Like stargazers and fans of deep-sea exploration, admirers of prehistoric cave paintings have virtually no opportunity to access the real thing. For a brief heyday in the mid-20th century, the roughly 17,000-year-old Lascaux cave paintings in Montignac, France, were open to the public. But the discovery that visitors' collective exhalations of carbon dioxide had damaged the artwork put an end to public tours in 1963. Since then, Paleolithic hobbyists and would-be spelunkers have just had a choice of simulacra. There's Lascaux II, a reproduction of two halls of the caves, which opened near the Lascaux site in 1983. And Werner Herzog's 3D film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, depicting the 30,000-year-old cave paintings at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc in southern France. And, er, the Paleo diet!
But perhaps our favorite simulacrum is Snøhetta's design for Lascaux IV, the largest-yet replica of the underground tunnels of Lascaux. The 86,000-square-foot International Centre of Cave Art, slated to open in July 2015, will reproduce the experience of spelunking by sending visitors down into a system of tunnels dug deep into the hillside. Also, everyone will get a flashlight and cape!
Set at the juncture of a densely forested hill and a valley of farmland, the entrance to Lascaux IV will hew closely to the hillside, picking up on the surrounding limestone topography with a roof line that suggests a series of cuts in the landscape. The plan mimics a cave's sharp division between above ground and below, between light and dark. Exhibition areas are buried underground, and public spaces—reception, dining—are awash in light from the facade's expansive windows. Where the two zones meet, a natural fault in the rocky hillside sends splintered rays of sun down into the museum's information center. According to Snøhetta's design brief, "A visit to the Centre offers a reflection of the sublime landscape, with the visitor ascending and descending, inside and outside, between earth and sky."
Images: courtesy of Snøhetta