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Casa Rotonda

Mario Botta - Stabio, Ticino, Switzerland

1980 - 1982

Clients - Liliana and Ovidio Medici Site area - 700 m ² Volume - 1400 m³

Neal Philipsen 2011 form - technique - body - space


form |fôrm| noun 1 the visible shape or configuration of something : · arrangement of parts; shape : the entities underlying physical form. · the body or shape of a person or thing : 2 a particular way in which a thing exists or appears; a manifestation : · any of the ways in which a word may be spelled, pronounced, or inflected : an adjectival rather than adverbial form. 3 a type or variety of something


I imagined a building with a circular plan, cut across its north-south axis by fissure from which the zenithal light descends. A volume organized on three levels, a sort of tower, or rather, an object designed and cut out itself


Tracing elevational geometries on the surface of the Casa Rotonda

The Casa Rotonda, or the Round House, by Mario Botta is a building determined by its use as a single family home, but one which acts largely as an artifact on the southern Swiss landscape. Many aspects of the building can be traced back to Paul Rudolph's `Six Determinants of Architectural Form', including environment, function, lighting, materials, psychological demands, and spirit of the times, however, with a particular emphasis on psychological demands that both supports the other determinants, and in other ways intentionally neglects them. The psychological demands of space, as defined by Paul Rudolph, is very evident in the form of the Casa Rotonda and reflects many of Mario Bottas's own philosophies. According to Rudolph, meeting the psychological demands of a space, means manipulating shape and using symbols to create a certain `monumentality' to space. He goes on to say "We must learn anew how to create a place of worship and inspiration" (Rudolph 214). Mario Botta, as evident in the Casa Rotonda, does not think it is a stretch to apply this to the family home. In Quasi un Diario, Frammenti intorno all'architecttura (Almost a Diary, Fragments about architecture) Botta quotes

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Ruskin, "I say that if men truly lived as men, their houses would be temples" (Botta 213). The Round House does in fact look like a temple, seemingly noncompliant with its traditional function as a family home. The facade's careful attention to geometric pure forms cut from a perfect cylinder, is something sooner associated with worship and contemplation than family living. However, Botta argues that the two are not mutually exclusive. The home is a space of protection, a place of reflection, where it is possible to cultivate the human and psychological resources necessary to take on tomorrow. Botta quotes in Almost a Diary the oft heard sentiment "I'm tired, I'm going home," (Botta 213) to illustrate home as a reprieve from life, not unlike how many view a temple. By choosing with temple-like form, Botta also makes a very intentional statement in regards to paradigms of form. He questions the historical shape of residential form, and subsequently creates a local heterogeneity that challenges the built and natural form around it. The form of the Casa Rotonda intentionally subverts the tradition of architecture in the area, a concept reminiscent of the `new architecture' described by Jeffrey Kipnis. One of the key princi-

Extracting shapes, or pure forms, from the Casa Rotonda

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ples of DeFormation, a term Kipnis uses to describe his new architecture, is an "emphasis on abstract, monolithic architectural form that broaches minimal direct references or resemblances and and that is alien to the dominant architectural modes of a given site" (Kipnis 109). This principle accurately describes the Casa Rotonda's form and situation on its site. The tall, three storey cylindrical shape of the building with a triangular cap and bold square cut outs, defies the predominately two storey, rectangular, typical family homes that enclose the site. The building stands like a medieval-modern tower that overlooks, yet simultaneously turns its back, on the proletarian homes below. In Botta's own words: "The intention was to avoid any comparison and/ or contrast with the surrounding buildings, but to search instead for a spatial

100ft 50m

100ft 50m



Casa Rotonda contrasted with the surrounding built environment

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relationship with the distant landscape and horizon. By using a cylindrical volume I wanted to avoid elevations that would necessarily have to be compared to the facades of the existing houses around it" (Botta, Although it can be argued that the Casa Rotonda does significantly invite comparison and contrast to the surrounding buildings, what is perhaps more interesting is Botta's assertion that the Round House creates a relationship with the landscape. Lighting and views aside, the form of the building itself does little to reflect the environment and instead searches for form in abstract geometries. The attention paid to geometry in the Round House is a process steeped in tradition. The philosophy of pure form and geometry goes as far back as Plato (Theory of Forms), and has been significantly observed in architecture theoretically since the late 19th century. In Modern Architecture and Historical Change Alan Colquhoun points out the work of designers in the late 19th century who searched for pure form and whose work were "characterized by a degree of abstraction, a simplicity and purity of profile, and an absence of detail and ornament" (Colquhoun 195). A similar description can be made for Botta's Casa Rotonda. Profiles of the building are simple and abstract, detailed with immediately recognizable shapes, and generally

500ft 200m north

absent of ornament. However, the building cannot be immediately be called modern, in the stylistic sense of the word. The accented symmetry of the building as a circle (in plan), without necessarily having a functional justification, and the focus on pure forms, suggests a more post-modern, even neoclassical, take on style. The use of a roman frieze across the top of the cylinder reinforces this subtle eclecticism, as does the triangular top reminiscent of a classical pediment.

Casa Rotonda contrasted with the surrounding `natural' environment

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Works Cited

Jeffrey Kipnis, "Towards a New Architecture", in Architectural Design, Mar-Apr 1993. Vol.63, Iss.3-4 Paul Rudolph, "The Six Determinants of Architectural Form," in C. Jencks and K. Kropf, eds., Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, WileyAcademy, 2006. Alan Colquhoun, "Form and Figure," in Essays in Architectural Criticism: Modern Architecture and Historical Change, MIT Press, 1981. Mario Botta, "Quasi un Diario, Frammenti intorno all'architecttura" Mario Botta, Accessed Oct 17 2011.

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