Musée de Préhistoire des Gorges du Verdon

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Musée de Préhistoire des Gorges du Verdon
Musée de Préhistoire des Gorges du Verdon
Quinson, France

Foster and Partners won the international competition to design the Musée de Préhistoire, Europe’s largest museum of prehistory, which opened to the public on April 28, 2001. The Gorges du Verdon, in Hautes Provence, is an exceptional archaeological site, rich in traces of the life of Stone Age man, to which this new museum is devoted.

Situated directly opposite the Mairie, town hall, fronted by a small formal square, the design of the Museum established a solid link with the physical environment of the village of Quinson, maintaining at the same time the contemporary character of the building which is integrated into the natural topography of the land. The site has been cut deeply into the hillside and is dominated by a new curved drystone retaining wall that is over 120 meters long and rises from 7 to 9 meters in height along its length. This blends seamlessly with an existing drystone wall.

The new wall forms the link between the surrounding historical buildings and the new structure; the curve gently drawing visitors into a large entrance atrium. This is accessed via a 9-meter tall galvanised steel entrance screen with double doors flanked by glass panels. The Museum forecourt has been landscaped to include the village square and the main road into the village. A continuity of material, tarmac and concrete, unifies these three disparate elements to create a larger space, able to host events relating to the museum and the village. Quinson is characterised by traditionally constructed buildings and drystone walls; the museum responds to this context by using local materials in their simplest and most expressive form; local stone, sandblasted concrete, galvanised steel, glass and painted plasterboard.
The main eastern elevation is sandblasted exposed concrete panels. The aesthetic quality of the exposed concrete and the desire to avoid all bolt holes in the visible faces demanded an in-depth study of construction methods and extremely high standards of craftsmanship. A painstaking process was undertaken to match the colour of the concrete to the local stone. The triple height entrance atrium, containing the temporary exhibition space, a shop and cafe, is designed to be refreshing and cool on a hot day, reminiscent of the caves the museum celebrates. From the atrium a curved ramp leads up to the first floor to begin the circular route around the Museum display. Here ambient light levels are kept to a minimum, and light is focused on the objects rather than the space.

The building is highly energy efficient; the thermal mass of the hillside and the exposed concrete structure provide a thermal buffer, as does the plant room that runs the length of the exterior wall on the first floor. The whole of the building is provided with conditioned air, primarily to even out the extremes of temperature that occur in this area and to help control the high heat output of the expected visitor numbers. The museum includes areas for the display of the permanent collection, a temporary exhibition gallery, study areas for academic staff, a reference library, administrative offices, laboratories for research on artifacts and a teaching area for visiting school groups. A 100-seat auditorium can be used independently in the evenings for village events and can be linked to other auditoria via the Internet to facilitate net conferencing.


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  • Frank Dora
    Frank Dora updated
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