PAMPLONA – Vaillo + Irigaray Architects recently completed the Occidens Museum at the cathedral complex of Pamplona, Spain.

The architects introduced a twenty-first century intervention to guide visitors through the fifteenth century cathedral. A ‘carpet of steel’ 1-cm thick is the basis of the intervention. It morphs from gangway, to pavement, to bench, to lamp, to infographic throughout the exhibition, guiding the visitor.

The steel sheet is respectful of the ancient building fabric and stands apart from it, hovers above it, or folds around it, assuming the character of a gallery visitor who knows not to touch.

Orthogonal, smooth steel contrasts sharply with the Gothic interior and archaeological site, which date back to the first century BC. The matte black of the intervention does not steal attention from the existing architecture or archaeology – its smooth machine aesthetic stands in stark contrast to it and highlights its details.

Lighting puts the walls of the building themselves on display and illuminates in every sense of the word. Neon lettering behaves in the same way as the steel sheet by asserting its contemporality and standing apart from the ancient architecture. The geometry and material of the metal sheet make it a convenient place to hide electrical equipment, which allows under-lighting that dramatises the rich textures of the building.

Vaillo + Irigaray’s steel sheet is a smart and sensitive piece of exhibition design – it guides users through the space, while allowing them to set their own pace. It is a separator, a spatial guide. It conveys messages to visitors – literally and figuratively – on history, objects and what can be touched (itself) and what cannot (everything else).

Photos courtesy of Rubén P. Bescós