San Giovanni Battista Church aerial view

© Enrico Cano

In 1986, an avalanche hit the small Swiss village of Mogno, flattening the hamlet’s seventeenth-century church. Architect Mario Botta was commissioned to design the new San Giovanni Battista church on the site. Although the new sacred space preserves the relatively modest dimensions, it introduces a new image and a new language. The language conveys a contemporary dimension, mediated by an archaic meaning thanks to the interplay of essential shapes: a rectangle inscribed within an external ellipse that changes into a circle at the roof level. The thick stone wall and the light glass roof give the building the meaning of resistance against a possible future disaster.

San Giovanni Battista Church Technical Information

Surfaces once again in the decided inclined ‘cut’ of the outer walls  which compress the internal space and force it to expand towards the sky by way of the roof-cum-skylight. The subtle dualism between the levity of the roofing and the strength and thickness of the building, completely new compared to the consistency of a traditional stone roof, testify to the desire for survival on the part of the construction.

– Mario Botta

San Giovanni Battista Church Photographs

San Giovanni Battista Church facade

San Giovanni Battista Church exterior view

© Enrico Cano

San Giovanni Battista Church interior view details

© Enrico Cano

San Giovanni Battista Church skylight interior

© Enrico Cano

San Giovanni Battista Church skylight

© Enrico Cano

The church was built with local stones to express monumental qualities, and to enhance the spiritual qualities of the space. Botta also introduced the changing patterns of light and the relation to the cosmos through a circular glass roof. The sky opens up beyond the glass roof and brings the worshiper closer to the Divine. Two granite buttresses pierce the envelope of the building, arch over the interior and create an axis that aligns with the nave’s axis of the old historic church. The light coming from above highlights this connection to the past and eternity:

The exiguity of the size is made up for the geometrical synthesis between the figures of the rectangle, the ellipsis and the circle with an entire series of which the ascent of the human dimension, represented in the regular space of the base, to the divine perfection suggested in the circular roofing.

– Mario Botta

The walls of the church are 2 meters thick progressively tapering to 50 centimeters at the summit. The construction technique is based on tradition. For instance, the stone is not used as a covering material but as a structural one. The architect use a dry-laid stone building technic in which blocks with cavities are filled with cement. The church was built with local stones from the Maggia Valley: the gneiss (a type of rock similar to granite, also called beola), was extracted from the Riveo quarry while the marble is from the Cristallina quarry in the Sidevalley of Peccia. These materials were also used in some Tuscan Romanesque cathedrals.

San Giovanni Battista Church Floor Plan and Elevation
Floor Plan of the San Giovanni Battista Church sketch by Mario Botta

© Mario Botta

Section of the San Giovanni Battista Church sketch by Mario Botta

© Mario Botta

About Mario Botta

Mario Botta is a Swiss architect born in 1943. He designed his first buildings at age 16, a two-family house at Morbio Superiore in Ticino. While the arrangements of spaces in this structure is inconsistent, its relationship to its site, separation of living from service spaces, and deep window recesses echo of what would become his stark, strong, towering style. His designs tend to include a strong sense of geometry, often being based on very simple shapes, yet creating unique volumes of space. His buildings are often made of brick, yet his use of material is wide, varied, and often unique.

San Giovanni Battista Church Image Gallery

Other works from Mario Botta