Museo delle Scienze (MUSE) is a science museum designed by architect Renzo Piano which opened in 2013 in Trento, Italy. Over 600,000 people visit MuSe each year, making it Italy’s most popular science museum.
Trento’s Le Albere district is a riverside site that previously contained a Michelin tyre factory. The boundaries of this new district cover an area of 116,300 square meters. The Adige River to the west and the railway to the east clearly define these boundaries. Its innovative urban fabric consists of a specific dimensional hierarchy of roads, pathways, squares, and open spaces. This new urban fabric is also reasonably traffic-free. Many pedestrian walkways wind through the courtyards of defined building complexes. The museum is seated at the northern boundary of this new neighborhood, beyond homes, offices, a hotel, and a public park. MUSE stands in stark contrast to the small northern Italian city, Trento. It is assertive and high-tech, whereas Trento is tranquil and traditional.
The mission of MUSE is to interpret nature using the tools, theories, and applications of science, starting with mountain ranges. The museum illustrates the many terrestrial habitats from mountaintops to sea level, including the African tropical forests and the most pertinent dinosaur exhibit in the Alps. As part of an ambitious environmental redevelopment project, the museum connects the city with its natural surroundings, including the Adige river and the Dolomites. MUSE also provides a platform for experts, scientists, stakeholders, policymakers, and citizens of any age for a conversation about current issues and challenges.
The schematic sections of Renzo Piano reflect the importance of water, light, and nature in defining an experience of being in natural surroundings for the visitor. A correct balance between the need for flexibility and the desire to create a precise and consistent response to the scientific content of the cultural project became prime research for the architectural concept. Intending to create an “invisible setup” that does not prevail over the content, Piano bought together the idea of lightness and zero gravity. A flexible layout with movable fixtures designed to meet the various exhibition requirements is portrayed, like in a typical contemporary museum.
Building functions and Design style
Renzo Piano designed the profile of the building that draws on the surrounding mountains and the same organization on several floors of the tour itinerary is a kind of metaphor of the mountain environment. The building’s functions occupy two basement levels and five levels above ground. It is composed of a sequence of spaces and volumes (solids and voids) floating (or seemingly floating) on a large body of water, which multiplies the effects and vibrations of light and shadows. Large roof layers support the entire structure to the top, which, when combined with its forms, make it readily recognizable even from a distance.
The museum also functions as a research and cultural interpretation center, where global development and sustainability get promoted. In addition to its function as a natural history and science museum, MUSE’s modern approach may appear contradictory. Despite being one of Piano’s lesser-known works, MUSE still adheres to his most iconic design style: an environmentally-conscious futurist style.
Within the Museum
The shape of the building is a metaphor for the mountains that sets the sequence of permanent exhibition spaces from top to bottom. Once entered the building, a visitor becomes part of the 360-degree journey of senses. In the interior, levels ascend according to biomes around the world. As one goes down from the fourth floor towards the basement, they explore a “maze of alpine biodiversity”. Nature’s trail ends in the basement with a story that takes visitors to the largest dinosaur exhibition in the Alps as it tells the origin of life.
Laboratories and all forms of knowledge are accommodated with ample space, interactive and multimedia installations for children especially, that give them access to the natural environment through direct experience. The interactive forest enables visitors to discover nature. The glacial tunnel allows you to fly over the Alps in the first person, and a prehistoric labyrinth, with animated scenes and projections. There are interactive technology exhibits that children eagerly browse through. A visitor is bound to get surprised at every corner of the museum.
“ A museum is a place where one should lose one’s head. “ – Renzo Piano
With the idea of “Zero Gravity”, all the objects in the museum are suspended from thin steel cables: tables, panels, monitors, shelves, photographs, and artifacts. Everything seems suspended in space and time. The visitors enter a fantasy world where they can perceive and understand the connections and synergies between science and nature.
Around the Museum
Riding bicycles slowly through wooden paths, water lines, bridges, and sculptures leads to the entrance of the Science Museum of Trento. The entrance of the MUSE becomes a kind of public place designed for people, which extends out in the lawn and the new district, connected through an underpass at the heart of the city. The transparent facade reflects its surroundings – the grass, the sculptures, and the historic buildings.
The park area is surrounded by water, an additional feature of the project. Thus, several recreational and technological functions can be performed with the water system, including irrigation, fire prevention, and even flood control systems for the River Adige. Problems associated with the presence of the river inspire the design of a system of canals that feeds the two large water bodies on which the museum seems to float.
MuSe Tropical Greenhouse
Towards the west of the building, the smallest section functions as a greenhouse for cultivating tropical plants irrigated by rainwater collected from the rooftops. This 718-square-yard tropical greenhouse in the museum hosts a piece of the Udzungwa Mountain Range (Tropical East Africa). There are about 130 species inside the greenhouse, enjoying a 30° C constant temperature and 70-80% humidity. Many of them are commonly used for food, medicinal and cosmetic preparations. The greenhouse looks and feels like a heart of a rainforest featuring two waterfalls.
Construction and Technology
Considering its magnitude and the amount of construction involved, this project was ideally suited to an approach that would integrate it harmoniously into the surrounding environment, while also taking advantage of numerous existing features. Interior materials have been carefully chosen for comfort and health, while the openings have been aligned with the landscape, allowing natural light to enter.
To reduce the operating cost, a centralized electrical power system is designed that would optimize the new district’s resources. As a result of this concept, a single power station was developed on the right bank of the River Adige, beyond the confines of the complex itself, to distribute and recover energy from each sector through a main underground pipeline running north-south.
The east side of the building is designed as a Big Green facade that covers the library and office spaces inside. The particular facade is designed in correspondence with the other buildings in the new district.
One of the most significant aspects of the project is the roofing system. Despite their diversity of functions, heights, and inclinations, these elements will work together to create a unique semantic system that will cover all of the edifices, using wood and steel for the construction.
Renzo Piano has used several techniques to minimize the environmental impact of the museum. These techniques include photovoltaic panels, brise soeil, or a greenhouse that accumulates heat and distributes it inside the museum. Choosing the correct materials and construction methods, as well as designing transport services that discourage private car use, have been critical elements for a sustainable design. As part of his sustainability effort, Piano also used naturally-sourced minerals from the Trentino region in the MUSE’s construction: zinc, aluminum, steel, and glass. MUSE became the first Italian museum to achieve the coveted LEED Gold certification.