Botta’s Striped Historicism:
Historicism, Myth and Fabulation in Mario Botta’s Stripes [Conference Paper]

SAHANZ 2012: “Fabulation”: 29th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand. Launceston, Australia.

This paper will examine the presence of stripes in the work of Mario Botta, and the range of historical interpretations that the stripes have attracted, as an index of broader, and often contradictory, tendencies in his practice. These interpretations oscillate between claims for the Modernist rationality of Botta’s work on the one hand—its formal autonomy, lack of excess, and its emergence from the internal logic of its construction—and, on the other, its Post-Modern continuity with the past—its archaism, symbolic forms, and reference to traditional and regional typologies. These tensions are all revealed in the discourse surrounding Botta’s stripes.

While most writers remain silent on the matter of Botta’s stripes, a small number have made various claims about their origins. These include what appear to be chronologically and stylistically incompatible framings of Botta’s stripes: as a reference to a medieval Italian tradition of striped construction (argued by Joseph Rykwert); as an abstract form of classical rustication (proposed by Charles Jencks); and as a continuation of a 19th century Ticinese masonry tradition (presented by Kenneth Frampton).

Such interpretations oscillate between literal and abstract forms of historicism, and seem to float around Botta’s work, with no one reading ever gaining purchase as a definitive explanation of his stripes. The result might therefore be called a striped historicism, built upon multiple layers of rich speculation, myth and semantic projection. In other words, his stripes construct a “fabulation,” which will be shown to be a productive, albeit ambiguous, layering of meaning that offers new insights into some of the implicit contradictions of Botta’s work.

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Author: Ashley Paine
Conference Location: Launceston, TAS
Date: 2012