Monday, April 02, 2012

Alésia Museum Interpretive Center

Alésia Museum Interpretive Center in Alise-Sainte-Reine, France by Bernard Tschumi Architects, 2012

Located about 90 minutes southeast of Paris by train is the site of a 53-BC battle between Julius Caesar and the Gauls, the Battle of Alésia. Although it was a a defeat at the hand of the Romans, the battle is a great source of French pride and is an important marker in the country's early history. The MuséoParc Alésia commemorates the battle and marks the site where tens of thousands on both sides fought near modern day Alise-Sainte-Reine in central France.

The MuséoParc Alésia is made up of two buildings: a Museum and an Interpretive Center. Even though only the latter is now built and their sites are about one kilometer apart from each other, they have been designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects as an assemblage. Formally this is rooted in the cylindrical form that each building takes, even though the Museum is covered in stone and is partially buried, and the Interpretive Center is wrapped in wood and perched proudly above the landscape. The circular plans enable panoramic 360-degree views of the landscape, easily the most important aspect of visiting the site, as it enables visitors to understand the battle in its space.
Anyone who regularly takes the Metro, who learns the Paris Underground and its station names echoing the streets or monuments on the surface, experiences a sort of mechanized daily immersion in history that conditions Parisians to think of Alésia, Bastille and Solferino as spatial landmarks rather than historical references. -Marc Augé, from Non-Places, translated by John Howe
The site of the Interpretive Center is below and to the west of Alise-Sainte-Reine, meaning its rooftop landscape blends the wood-lattice building into the surroundings when seen from the town. Entry to the building is oriented to the roadway on the north, but a secondary access on axis leads to reconstructed fortifications and battlements that are also visible from the building. The plan follows logically from the building's form, ringing the program components about a central void with curving stairs.

Comparing the interior and the exterior of the Interpretive Center results in a sort of split personality. Alternating angled wood slats with various spacings and dimensions gives the exterior a fine scale and an appearance that recalls a temporary construction (this contrasts with the future Museum's heavy stone gabions). On the other hand the interior, particularly the central void, is a gray, almost monolithic space pierced by angled, circular columns. Solid walls separate this space from the program spaces and any glance of the exterior lattice, as if inside and outside are two sides of a coin, impossible to be experienced at the same time. One must enter the program spaces or ascend to the roof and its artificial landscape to confront the wood facade again, which now acts as a filter between the visitor and the landscape beyond.

Photographs are by Christian Richters and Iwan Baan, courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects.

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