Encasing History

Emma Lyne Pouch

           Architecture is something that needs to be experienced to fully understand how it works, the history behind it and the emotion it brings to those who enter. This semester has allowed for me to travel to many cities rich in history and experience architecture that I have only before studied in class. Each city has a contrast of the old and the new and chooses to approach it in different ways. Some cities are divided between an old town and new town; others integrate the two by building the new around the history of the place. The pieces of architecture that stood out the most while traveling are the contemporary buildings that are designed to encase ancient ruins in cities that are the birthplaces of major ancient empires. The best examples of this are Bernard Tschumi’s Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece and Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis Museum in Rome, Italy.
Interior: Ara Pacis 
Exterior: Acropolis Museum
            The starting point for the buildings is similar in that the architects are given a site that is deep in architectural history and they must incorporate an ancient element as the centerpiece.  For Richard Meier, the piece is the Ara Pacis, a sacrificial alter from 9 B.C. that is small enough to be boxed up and moved around but must remain along the Tiber River. Although the site is an odd shape the project was flexible as long as the Ara Pacis was properly housed and displayed. But for Tschumi the task was more difficult than simply arranging a building for a single piece. The Acropolis Museum not only houses ancient sculptures that once belonged to the famous complex but balances above ruins from the 4th through 7th centuries A.D. This factor must be carefully treated and therefore makes this task a greater challenge that pushes the design concepts and results in a stronger, more interesting building.
Ara Pacis: Glass Certain Wall
Acropolis Museum: Interior
            Another common aspect between the Ara Pacis Museum and the Acropolis Museum is the heavy emphasis on natural lighting. This leads to a similar use of materials specifically glass. In Meier’s design the most prominent feature is the glass curtain wall that opens up the space, allows for natural lighting and shows off the location that ties in the history and importance of the Ara Pacis. Although the design is simple I appreciate the use of the travertine and white marble which are materials indigenous to Roman and contrast yet enhance the natural lighting of the museum’s gallery space. But it is Tschumi’s design takes the use of glass to the next level. Not only does he use contemporary technology in glass but creates the ideal lighting for anytime of the day. For a museum this large that stands above it’s surroundings it is very impressive to see how Tschumi makes this work with the application of silkscreen shading. The use of glass, concrete and marble is simple and helps put the focus on the angles and shape of the building, the ruins that can be viewed beneath the glass floor, and the hundreds of sculptures housed within. 
            Each building design is a piece of art that should receive as much attention as the ruins it incases. Through the work of Meier and Tschumi we can see how a similar concept can be transformed in two different ways with many similarities but it comes to detail when realizing which is more successful. I think that Tschumi was not only face with a greater challenge, pushing him to go farther but also his use of materials and lighting is perfectly blended. He creates a space that you what to spend a whole day in just so you can experience and take in everything it has to offer.  

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