area 100 | changing cities

architect: Rafael Moneo

location: Merida

year: 19801985

Founded by the Legionaries of Augustus in 24 B.C., Mérida became the most important Roman city in Spain at the end of the Empire. Today the presence of the Theater and the Arena are an impressive token of this past. Not far from these monumental relics is the site for the Museum of Roman Art, built over a portion of the still buried Roman town. A certain desire to recall and evoke the Roman past can be felt in the project. Moreover, it is important that the Museum, without lapsing into a strict imitation of Roman architecture, achieve the character and presence of a Roman building: thus the prominence given to the construction as an expression of the architecture. In this way the construction of the wall – a massive masonry bearing wall filed with concrete – allows the materiality of the Roman brick wall to become in the end the most important feature of the Museum. A system of parallel walls is hollowed out by means of a large arch, forming in the continuity of the space a virtual perspective, a nave that is dominant theme of the project and the main space for the display of objects. Seen perpendicularly, the parallel walls dramatically suggest their function as storage partitions and make one think of the Museum as a huge library of stone remains.

view of the basement with roman ruins

Thus the surface of the Museum is not considered as a neutral support, rather the translucent white marble of the relics can be seen in a dialectical interplay with the material presence of the brick walls. The objects are placed on individual pedestals in the main nave. Cornices, capitals, fragments of statuary, mosaics and relieves are collected on the transverse walls, or placed in display cabinets in a series of spaces adjacent to the main nave. Natural light enters through skylights above which mark the rhythm of the walls and through windows set high in the outside walls. A parallel wall prevents sunlight from penetrating directly into the nave. This indirect light source, bathing the important collection of Roman statues clarifies and explains in a certain way the wish for enclosure that is always present in the architecture of the Museum. The lower level containing the ruins has been exclusively kept as an open space. Here walls pierced by arches support the walls above and define an interesting setting in which the contrast between the ruins and the architecture that rises above them brings one closer to Roman culture.

project: Rafael Moneo Office
date: 1980-1986
location: Mérida - Badajoz - Spain
client: Ministerio de Cultura Dirección General de Bellas Artes, Archivos y Bibliotecas
design team: Nieves La Roche, Juan José Echeverría, Enrique de Teresa, Francisco González Peiró, Georges Meylan, arquitecto Charles Meyer, Stanley Allen, Pedro Feduchi,
structural engineering: Jesús Jiménez Cañas, Alfonso García Pozuelo
construction supervisor: Rafael Moneo, Francisco González Peiró, Rafael Luque,
construction company: Cubiertas y M.Z.O.V., S.A.
cost: $ 3.5 million/ 450 millon ptas.
gross square feet: 115,000/ 10,380 mq
net square feet: 107,000 / 9,650 mq