MUSE – a Science Museum is the core of a regional development project in Italy
Text: Florian Maier
The aim of the new museum is to be a centre of cultural interpretation at the service of society, dedicated to nature and to the promotion of sustainability, science and innovation. In short, the representation, in the form of a museum, of a project for the development of the region of Trentino, Italy designed to inspire its citizens and, at the same time, an extraordinary venue for cultural tourism from all over the world.
Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Location: Via Calepina 14, 38122 Trient, Italy
The acronym ‘MUSE’ has been liberally taken from the museum’s Italian name, “MUseo delle ScienzE”. It was first used during the drafting of the cultural plan as an operational term to indicate the new structure in a shorthand form. Although it intentionally refers to the etymologic origins of the word “museum”, in appreciation of the values implicit in such institutions, designed to promote conservation, MUSE is not a typical museum, since it combines characteristics from both traditional natural science museums and modern science centres. In MUSE, moreover, this new layout is enriched by a strong social element that underpins its vocation as a meeting place providing dialogue for, and with, its visitors. MUSE has the important aim of enhancing the local region, acting as a social venue where people can discuss issues of global importance.
MUSE stands in an urban and scenic context that is the result of a single project vision aimed at the significant requalification of this part of the city of Trento that is closest to its river. The idea behind the city-planning concept that underlies the entire project is to create a city fragment complete with its framework, hierarchies and functional complexities. It will encompass shopping, residential and office areas, as well as areas of public interest, the most interesting of which will be MUSE.
Together with the 5-hectare public park, the museum also physically “hugs” the whole new district, acting at the same time as an important urban pole of attraction for the rest of the city. This embrace is underscored by the theme of water that, in the form of a canal, cuts through the entire area from South to North and then duplicates the shape of the museum as if it were reflected by it. Standing in the northern area of the district, the museum also mediates the relationship with the pre-existing precious building, Palazzo delle Albere and its lawns, creating a functional yet respectful urban interaction with the same.
The structure designed and erected by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop is a major showpiece of Italian architecture. The building’s outline simulates the slopes of the surrounding mountain peaks and the internal layout of the exhibits on its various floors is a metaphor of the mountain environment.
The museum building stretches from East to West for 130 metres on its longest side and is 35 metres wide from North to South. It has two storeys underground and five above ground (ground floor included). All of the above-ground floors plus the -1 floor are dedicated to the visiting public and to administration, service and research activities. Floor -2 is essentially a parking lot.
The architectural idea is the result of the mediated balance between the need for flexibility and the response, translated into precise and coherent shapes, to the scientific content of the cultural project. This is a museum in which the great exhibition themes are mirrored by its shape and volumes but that at the same time allows for ample flexibility in setting up its spaces - all typical features of a next-generation museum building.
The structure consists of a sequence of spaces and volumes, of plenums and voids, posed on a large expanse of water on which they seem to float, thus multiplying the effects and vibrations of light and shade. The whole is held together, at the top, by the large slopes of the roof that follow the internal shapes, creating a highly distinctive outline.
The construction techniques pursue environmental sustainability and energy saving criteria and are based on a wide and diversified use of renewable resources and high-efficiency systems. The building employs photovoltaic panels and geothermal probes working to support a central CCHP (combined cooling, heating and power) system that serves the entire district.
The museum’s functional systems are all centralized and automated, exploiting various renewable energy sources (especially solar energy via the use of photovoltaic cells and solar panels, as well as geothermal energy via the use of heat exchange probes). The energy system is based on the careful design of the layering, thickness and type of insulation used and of the fixtures and shading systems, so as to optimise the energy efficiency of the building. A sophisticated automatic brisesoleil and curtain system driven by temperature and solar radiation sensors reduces sun radiation during the hotter summer hours and allows for more sunshine entering during cold winter days.
Natural lighting and ventilation solutions in some areas of the building help reduce energy consumption and make the interior spaces more comfortable. Special solutions have been adopted to increase energy saving, such as the cistern that collects rainwater to be used for sanitary purposes, for irrigating the greenhouse and for supplying fresh water to the aquariums and the water moat surrounding the building, thus cutting the use of hydro water by 50%.
The choice of building materials favors those from local sources so as to limit transport pollution. Compliance with sustainability and low-impact criteria is evident in the particular and rather unusual choice of using Italian bamboo for the wood flooring of the exhibition areas. Wood is a substance consisting mainly of CO2 sequestered from the atmosphere during the life of the plant. Since bamboo only takes about four years to grow to the right size for being sectioned into parquet laths it is a super-efficient CO2 remover and its use in building construction or in interior decoration is beneficial in reducing and limiting global climate change.
Finally, the project envisages the creation of a bicycle parking area, equipped with changing rooms and showers, and only a limited number of car parking slots, in order to boost the visitors’ use of public transportation. The museum, located near the cycling path, can be easily reached by bicycle.
Thanks to cooperation with the Trentino Technological District, the project has followed the procedures for obtaining the Gold LEED certification.
The MUSE opens on 27 July 2013.
Background and History
MUSE, the Science Museum, originates from the Tridentine Museum of Natural Sciences (Tridentine Museum of Natural Science), a civic museum established in the mid-19th century that over time became specialized in the field of nature conservation.
A significant change occurred in the last decade of the 20th century, when the museumdoubled its commitment to nature-oriented scientific research by acquiring the capability of carrying out information support functions for local environmental planning projects and by developing important international relationships. In those same years, it started experimenting with new programs for the public by adopting new communication languages intended for visitors of all ages and levels of education. The museum’s quest for a new role translated into the creation and production of a large number of highly acclaimed temporary exhibitions. The nature-oriented themes were joined by new programs extended to energy and sustainable development, interactive science games, astronomy and mathematics. A rich program of educational activities, aimed beyond solely naturalistic disciplines, was also created.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Autonomous Province of Trento identified the Tridentine Museum of Natural Sciences as the perfect vehicle for adding culture to the project of reclamation of the abandoned industrial area formerly occupied by the Michelin factory. This area had found itself encompassed by the spread of the city borders and had thus become the subject (since 2001) of a plan for its change in urban purpose.
In order to meet these expectations, and at the request of the Autonomous Province of Trento, in 2003 the museum prepared a Feasibility Study and started redefining its cultural mission. This resulted in the choice of a perspective totally focused on smart, sustainable and socially inclusive growth. At the same time it drafted a new cultural program, aware of its role of representative of the spirit of the Trentino people in the search for a model of development - the key objectives of which are good quality of life and a healthy environment. So, in addition to this city-planning function, the museum also actively contributed to the process of qualification and overall reconsideration of Trentino’s future that started to take shape at that time. The project for the new MUSE therefore participated in the development of the idea of Trentino as “a region of knowledge”, together with the great changes that were introduced with the expansion of the University of Trento and with the reconfiguration of the local research foundations.