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The Bechtler Museum

by Mario Botta

September 6,2007

The Bechtler Museum will be located in downtown Charlotte, a city that has seen strong urban growth in the last few years. Construction for the new museum is scheduled to start in the fall of 2007. The museum will house the Bechtler Art Collection, including several important artists, such as Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle, Picasso, Giacometti, Matisse, Mirò, Degas, Warhol, Le Corbusier and Leger.

The building will face South Tryon Street, right in the heart of the city, and it will be surrounded by office and residential towers. Its trademark is a strong plastic image representing a focal point for public events taking place in the back, in the theater, and in the new Mint Museum under construction.

Because of its direct connection with the main street crossing the city from south to north, the museum assumes the role of outpost. Thanks to this strategic location, the building becomes a truly public covered space, inviting whoever walks in this main artery to explore the urban space next to it.

The museum is configured as a cube excavated on the inside. The outside public space is created by the plastic volumes in the back. In this sense, we can call it a molded space, where the visitors are “enveloped” by the museum itself, not merely a building aligned on the street.  The interaction between outside and inside is the main characteristic of this building. This peculiarity is also highlighted by the paving in front of the building, contained in a cubic pattern, and covering the transitional space between outside and inside. This configuration makes this building even more unique. The building becomes a cover for the plaza assuming a strong symbolic appeal for the people walking in the street.

Although small, the Bechtler Museum has a “plastic strength,” created by the interplay of full and empty spaces, with a glass core right in the middle. We can, therefore, call it a building-sculpture, where the empty spaces, cut out of the primary cubic volume, become new urban places, protected by the cover of the upper exhibition level, vertically illuminated by several skylights.

The exterior surfaces of the building static structure are steel sections, covered by terra cotta tiles on all the free fronts.

The building has four levels, functionally dividing the inside space organization. On the first floor there are the entry hall, the bookshop and an exhibition area. The second floor will house an exhibition area and two classrooms; on the third floor there will be an exhibition area and the offices, and on the fourth floor, the large exhibition areas are vertically illuminated by the skylight natural light. The museum covers an area of 3,000 square meters, including 1,000 square meters dedicated to exhibitions.

Observations by Architect-of-Record David Wagner, Wagner Murray Architects:

Mario Botta’s architecture is grounded in a deep understanding of his Swiss history and culture, along with an unabashedly modernist point of view. His buildings are lyrical. They are often referred to as architectural poetics. The Bechtler Museum will not only stand apart as a unique contribution to the urban landscape, but will also be a truly contextual building embedded into the new structures that surround it. Botta saw a tactile opportunity to deliberately carve the Bechtler Museum away from a cubic shape by stepping the building inward and creating an extension of the open plaza that is part of the overall Wachovia complex. The building thus creates both indoor and outdoor space, covered by a great cantilevered fourth level, delicately balanced on a single, slender sculptural column.

The material on the exterior of the building, an Italian terra cotta, is tactile and monochromatic, giving the building the appearance that it was sharply carved from a single large block of clay. The sculptural essence of the building is a perfect counterpoint to the contents of the interior, the Bechtler Family collection of art. Botta seized the opportunity to compliment this collection with a light-filled interior atrium creating a grand public gesture for a relatively small building.

The museum is a legacy project that will define Charlotte’s emerging architectural heritage and provide our city with a rich and evocative pilgrimage building. Most importantly, it is a Charlotte first, a building of contemplation as well as conviction.

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