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French Museum Reinterprets Exterior, Interior Connection
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Exterior rendering of the Cité du Corps Humain—a new museum that will be devoted to the human body and located alongside Charpak Park, in Montpellier, France
In November a design by Bjarke Ingels Group won a competition for the design of the Cité du Corps Humain, a new museum that will be devoted to the human body and located alongside Charpak Park, in Montpellier, France. Bjarke Ingels Group

A team led by the architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group has won a design competition for a museum of the human body, to be located in Montpellier, France.

December 17, 2013—The competition-winning design of the Cité du Corps Humain—a new museum that will be devoted to the human body and located alongside Charpak Park, in Montpellier, France—redefines exterior lines and interior spaces in architecture. Created by a design team led by the Copenhagen, Denmark-based architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the design combines the fluid, circular lines of eight interlocking volumes to create a partially submerged, organic-looking space that plays with the concept of typical volumes and planes.

The museum will be a public space open to visitors interested in both art and science, according to its website. Building upon the medical reputation of the City of Montpellier, the space is meant to be a location where artistic, scientific, and social issues related to the body can be addressed and explored. The building will contain permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, banquet and reception facilities, and resource and administration spaces.

“The concept of the building is tightly linked to its environment,” said a statement made by the architects in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “As a yin-yang figure, it melts the borders between the city and the park.”

The design, which won the competition in November, integrates the structure and its site to create a building that on one side is a strong landmark, but on the other side fits seamlessly with the eastern end of the Charpak Park, along an axis that leads to Montpellier’s town hall.

Interior rendering of museum which displays a circulation backbone that will enable visitors to walk from one end of the museum to the other

The design is based on interlocking volumes that appear to emerge
from the ground at a variety of angles.
An interior circulation
backbone will enable visitors to walk from one end of the museum
to the other. Bjarke Ingels Group

The architects began their design with the idea of eight separate volumes located along a linear path. The final museum concept compresses the volumes along either side of this linear path, creating organic exterior curves, and partially submerges the spaces in the soil. 

An interior circulation backbone—partially faced by the curves of the interlocking volumes—will enable visitors to walk from one end of the museum to the other. On either side of this backbone, the interlocking spaces emerge from the ground with sloped roofs—four of which will be paved terraces, and four of which will be vegetated. In plan, these roofs interlock, much like the knuckles of two clasped hands, and offer visitors direct rooftop access. The result is what the architects describe as an ergonomical garden roofscape.

Despite the complexity of its shape, structurally the project is a single-story building with a partial basement housing parking and technical facilities, according to Philippe Ozenda, the project manager for Egis Group, of Guyancourt, France, which conducted the structural and mechanical engineering on the design. Ozenda wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

“The architecture is quite atypical, in particular considering the curved shape of the facades,” Ozenda said. However, as a single-story building in a low seismic area, the building will be relatively straightforward to construct, he noted. 

Aerial view of the museum that displays Eight seemingly separate volumes—which appear in plan like the knuckles of clasped hands—comprise the single-story museum

Eight seemingly separate volumes—which appear in plan like the
knuckles of clasped hands—comprise the single-story museum
.
Bjarke Ingels Group

The basement, the first-floor slab, and the high, curved exterior walls will all be made of reinforced concrete, according to Ozenda. Reinforced-concrete beams will support the floor slabs. “The lower floors of the basement and ground floor are suspended slabs,” he noted. “An accessible crawl space is built in the central section under the ground floor. It allows for movement and access to ducts from the parking lot to the areas located in the north of the project.”

The curved shapes of the buildings’ different volumes will be joined together with expansion joints, Ozenda said.

“The structure of the roof, accessible to the public, is a mixed structure,” Ozenda said. “The ‘floor’ is a composite floor on joists approximately 13 m long.” To ease construction, the joists will be steel IPE beams— medium-sized flanged I-beams manufactured according to the European standards—attached to the slab with bolts, and located approximately 2.5 m apart. Steel beams supported by tubular steel poles will support the roofs.

“The structural bracing of the building will be provided by the curved, reinforced-concrete walls longitudinally and by perpendicular walls that hold up the roof in the lower part,” Ozenda said. Horizontal loads will transfer between the facades and the retaining structures via the floor slabs to create a diaphragm effect, he explained.

Rendering of the exterior louvers of the eight volumes’ glass facades

The exterior louvers of the eight volumes’ glass facades have been
carefully designed to best suit the direction that each facade faces
and the type of sunlight that will need to be blocked. Bjarke Ingels
Group

Depending on the season, the entire polished-concrete ground-floor slab with be heated or cooled, he explained; insulation will be added to the underside of the slab. The building mass, and its location partially underground, will be used to help stabilize the temperatures within the building, according to the architects.

Currently, the foundations are anticipated to be continuous flight auger piles of at least 3 m in diameter and 14 m in depth, excluding anchors, Ozenda said.

The exterior louvers of the eight volumes’ glass facades have been carefully designed to best suit the direction that each facade faces and the type of sunlight that will need to be blocked—high-altitude midday sun to the south, low-altitude morning and afternoon sun to the east and west. The louvers will be made of glass fiber-reinforced concrete to allow for continuous long spans that can simultaneously curve on two planes, according to material provided by the architects. The result is a louver system that does not follow typical vertical or horizontal placement, but instead glides upward or across the facades in a precise response to the orientation of each curve, along each volume. In this manner, direct heat gain is minimized, while views are maximized.

Further studies on the €18-million (U.S.$2.47-million) project will take place in 2014-2015, with site work anticipated to commence in 2016, according to the city’s website. The museum is currently expected to open in spring 2018.


 

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