Building on the ruins. Some examples of musealization in archaeological sites

Flavia Zelli

Ignasi de Solà-Morales, back in 1986, pointed out how museum architecture was placed, since the beginning, as an unavoidable tool through which every time and society could give its own interpretation of art or, more generally, of precious collections.
This statement is particularly meaningful in relation to the "always present" state of XXI century, in which digital and virtual intensification has led to considering new forms of direct experimentation of art, architecture and cultural heritage, often overlapping in a unique cognitive experience in search of a "pure time" (Augè, 2004).
In this transforming landscape, the musealization project of archaeological ruins takes on particular importance, whose buildings have undergone a clear transformation in relation to the evolution of their interpretation by contemporary society.
The so-called archaeological finds, indeed, are no longer perceived as elements of a collection, but rather as fragments of the urban context which they belong. Their staging and the protection of the finding site, become parts of a single project, in which ruins are called to interact with the place, through the edification of a new building.
The strong museum machine is therefore forced to set aside its own compositional rules in order to adapt to previous forms, transforming the spaces above which it stands into a new dialectical symbiosis, in which the pre-existence material is at the same time an exposed object and a frame for new events.
Most of museum spaces in situ are based on the concept of the shell, designed to protect – containing it - the archaeological pre-existence, with which the shell itself establishes a dialogue by superimposing a new volume on it, a new tectonics that is also a filter between the remains and its context. This envelope, which carries added values, can not give up to its own autonomous architectural expressiveness, although in some cases its elements are reduced to the minimum, by using, for example, only natural lighting.
The embracing volume creates a spatially organism, that is also formally independent from the archaeological remains that protects. It thus acquires greater prominence, as an architecture that shows itself as a container of an archaeological "object": its tectonic autonomy, in fact, if on one hand positively influences the preservation of ancient matter, on the other it introduces new elements that overlap with the «delicate and feeble tale of archaeological spatiality»1 (Franciosini et alii, 2009, p.304) creating an actual museum around the ruins.
Therefore, a particularly interesting architectural theme is generated: the permeability of the built and, consequently, the relationship between the ruins and landscape, mediated by its own container (the museum) that becomes expression of this dichotomy, with sometimes opposite meanings.
Basically, it comes the problem of the relationship between interior and exterior, so beloved to architecture, to which architects reply in different ways with their buildings, in the enhancement of ruins and in the conception that every architectural intervention has of itself.
In this regard, the Musealization of the archaeological excavations of the Domus dell'Ortaglia in Brescia, by Tortelli Frassoni Architetti Associati2, is a clear example of how architecture tries to deny itself and the relationship with the outside, returning a sort of hypogean condition - almost previous to the excavation - to the ruins.
This new container volume, with an essential geometry whose supporting structure is set on the perimeter of the excavation, is an opaque stereometric shell, externally covered with local sandstone, provided with a single glazed hole that overlooks the park and the Augustan walls, as if to deny any relationship with the urban context, from which archaeology is separated.
A completely opposite strategy to the one used in the Musealization of the Punic-Roman Necropolis of Pill '' and Mat [t] a, in Quartucciu3, where the intention of excluding contemporaneity from the archaeological space has to deal with the need to create an element that complies as a place of historical-cultural reference for the whole territory, a landmark that could stand out in the industrial context in which it is inserted, completely inadequate to accommodate museological o cultural spaces.
The architects reply to those two requirements with the construction of a completely opaque building, totally impermeable to external stimulations but architecturally characterized as a representation of the archetype of the house, with bright colours and an oversized scale, so as to be a clear recognizable sign on the territory, compared to the uniformity of industrial sheds.
In this case, the museum-building itself becomes an object to be perceived and that manifests itself by showing the material of which it is made in a far from anonymous way, making a great transformation for the landscape in which the ruin is inserted, taking over the surrounding area and replacing it as a recognizable sign within it.
The silence and the relative obscurity of the interior stimulate visual and sound perceptions aimed at isolation, imagined as a concentration of the whole interest in the archaeological pre-existence and in the remains contained in it. Nothing can distract the attention from the excavations themselves, nor the formal characterization of the building, nor the industrial landscape that surrounds it: the architecture disappears in function of the ancient, which is the centre of the intervention, that has to be protected on all levels and emphasized, both physically and visually.
The same purpose of cancelling its internal space is achieved in a completely opposite way by Jean Nouvel in the Gallo Romano Museum of Vesunna4, in an area of peripheral urban expansion, where the archaeological remains of two overlapping Roman domus are found.
As the architect himself says in the description of the project: «Being aware of the risks of the situation, I propose to limit myself just to the results, and therefore to protect and reveal»5. This statement can be translated into the intention to preserve and repair the assets exposed to external conditions, both atmospheric and anthropic, without however completely denying a relationship between the content of the museum and the outside world6.
So, the first target consists in solving some problems related to the peripheral area, recreating an archaeological park that includes the representative elements of the surroundings and excludes the others. Then, we move on to the protection of the archaeological remains by equipping the site with a "parasol" (according to the definition of Jean Nouvel himself) wide, tall and simple, suspended on them at 9 meters using 14 pillars and traced with the projection of the remains7.
About the second target, the revealing, the architect chooses to expand the internal space on the external one, through a large transparent case that encloses and at the same time shows the ruins. In this way the thin metallic cover, almost a metal sheet, seems to float on the site: the vertical limits disappear and the archaeology is located between two horizontal planes that are one the projection of the other. The building is consequently configured as an interpretation of the tension between exterior and interior, revealing the desire to cancel itself physically through the use of materials, as if the works were symbolically exposed to the open air while being protected.
At this point of the discussion and considering the aspects that characterize it, the Perigueux museum force us to ask ourselves a conceptual question, about the attitude towards archaeological pre-existence in its spatial and distributive qualities.
As we know, Roman domus are buildings closed on the street and gathered inwards, organizing themselves around a central patio that even Nouvel feels the need to evidence with a chromatic reference in the roof. Now, his building is transparent and oriented to the surrounding environment. Is this not a betrayal to the archaeology essence? Shouldn't contemporary architecture convey these spatial values through its own way, instead of merely indicating the environments with different colored gravel floors and track on the roof?
About this, an help comes from the precursor of all the shells protecting archaeological remains: the intervention of the Schutzbau Areal Ackerman by Peter Zumthor in Chur, Switzerland8, a project of 1986. Unlike the examined projects, which close or open itselfs in a distinct way, without giving doubts about it - cancelling their own space of container or placing it in service of the ruins space - in the space generated by the Swiss architect the concept of exterior or interior is pretty far from being clear.
On the contrary, it intentionally places itself in an ambiguous definition point: in fact, to protect the remains of three Roman buildings, the architect creates three covering pavilions that, like in the domus of Ortaglia, correspond to the perimeter of the plan of the ancient buildings, «as a sort of abstract reconstruction of Roman volumes»9 to be reintegrated into the landscape of the ancient Curia Raetorum.
These shells, built in thin laminated wooden boards with horizontal warping, are permeable to air and light, although they do not allow a clear view of the exterior, reducing the internal / external continuity and consequently raising the concentration of visitors on the remains.
But yet, the diffusion of light - filtered from the outside with the sunscreens and zenithal from the top of the skylights - creates a rarefied environment, of absolute stillness, with a diffused yet chiaroscuro luminosity.
The architectural container thus acquires special meanings: the filtered light must enter the space inside the pavilions, just as the displayed ruins must refer to a broader concept that lies outside the museum spaces, in a game of continuous referents, in which the envelope becomes a fundamental and essential part of the perception of the whole.
Following this philosophy, the two only openings that break the continuity of the enclosures are curiously designed not to look outside, as was the case in Ortaglia, but on the contrary to peek inside the volumes and so to participate in the stillness that hovers in them. It is no coincidence that these windows are positioned in correspondence with the ancient Roman accesses to the buildings, whose thresholds are well distinguishable among the archaeological remains.
The validity of the chosen strategies by Peter Zumthor is demonstrated in its timelessness for being, today and in the past, a design reference for other interventions which - although not having the same international resonance - apply the principles learned from Swiss experience and decline them in their own personal contexts, obtaining architectural proofs of considerable interest, in their modesty and discretion.

