Architects: Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
Location: Córdoba, Spain
Architect In Charge: Fuensanta Nieto, Enrique Sobejano
Project Architect: Miguel Ubarrechena
Photographs: Fernando Alda, Roland Halbe
Collaborators: Carlos Ballesteros, Pedro Quero, Juan Carlos Redondo
Technical Architect: Miguel Mesas Izquierdo
Mechanical Engineer: Geasyt, S.A.
Models: Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, S.L.P. Juan de Dios Hernández – Jesús Rey
The remains of the old Hispano-Muslim city suggested a dialogue with those who a thousand years earlier had conceived and built it, but also with the patient work of archaeologists and with the surrounding agrarian landscape, to which the geometry of the ruins gave an unexpected abstract quality. The terrain of the archaeological site for the museum stirred, however, contrasting feelings.
On the one hand, the yearning for a remote past yet to be discovered pervaded the landscape stretching all the way to the mountain ranges of Córdoba. On the other hand, the disorderly growth of new constructions lurked over the old city. Our first reaction when we arrived at the place would determine, from the very first moment, our proposal: we should not build in that landscape.
In such a vast extension of land, still waiting to be excavated, we decided to act as an archaeologist would: not building the new structure, but finding it below ground, as if the passage of time had been concealed all this time. In this way the project unveils the floor plan of an underground museum which articulates its spaces around a sequence of solid and void spaces, covered areas and courtyards that guide visitors along their itinerary. The main lobby leads to a large courtyard with a squared floor plan that, as a cloister, organizes around it the main public spaces: assembly hall, cafeteria, store, library and exhibition halls. A deep, elongated courtyard articulates the private use areas: administration, conservation workshops and research areas. A last courtyard is the extension towards the exterior of the museum exhibition areas. The storage areas, conceived as large toplit spaces, blend with the public areas of exhibition and dissemination. The conception of the project entails the possibility of an expansion, making it possible to add pavilions as if they were new excavations.
The new museum establishes almost imperceptibly a permanent dialogue with the architecture and the landscape of the old Arab medina. The double square floor plan of the museum is homothetic to that of the city, the gardens evoke the abandoned geometry of an excavation, the concrete walls and cor-ten steel roofs reflect with the white and the red the colors of the stuccoed walls of the Caliphal city. Light, shadow, texture and matter extract the perceptive richness of the archaeological ruins.
The Madinat al-Zahra Museum appears silently in the landscape, as if it had been found underground, just like it will keep on happening over the course of the years with the old city of the Umayyad Caliphs.