We like to think of an archaeology museum as a compact jewel box concealing the treasure that history has entrusted to us piece by piece. But not any kind of history, or at least not the scientific history of experts, which does not always leave room for imagination and almost always exhausts itself. We like to think of a history to call our own, and which never ends, because it lives on in each small or large finding, and in the eye of the observer, a whimsical eye that relies on what it wants to see, rather than on what it actually sees. For this reason, the small box, though dense and hermetic on the outside, must be suggestive and magical on the inside. The space within can be neither a mere organizing element, nor a beautiful but distant architecture; it must have the ability to evoke places and people from a tiny yet resilient fragment of ceramic which has managed to survive, and which speaks of the fragility of time.
In the permanent exhibition halls, all horizontal surfaces are dark, the wood floors are almost black, and the continuous ceilings black. This box evokes the passage of time, concentrated in the layers of earth that little by little have formed the thick walls of history. But these dark spaces are traversed by white glazed prisms – round which the exhibition of pieces is organized – that shall draw light in from the roof at daytime, and shall be inlaid with graphics and information to describe the items, evoking the adventure of interpretation.
The building adjoins the Palace of Bendaña, currently the museum of Naipes Fournier. Access to the building is through the same courtyard that leads to the Palace, allowing to grasp the full scope of the project. Aiming to extend the surfaces of the courtyard and thereby upgrade the access area, the proposal does not take up the whole surface available, only a narrow strip built as an appendix perpendicular to the main building and whose purpose, aside from housing auxiliary programs, is to offer a more attractive access façade than that represented by the current party walls of the neighboring constructions. Because of the slope of the terrain, the courtyard is reached through a bridge over a garden that lets light into the lower areas, which would otherwise have no natural illumination on this side.
Functionally the volume is organized so that working areas, as well as the library and workshops, are located at ground level oriented towards the street, and with an independent access. The assembly hall and galleries for temporary exhibitions are at the public entry level that is shared with the Naipes Fournier museum, whereas the permanent exhibition halls are in the upper levels. The stairs that link the different levels define part of the façade onto the access courtyard.
The enclosing walls are in fact multilayered spaces. The façade defining the access courtyard is a grille of cast bronze pieces, a material with clear archaeological references; and in the middle, a double-layered wall of silkscreen printed glass contains the stairs which offer views of the courtyards as one steps up. In contrast, the façade fronting the lower street is more hermetic, and is made of an outer layer of opaque prefab pieces of cast bronze, with openings where needed, and an inner layer formed by a thick wall containing the display stands and systems. In this way the internal exhibition spaces are unencumbered and only traversed by translucent light prisms.