San Telmo-Museum in San Sebastián
Text: Claudia Fuchs
The long and narrow shape of the extension of the San Telmo Museum makes ultimate use of the limited space available between the existing buildings and Monte Urgull. Its green façade acts as a transition between nature and urban space.
Architects: Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, Madrid
Fuensanta Nieto, Enrique Sobejano
The San Telmo Museum is dedicated to the history of the Basque Country. It is located between the densely built-up old part of the city and the luscious green of Monte Urgull rising up at the northern edge of the Bay of San Sebastián. The museum extension emphasises this border, while at the same time conciliating the urban and natural environment. The sliver of a building has a metallic shimmer and flares out dramatically at the plaza, looking much like an artificial rock face with greenery.
The new construction supplements the existing museum complex – a former 16th century Dominican convent with an extension dating from the 1930s – with a new entrance foyer, lecture theatre, exhibition area, café and library.
The 150 m long and narrow structure is implanted in the tight cleft between convent and hill. Some of the rock had to be removed for this purpose and the outer wall adjacent to the slope doubles up as a retaining wall. The front façade contrasts with the sandstone façades of the existing buildings. Various utilizations are enclosed by a homogeneous, perforated carapace of cast aluminium panels, making the volume of the building appear smaller. The ‘green wall’ was developed by the architects in collaboration with the artists Leopoldo Ferrán and Agustina Otero.
Plants cover parts of the aluminium casing, with the same mosses and ferns that grow on Monte Urgull sprouting from the holes. The perforated panels in front of the glazed façade areas act as light filters and allow glimpses of the plaza. At night, the interior illumination of the building gives an impression of the spatial complexity of the linear structure. This comes very close to the old building, and then pulls back again to create courtyards. External stairs leading to the hill in the north are also integrated.
Since the architects restored the existing buildings at the same time, the complex is characterised by a uniformity of materials and textures in the interior spaces. These form a quiet background for the rich collection. Notable features include dark iroko wood floors and stairs, as well as exquisite wooden formwork patterns on the exposed concrete surfaces.