1    Franciosini L., Porretta P. e Uliana P. (2009) – “L’area archeologica di Faragola: valorizzazione e musealizzazione” in Volpe G., Turchiano M.(a cura di), Faragola 1. Un insediamento rurale nella Valle del Carapelle. Ricerche e studi. Edpuglia. Bari. Pagg. 301-317. Cit. pag.304.
2  The assignment, of 2001, is entrusted by the Superintendency of Archaeological Heritage of Lombardy in collaboration with the Municipality of Brescia and with significant contributions offered by the CAB Foundation of Brescia.
3 The project is carried out on behalf of the Municipality of Quartucciu, entrusted in April 2008 as a result of an agreement between its Municipality and the Autonomous Region of Sardinia. Architects David Palterer and Norberto Medardi The scientific direction is by Francesca Salvi, archaeologist, coordinator of the Superintendence and Director of the Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, responsible for the excavations.
4  Jean Nouvel's project is the winner of a competition of ideas held in the year between 1992 and 1993 by the Périgueux Municipal Council. The competition is preceded by new excavations and surveys under the direction of Claudine Girardy-Caillat, which confirm the presence of southern metallurgical plants of the house and the wall of the east peribel temple. After several years of planning, further excavation campaigns and the construction of the building, the Museum was opened to the public on 12 July 2003. It was built over a period of about 10 years (1993-2003) in the city of Périgueux in the Dordogne.
5  See Cardani E. (2004) – “Rivelare e proteggere. Musée Vesunna, Périgueux” in L’Arca nº.189. Pagg. 6-13.
6 The dual "conservative" and "revealing" function of the restoration is widely advocated both in the 1964 Venice Charter and in the 1972 Restoration Charter, as we are reminded Giovanni Carbonara in Fantone C.R. (2000), “Restauro archeologico. Il parere degli esperti: Eugenio La Rocca, Silvana Rizzo, Giovanni Carbonara” in Costruire in laterizio nº. 78. Pagg.36-41. Numero monografico Restauro dell’Antico.
7  See Lasserre V., Pannetier F. (2002) – L’Inattendu muséal selon Jean Nouvel. Le Festin. Paris.
8  In the Kanton Graubünden. The project is by direct commission. The ownership of the area is from the Federal Office of Construction and Logistics of Bern.
9   Binet H. (1999) – Peter Zumthor Works, Buildings and Projects 1979-1997. Birkhauser Basel.

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