Reflecting on the Archimarathon: 2 Beauty in the Execution

This is a second article on the Archimarathon in Spain & Portugal. If you haven’t read the first one, click here to the first one! (So you get where this article is going…)

One of the benefits of this architecture tour that I found is that most of the building I have been seeing are of the top quality, worthy of study (and the rest are examples for ‘why it’s not working’). It is difficult to pick a favourite one, but one of the most memorable buildings was Museo Nacional de Arte Romano by Rafael Moneo, located in Mérida.

It is a museum for showcasing the ancient Roman artefacts, a section of the secondary paved road (Calzada) to Rome, and the site of the archeological investigation. The reason I fell in love with this building can be summarised as the sophisticated execution of the design. Here are some of key elements: circulation, framing views, light, and detailing.

Circulation

Some circulation paths are stacked on top of each other and designed to walk in a cyclic motion as if the whole experience in the museum was a journey. The path between the entrance to the main arched space is a series of lamps for going down in levels, but also for eliciting a sense of excitement that is built up as a visitor walks through it.

The three floor levels in the main arched space has vertical circulation (staircases) at the opposing ends. This encourages visitors to walk from one end to the another, ultimately exposing them to as many artefacts as possible. Although it might be a common tactic, I found it quite effective in the context of museum where visitors often feel like they are either lost /or couldn’t see everything on display. The articulation of the circulation in relation to the displays and vertical spatial organisation creates a sense of journey.

Framing views

Openings are often created because an architect wants people to see or feel something specific. The most striking one is the deep strip window just above the Calzada (minor paved road) (see image). The diagonal steel screen fragments the large window into smaller squares for inviting visitors to ‘look into’ them, and having it at the bottom 1/3 of the wall brings people’s eyes down towards the ancient Roman road on the ground outside.

Light

The quality and the amount of the light into the space is carefully calculated and controlled by the dimensions and the locations of the windows (inc/openings and skylights etc) and voids. The voids are created by having large-scale Roman arches in a sequence, and by cutting areas of the floor planes out to bring light into the lower level. Having voids allows the change of the ceiling height (darker at low ceiling -> compression, lighter at high ceiling (having void) -> expansion) and therefore the dynamic transition of light and shadow that visitors experience.

Detailing

The level of details found in Moneo’s design is absolutely logical and sophisticated. Some sections of the brickwork don’t have the common mortar beds between courses, which emphasises the outlines of individual bricks.

The fixtures of the handrails were made of metal plates and ball joints which respond to the consideration for constructability (efficiency of construction) at the same time making the handrail a special element. The height of the metal plate was designed to be equal to the height of two courses of brick wall so that it fits in place nicely.

Furthermore, the stone tiles for the flooring indicate thresholds of spaces and the importance of the Roman arches through the rectangular pieces rather than square panels. The details make this building architecturally cohesive and give life to the space.

Although it is located in such a remote place and took quite long time to get there, it was definitely worth the visit. It became a museum that I won’t forget all because of the architectural integrity that Moneo brought out through his design.

Thanks for reading!

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