Before we dive into the details of the Alesia Museum and Archaeological Park, we must first know who the architect to be credited for this structure is. Bernard Tschumi, one of the best-known architects of current times, rose to fame after winning a landscape design competition for Parc de la Villette in 1983. Tschumi is also a notable theorist due to his very unique approach to architecture. He dismisses the importance of chemistry between the user and the structure in creating a viable and successful design. He believes that architecture should not mould the programs and events taking place in it but challenge and cultivate possibilities for better functioning. Due to these theories, his work is frequently referred to as Deconstructivist. He is criticized for focusing more on the intellectual aspects of his structures than the human needs.

Background and Context

Alesia Museum and Archaeological Park mark the historical site in central France commemorating the history of the battle between the Gauls and Julius Caesar in 52 B.C. Alésia is a small village that retains much of its original scale and charm, established about 2,000 years ago at the location of a historical battle. Although all traces of the battle have been obliterated, the project was to create a museum and interpretive center to address both historical locations: the position of the Roman and the French army about a mile apart. Both sites are astounding, including both the valley where Caesar and his troops camped, trying to starve out Vercingetorix and the hill above that was fortified by the Gauls.

Context and setting of the museum_©Christian Richters
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Aerial View_©Iwan Baan

Concept

The scheme consists of two independent but analogous structures with a simple, cylindrical shape. The first building is a museum located at the position of the Gauls during the siege at the top of the hill above the town, and the second is an interpretive center located at the positions of the Romans in the fields below. The form of the buildings is de-emphasized, while the envelopes adapt through materials to their surroundings. The interpretive center, constructed in 2012, is built with wood recalling the Roman fortifications at the time of the siege, and the museum, which is to be completed by 2015, is built of stones, similar in look to the town buildings but with contemporary technology. The buildings manage to defer to the battle site while cultivating a sense of respect and awe through a muted formal presence by pairing the structures, striving to integrate the buildings with the landscape, and utilizing a simple round building typology. To be both visible and invisible is the catch and challenge of the project.

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Conceptual sketches_©Bernard Tschumi Architects

Architecture 

Façade and Materiality:

The materials of the building have been carefully chosen to stay true to the recreation of the historical event, the landscape of which appears much as it would have been 2000 years ago. The presence of the structure is muted due to the virtue of the roof and envelope design. The ornate herringbone wooden façade made of Larch wood, a renewable native building material, acts as a brise-soleil, filtering light and reducing heat gain as it enters the large glass facades and casts patterned shadows throughout the visitor center. The façade refers to the fortification techniques of the Roman army, which made use of available materials. The new museum complex recreates battlements and earthworks that reminisce all traces of the battle that have been obliterated.

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Exterior View from battlefield_©Iwan Baan
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Shadows cast by the façade on the visitor’s centre_©Christian Richters
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Ornate herringbone pattern of the facade_©Iwan Baan

Spaces:

Analogies have played a role in the provenance of the project. Tschumi’s circular geometry recalls the rings of Caesar’s fortifications. To retain the battlefield, the structure was designed to interact with its surroundings more directly than most buildings. The roof, which was to appear as unobtrusive as possible from the historical position of the Gauls on the hill less than a kilometer away, is planted with approximately 300 birch and oak trees to place the building in dialogue with the landscape and gives the visitors a sprawling view of the battle site. Grass, shrubs, and trees growing on the roof give the structure the air of an ancient Roman Mausoleum and help filter rainwater, provide shade to visitors, and insulate the building. Groves of birch trees separate the center from the parking for cars and buses.

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Landscape on the terrace_©Iwan Baan
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3D plan _©Bernard Tschumi Architects

The cylindrical form was developed to provide a 360° view of the battlefield from the exhibition spaces on the upper level and the roof. The promenade is a meandering path that is guided from the parking to the open landscape and then turns to face the entrance on an axis that cuts through the structure and continues on the other side to a wooden path that leads to the reconstituted fortifications beyond. 

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Plan and Section_©Bernard Tschumi Architects

The main entrance leads to a large central volume top-lit through skylights and filled with concrete columns of which some are inclined, and some are straight. A spiralling ramp takes the visitor to the first level, where most of the exhibits are distributed in a ring of spaces with views of the exterior.

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Spiral staircase_©Iwan Baan

The exhibits contextualizing the events of the Battle of Alesia and its aftermath will be in the interpretive centre, while the museum on the hill will be a more traditional museum with a focus on the artefacts unearthed from the site.  

This building shows Tschumi’s conceptual excellence, which occasionally is not in sync with human needs. The circular plan provides segments with their narrow ends pointing inwards and their broader ends extending outwards, due to which in spaces like restaurants, there are ample terraces but a tightly squeezed entrance from the central volume. Due to this, the circular geometry may not be able to cater to mass tourism expectations. 

Structure:

To create the concrete structure, wall ties were used in both the walls and the pillars, but the structure of the internal ramp was more traditional, with the careful pouring of concrete in a wooden formwork. The concrete roof of the hall is supported by pillars, some of which are inclined. The construction of the cylindrical shape of the building included two types of circular formwork for walls, both of which allowed the optimal realization of panels of great height, Cale and Rundflex Vario Plus.

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Construction of the museum_©Bernard Tschumi Architects
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Inclined and straight columns supporting the concrete roof_ ©Bernard Tschumi Architects
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Construction details_ ©Bernard Tschumi Architects

References:

  1. ArchDaily. 2022. Alesia Museum / Bernard Tschumi Architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/254235/alesia-museum-bernard-tschumi-architects> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
  2. Archinect. 2022. Alésia Museum | Bernard Tschumi Architects | Archinect. [online] Available at: <https://archinect.com/firms/project/3418/al-sia-museum/41972769> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
  3. Archute. 2022. Alesia Museum In Le Pre Haut, France, A Throwback At History By Bernard Tschumi Architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.archute.com/alesia-museum-france-bernard-tschumi/> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
  4. Curtis, W., 2022. Circular Reasoning: Tschumi’s Interpretation Centre of the Muséo Parc Alésia – Architectural Review. [online] Architectural Review. Available at: <https://www.architectural-review.com/today/circular-reasoning-tschumis-interpretation-centre-of-the-museo-parc-alesia> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
  5. Dezeen. 2022. Alésia Museum visitor’s center by Bernard Tschumi Architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2012/03/20/alesia-museum-visitors-centre-by-bernard-tschumi-architects/> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
  6. Famous Architects. 2022. Bernard Tschumi Architect | Biography, Buildings, Projects and Facts. [online] Available at: <https://www.famous-architects.org/bernard-tschumi/> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
  7. webmastercotedor, 2022. Museoparc Alesia, programme architectural.Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_ZX11q4p5Y&t=227s> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
  8. WikiArquitectura. 2022. MuseoParc Alésia – Interpretation Centre – Data, Photos & Plans – WikiArquitectura. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikiarquitectura.com/building/museoparc-alesia-interpretation-centre/> [Accessed 26 March 2022].
Author

Rishima is a fifth year architecture student currently interning in Pune. She is an avid reader and occasionally blurts out coherent thoughts. She believes creating an equitable space for all and providing a uniform experience regardless of gender, sexual preferences, age, abilities, class and caste is the responsibility of each architect.

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