If you follow the local art/design scene (and if you are reading this, you most probably do) you must be experiencing a “Bechtler overload” right now. Every kind of media — including our little blog — covered it extensively, and I certainly don’t want to add to the hype. However, there is something that was missing from all that coverage: any serious review/critique of the much talked about architecture, of — as everyone knows — “the second building in the US by the famous Swiss architect Mario Botta”.
A few years ago, when he was about to start design on this project, Botta gave a lecture at the Architecture School at UNCC. At the Q&A session afterwards, one of the first questions was from Professor David Walters, and with noticeable reverence, he asked: “Are we really going to get a building from you?!” Now if you have read any of Walters’ formerly regular columns in Creative Loafing, you would know that he isn’t someone who is easily impressed by anything. But then most people in the audience were similarly awed. Here is someone we had read about in magazines and textbooks, about to design something for our own little downtown!
But now the building is no longer a fantasy; it is a concrete structure that we can experience. It is time for analysis — of the experience, of the structure, spaces, sequence, light, materials, and of the many little things that make up architecture; however, the talk about it still remains at the level of bedazzled gushing adoration. Of course architecture — maybe more than most other media — can be awe-inspiring. But we are in awe of a name here, propagating the same Cult of Genius.
We can expect to see the same drama being restaged when the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Mint Museum opens later this year — after all, they are also by big names. We will treat those few sites as haloed grounds, while we continue to build the most predictable, unexciting structures all around them. While Botta’s building is definitely an invaluable addition to the city, it is how we engage with it and what we learn from it that would ultimately determine its true value to the city. Now that we have top shelf architecture here, it is up to us to elevate the conversation to reach its level. To paraphrase Spider-Man — that big city authority on scaling imposing edifices — “with any great gift comes greater responsibilities.” Are we up to it?