Bechtler Museum by Botta
Botta seems to feel that the United States offers a one-size-fits-all approach to building. The American experience posed the further frustration of a language barrier for Botta — his native language is Italian, and he also speaks French and German — and the geographical distance made it harder for him to participate in the work in progress, as he is known to do with projects closer to his home in Mendrisio, Switzerland.
Perhaps these frustrations of Botta's led to what architecture critic Michael J. Crosbie sees as a building uncharacteristic of the architect. "The Bechtler has a sort of 'un-Bottaesque' quality because it is not clear about its structure or its use of materials," says Crosbie, who is the chair of architecture at the University of Hartford, editor of Faith & Form, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. "That's not to say it doesn't work. It seems that in the churches Botta built, his construction has a logic directly related to the material and how it behaves."
"The tile he's used here acts more like a wallpaper that covers everything — walls, ceilings, column," Crosbie continues. "The Bechtler doesn't have the same kind of material integrity or structural logic of his other buildings. Having said that, urbanistically it seems to make sense in this kind of a climate. It creates a pleasing and pleasant exterior space that's welcoming."
Tints of Green
Although the museum did not seek LEED certification, the building does have some sustainable features, such as daylighting and the long-lasting terra cotta cladding, which wears well over time and includes recycled content.
The museum also shares resources with its neighbors. It combines heating and cooling systems with the newly constructed Knight Theatre, and a joint auditorium was built beneath the plaza for use of all of the Cultural Campus facilities. There's also a shared pre-event space with wide glass doors that open between the lobby of the Bechtler and the theater.
Wagner applauds the building as a successful addition to the urban environment. "The building is romantic and mystifying in a city of monochrome materials," he remarks. "The great cities of the world draw you romantically toward them. If you ask why, often people don't know and can't describe it. Architecture can welcome or repel without us really knowing why. The Bechtler achieves the former: it greets and embraces you."
The museum has already welcomed plenty of people, averaging over a thousand visitors in its opening weekends, including guests from Virginia, New York, and elsewhere.
Botta's building also adds a playful, creative touch to the streetscape. The column in front gives a sense of magic: its terra cotta cladding tiles seem to float in the air without any apparent support, the underlying metal framework obscured.
Even more, the Bechtler Museum brings to Charlotte a little piece of Botta's view of the world as integrated and even sacred.
Debra Moffitt-Leslie writes about architecture, lifestyle, and design from Charlotte, North Carolina, and around the world. More by Debra Moffitt-Leslie
Project: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Owner: City of Charlotte
Design Architect: Mario Botta
Architect-of-record: Wagner Murray Architects
Structural Engineer: King Guinn Associates
Lighting Consultant: Hefferan Partnership Lighting Design
MEP Engineers: Newcomb & Boyd
General Contractor: Rodgers Builders
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