Horno³: Museo del Acero (the “Furnace #3 Steel Museum”) in Monterrey, Mexico, comprises a restoration of derelict 1960’s blast furnace and a new wing providing additional gallery space and museum facilities. The museum chronicles the industrial history of this northern city, which for much of the 20th century was renowned for its steel production. Prior to its conversion to a museum, the abandoned blast furnace had stood as a poignant 80m high reminder of the hard working past of this city which has since moved on to embrace high-tech industries. The architectural challenge was to balance sensitive historic preservation against the requirement for a dynamic new symbol in its changed context, the surrounding steelworks having been converted recently into a public park. The new building needed to be inclusive and one that the older generations who worked at the former plant and their children and grandchildren would feel represented their proud history while looking forward to the future.
Many Grimshaw buildings include a central circulatory or atrium space - a kind of "mixing valve" for the building's users. It becomes an active hub: a gathering place that embodies the spirit of the building and allows visitors to engage with one another. At the Museo del Acero, this role is played by the main element of the original structure - the blast furnace itself - re-energizing the historical heart of the foundry.
The building contains a historical steel gallery, contemporary steel gallery, “Furnace Show” exhibit, teaching rooms, an archive, restaurant and museum store.
The restoration included the steeply inclined iron-ore elevator, now retrofitted with a pair of custom fabricated funicular cabs. The funicular soars 42 meters allowing visitors to stroll around the original high-level exterior catwalks which meander among the furnace’s pipes and stoves. This vertiginous tour provides visitors with unique close up views of the historical skeleton and spectacular panoramas of the nearby mountain ranges. The rich patina of the original structure has been kept throughout. During the renovation the steel was lightly sand-blasted to remove loose rust and flaking paint. A clear protective coating was then applied to ensure longevity.
Both the refurbishment and new build respond strongly to the site’s history as a steelworks. This is made most explicit in a series of structural elements which advance the limits of modern steel fabrication. The tessellated roof over the Steel Gallery demonstrates how, with today’s computer-aided technology, sheet material can be transformed into structurally rigid forms by complex faceting. Thus the columns and roof shell of this space are constructed entirely from ½” thick steel plate, without requiring any conventional steel framing. Similarly the design of a helical steel stair relied on extensive computed stress analysis to allow the optimization of its coiled stringer and cantilevering treads to the engineering limits of structural steel.
Horno³ surpasses International Energy Code requirements (ASHRAE 90.1). The two largest spaces, the Steel Gallery and Cast Hall, benefit from displacement ventilation. This makes use of natural stratification by supplying cool air at low level and extracting warm air at high level, thereby increasing comfort and reducing energy consumption. An ice storage system reduces energy costs by producing ice overnight which is then used to cool the building during the day.
The building’s cladding is self-shaded by a range of exterior louvers and screens that block solar heat and diffuse natural light into the internal spaces. The original ‘Cast Hall’ structural skeleton was re-clad completely and enveloped in a skin of incrementally tilted louvers which change across the façade and within each vertical cladding bay to respond to the glazed or solid nature of the weather wall behind and also to changes in the building’s geometry. The louver façade is a contemporary performative solution that elicits a memory of the blast furnace’s original corrugated iron cladding. Inside the hall, the blast furnace was emptied and is now brought to life in a public Furnace Show that simulates the process of making molten pig iron. Visitors can actually enter the hollow shell of the blast furnace – an experience that is believed to be unique.