In 1986, Mogno, a small Swiss village, was hit by an avalanche that destroyed its 17th-century church. In response, architect Mario Botta was commissioned to design a replacement, the San Giovanni Battista church, on the same site. The new church retains its modest size but introduces a fresh aesthetic and modern language. The interplay of simple shapes, such as a rectangular inner form enclosed by an elliptical outer form transitioning to a circular roof, adds a contemporary feel while also evoking a timeless quality. The sturdy stone walls and translucent glass roof impart a sense of resilience, preparing the church for any potential future calamities.
San Giovanni Battista Church Technical Information
- Architects: Mario Botta
- Location: Mogno, Switzerland
- Client: Mogno Church Reconstruction Association
- Topics: Churches, Riveo Granite, White Peccia Marble, Black in Architecture
- Project Years: 1986-1992
- Construction Years: 1990-1996
- Site Area: 178 m2
- Net area: 123 m2
- Photographs: © Enrico Cano
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
The church was built with local stones to express monumental qualities and enhance the space’s spiritual qualities. 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 building’s envelope, 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 uses 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
San Giovanni Battista Church Image Gallery
About Mario Botta
Mario Botta is a Swiss architect born in 1943. He designed his first building at age 16, a two-family house at Morbio Superiore in Ticino. While the arrangements of spaces in this structure are inconsistent, its relationship to its site, separation of living from service spaces, and deep window recesses echo what would become his stark, strong, towering style. His designs include a strong sense of geometry, often based on elementary shapes, yet creating unique space volumes. His buildings are usually made of brick, yet his use of the material is wide, varied, and often unique.