever, by the wide glass doors, and feel drawn into the building.

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    Visitors enter through the atrium, past a maple-slat reception desk of Botta's design. Black Canadian flame-cut granite floors cover the lobby and the stairs. From the second-floor interior, part of the steel frame of the building is visible, and an open-air sculpture terrace offers views of the artwork, of the street and surrounding buildings, and of the interior of the Bechtler itself.

    From the gallery's fourth floor, large windows on four sides of the atrium give dizzying, exciting views down to the lobby and across to the Fernand Léger tapestry and the Degas hanging in the exhibit space on the opposite side. Visitors can't resist putting their toes next to the glass and leaning into it for the thrill of being exposed to the void.

    This experience delights and excites, but the building doesn't compete with the artwork. Sober white walls with no added decor focus attention on the essential function of the space: to display the art. This enhances the experience, which Botta has described as a spiritual connection between the visitor and the artist communicating the message.

    Daylighting combines with diffused fluorescent lights and spotlights throughout the museum. A series of skylights illuminate the fourth-floor galleries. Narrow openings covered with white double-glazed acrylic skylights deliver filtered light through frosted acrylic diffusers to wide, curving vaults of glass-fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC).

    On one particular visit, when the museum was closed and the spots were off, the natural light showed the sculptures of Jean Tinguely, the tapestry of Léger, and the paintings by Andy Warhol and others as they might have been viewed in the natural light of the artists' studios. Spots tend to mildly modify the tone of the colors, making them warmer (with reds) or cooler (with blues). The art was beautiful in the natural light; it almost made the spots seem superfluous.

    Museum in Context

    The Bechtler Museum came about when Swiss-born Andreas Bechtler decided to donate his art collection to the City of Charlotte. To him, Botta was the obvious choice for the museum design, since the architect had known and worked with Niki de Saint Phalle and also designed the Jean Tinguely Museum in Basel. In addition to works by both of those artists, the museum's 1,400-piece collection includes works by Nicolas de Stael, Paul Klee, and Picasso.

    The result of a public-private partnership between the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and Wachovia/ Wells Fargo, the Bechtler Museum is part of the new Wells Fargo Cultural Campus, slated for completion in May 2010. The 48-story Duke Energy Center office building stands at the outside edge, and the Mint Museum is under construction across a small landscaped plaza. The Knight Theatre sits directly behind and connected to the Bechtler at its back wall. Despite its small size, the Bechtler acts as an anchor for the campus.

    Across the street stands St. Peter's Church, a small local historical landmark. David Wagner of Wagner Murray Architects, the architect of record, remarks that after Botta viewed the context of the museum in the urban landscape, he responded to the brick of the chapel.

    Botta Terra Cotta

    Botta often features brick or stone in his buildings, which appear built to withstand centuries of change. His first church, San Giovanni Battista in Mogno, Switzerland, replaced an ancient one that had been destroyed by an avalanche; the new church, made of massive stone, appears solid enough to resist the ravages of time. His Santa Maria degli Angeli chapel on Switzerland's Mount Tamaro is also of stone, and even the Tschuggen Bergoase Spa at Arosa, Switzerland, and his Évry Cathedral in France are built with a sense of time that relates to centuries rather than decades.

    In contrast, the Bechtler Museum feels lighter and more transient, perhaps in tune with a more American sense of time.

    At the beginning of the design process, there was some discussion about whether to use brick on the Bechtler, according to Wagner. Botta settled on a customized terra cotta rain screen system in which the tiles clip to a metal frame. When rain hits the tiles, it goes through spaces between them to the wall and drains down the building's waterproof coating.

    Preliminary batches of Botta-designed terra cotta tiles were sourced from Santini in Italy, but due to the shipping costs, sizing requirements (it was in metric standard), and failure of the tile to pass U.S. stress and performance testing at Underwriters Laboratory, the architect ultimately sourced the terra cotta in the United States, from Boston Valley Terra Cotta in Orchard Park, New York.

    In a conversation in November 2009, Botta lamented that building materials in America come "sul catalogo" — all from a catalog. He's used to having craftsmen and artisans to work with, as at the Tschuggen Spa, where the beautiful interior curved stone walls were all hand-cut and numbered in Verona, then placed by craftsmen on site. In Turin, at the Santo Volto Church, artisans and craftsmen constructed the space under Botta's watchful eye, integrating the artwork of the shroud into the stone of the wall.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    At the fourth floor, the atrium of the Bechtler Museum is surrounded by gallery space.
    Photo: Gary O'Brien/ Courtesy Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The main entry to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is set well back from the street, in a three-story glazed wall.
    Photo: Gary O'Brien/ Courtesy Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Bechtler Museum of Modern Art ground-floor plan drawing.
    Image: Mario Botta Architetto/ Wagner Murray Architects Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The foyer of the Bechtler Museum is a multistory atrium that serves as a visual reference point to upper-floor circulation and galleries.
    Photo: Gary O'Brien/ Courtesy Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Bechtler Museum of Modern Art northwest-southeast section, looking southwest.
    Image: Mario Botta Architetto/ Wagner Murray Architects Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    A single three-story column, clad in tapering courses of terra-cotta tile, provides structural support for the cantilevered upper floor.
    Photo: Gary O'Brien/ Courtesy Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    A grid of fourth-floor skylights provides diffuse overhead light to the Bechtler's gallery spaces.
    Photo: Gary O'Brien/ Courtesy Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Windows in the fourth-floor atrium walls frame views of art, both inside and out.
    Photo: Gary O'Brien/ Courtesy Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Extra Large Image


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