M.E.T.A. Cyprus’ archaeological museum for the future (Competition Entry)
Key design principles
The design process of M.E.T.A. followed three principle directions: a) Museum vs Exhibit: The creation of a landmark that would not compete with the beauty and importance of the artefacts exhibited. b) Museum vs city: The creation of a structure unique, yet subtle that would not overshadow its context. To this intent, a futuristic design was avoided as it would attract attention away from and lack continuity with the surrounding environment. In short: “not another blob” and “not another Bilbao”. c) Strong branding: A contemporary museum should carry a strong branding identity. Creating a brand that is meaningful, playfully communicative and easy to remember is equally important to its design. Many successful musea have followed such a branding strategies e.g. MAXXI (I/ROME), MoMA (USA/NY), MOCA (USA/LA), SMAK (BE) etc.
The choice of M.E.T.A. as an acronym and title for the proposed design is based on two distinct concepts:
a) M.E.T.A is a wordplay based on the Greek word “μετά” meaning “after”. Superficially, this comes into contrast with the exhibited antiquities, which would be better characterized by the words’ antonym “πριν” (meaning before). On a deeper level the choice of M.E.T.A. underlines the purpose of archaeology, to reconnect the past with the present and the future, thus allowing for the continuity of human history.
b) M.E.T.A. stands for Museum for Evolution and Treasury and of Antiquities (Μουσείο Εξέλιξης, Αρχαιοτήτων και Τεχνών). History is a narration of evolving cultures and thus an archaeological museum is about evolution. Consistently, M.E.T.A. narrates the progress of civilization from the 10.000B.C. up to 700AD.
Theoretical and contextual background
The design of M.E.T.A. aims to capture the essence of archaeology, namely the pursuit of uncovering and reinstat¬ing the past via the literal excavation of the present. M.E.T.A., a vessel of archeological artefacts, is lifted off the earth, while at the same time uncovering the remnants of an ancient city bellow. This gestures to the conceptual “revelation” of hidden time layers that complements any architectural “excavation”. The landscape is formatted into a fragmented grid structure that symbolizes historical traces from all ancient civilizations that ever dwelled in Cyprus. The public space is divided into three vertical levels, with half of the program laying below ground level and the museum floating above ground. The elevation of the museum’s main body allows for visual continuation on the street level, connecting the plot with the surrounding area without visual obstructions. The floating museum consists of two closed square volumes: An inner volume for administrative and managerial functions and an outer for the permanent exhibition. The latter is organized as a cyclical route resembling the flow of historical time. In addition, the shape and structure of the permanent exhibition is a reference to the old archaeological museum of Nicosia situated on the opposite plot.
The artefacts aim to reconnect the present and future with the past, reanimating the cyclical flow of history. There¬fore, the historical exhibits are exhibited in a circular exhibition, where visitors would enter and exit via the same physical and temporal present point. Visitors will begin their tour at the oldest archeological era and follow the flow of history to the most recent exhibits. The exhibition space itself is subtle and neutral, where the real protagonists are the exhibits. Finally, the museum exit is through the gift-shop. Access to the “lifted slab” where the exhibition is located is possible via two structural cores that connect it with the submerged (-8.00) plaza. The two cores are functionally distinct, with the northern one (adjacent to the preserved building) being allocated for the visitors. This is divided in two, serving both as an entrance and an exit to the mu¬seum. The southern core is exclusive to the museum staff and connects all levels with staircases and large service lifts. Connectivity with the existing points of interest and infrastructure, especially with the old archaeological muse¬um and the public park was very important. Two large underground garages are designed with access to Chelonos highway. Also on the Southern side, an over-ground “kiss & ride” parking is included with 70 parking spots that can accommodate large coaches.
The museum as a whole consist of a reinforced steel structure and a variety of stone claddings. For the flooring, façade and ceiling a limestone clad is used, while the submerged plaza and the museum’s underbelly are covered in granite tiles. The use of stone as the primary material is a reference to archaeological excavations. Its color, rem¬iniscent of the color of soil is prominent at an archaeological dig. Hence, the lifted slab, a part of earth detached and lifted, should consist of the same material and pattern with the main (Eastern) square. To provide a natural contrast, the area underneath the museum is of the same texture but of a darker shade. For the exhibition’s interior two materials were chosen create a reference to the main material used for the creation of most of the exhibits, marble. The inner wall that separates the exhibition from the managerial space is a double layer of reinforced glass encasing a thin slice of semi-transparent marble, allowing natural light to traverse to the inner ring. Both the flooring and the base of the exhibition cases are covered in heavy-duty industrial micro-cement, both subtle and contrasting with the beige marble.
Landscape and sustainability
The landscape design utilizes elements integral to local life since antiquity. These include a mix of domestic Medi¬terranean species of major importance to agriculture, cultural landscaping and economy. Such are olive trees, citrus trees, mulberry trees, bushes and herbs that manifest this concept and bring a unique sense of place and identity. The public exterior space functions as a partially shaded area split into different zones: A public multifunctional square in the East, a prairie herb garden in the West and a natural low maintenance meadow in the North. The submerged square bears traces of the process of “excavation” while serving as a sheltered exhibition and outdoor events space, the heart of the project. Rain water collected from roof and submerged plaza will be stored, processed and reused for toilette flushing. PV membrane will cover 3 out of 4 facades, protecting the permanent exhibition direct sunlight and collecting solar energy.