Elizabeth de Portzamparc fashions a glass toga on the Musée de la Romanité

Musée de la Romanité by Elizabeth de Portzamparc. Photo Serge Urvoy

NÎMES – The Musée de la Romanité, designed by Elizabeth de Portzamparc, shimmers in the light as it faces the exceptional piece of history embedded in the city – the Arenas of Nîmes. A mutual admiration forms between the two structures separated by two thousand years of history. The architectural statement lies in the complementarity between them, a diaphanous and fluid architecture forms in contrast to the strength of the masonry displayed by the Roman arena.

The building acts as a gateway to an urban promenade with passages and perspectives to re-invigorate and highlight the treasures of the Roman heritage in the city. Though the museum and its collection will open its doors to the public in the summer of 2018, the unique façade has been unveiled. The façade is a ‘drape’ stitched together by a structure of undulating steel frames, covered then by series of screen-printed glass panes.

‘The glass panes of which is composed the façade evoke a Roman toga, bending modern transparency and mosaic, one of the ancient Romans’ primary art forms, and subtly evoking the content of the museum’s collections,’ explains de Portzamparc. The reflections on the glass panes create a kinetic effect, emphasized by the different hollows and bulges of the ‘drape’.

Built on an area of seismic activity and considering the weight of the art works inside, the façade had to remain as light as possible. Unlike traditional glass façades that use moulded glass, which is considered heavy with a heftier structure supporting the panes, this particular piece uses a light and fine structural system where the glass is affixed atop. The building’s rectangular form and its flat surfaces in the inside allows for a simple primary structure and gives more freedom to the expression of the curves on the façade.

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