Memorial Designed by Mario Botta Shelved

John Hill, Manuel Pestalozzi
6. May 2022
Botta's design would turn a remnant of the environmental remediation into a bridge. (Visualization: Buchs & Plumey)

Near the commune of Bonfol in the Swiss canton of Jura, 114,000 tons of hazardous waste were buried in the 1960s and 70s. A land art installation by Mario Botta was intended to remind visitors of this environmental sin, but there is a lack of money for the project.

Bonfol is located in the historic Ajoie region of the Jura Mountains. In the early 20th century, the village was connected by a railroad line with Alsace, which at that time belonged to the German Empire, and thus became part of the international rail network. In the neighboring French community of Pfetterhouse, a neat border station in rural Art Nouveau style still bears witness to this railroad line, which was, however, dismantled in the 1960s. The starting point of a themed hiking trail that follows the course of the Western Front of the First World War also lies between the two communities.

The Bonfol hazardous waste landfill was operated along that railroad line from 1961 until 1976, when the capacity of the pit was exhausted. It was closed down, covered with a layer of clay, and planted over. Soon, however, problems with polluted groundwater arose — no surprise from today's perspective. Starting in 2007, the pit was finally excavated under an airtight hall and, by 2016, the last remnants of the contaminated soil had been dug up and removed. The cost of cleaning up the environmental mess amounted to CHF 380 million, paid for in full by the Basler Chemischen Industrie (BCI, or Basel Chemical Industries, made up of BASF, Novartis, Roche, and others).
 

A remnant of the excavation hall remains on the site of the landfill. (Photo: Screenshot of Land Art Bonfol website)

In 2019, following completion of the cleanup, the Fondation Mémoire Art et Forêt Bonfol was created with the mission of making the history and significance of this site visible and to encourage reflection on the future. With the Land Art Bonfol project, the foundation members wanted to turn the site of the former landfill into a place of remembrance, mediation and learning, artistic creation and exchange, reflection, and also recreation.

For the site Mario Botta designed an arboretum of native plants, two oak circles as an endless loop with a diameter of 400 meters, and a plant labyrinth. An existing retaining wall was to be converted into a bridge, with a 40-meter-high panoramic tower at one end of it. The project was met with enthusiasm and it was hoped that the project would contribute to the successful development of tourism in the region.

But the foundation did not manage to raise the necessary money within the given deadline: only CHF 2.9 million of the required CHF 5.6 million were raised. Now a more modest, less costly project is being planned by the members of the foundation. At about the same time as the decision to abandon the Botta project, the foundation was approached by entrepreneur Gauthier Corbat, architect Sylvain Dubail, and artist Augustin Rebetez from the canton of Jura. At least with their plan B the deadline for dismantling the retaining wall that Mario Botta wanted to transform into a bridge has been extended.
 

A version of this article was published as "Westschweizer Stiftung scheitert an der Finanzierung eines Erinnerungsortes von Mario Botta" on Swiss-Architects.

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