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Mountain Peak is the Site of Mountaineer’s Latest Museum

Exterior rendering of the Messner Mountain Museum Corones, which will allow visitors, as they enter, step down into the rock formation
As visitors enter the Messner Mountain Museum Corones, they will step down into the rock formation. Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid designs the final installment of the Messner Mountain Museum, which is being constructed not on but within a soaring mountain peak in northern Italy.

October 22, 2013—High in the mountains of northern Italy, a museum is under construction that will educate visitors about rocks. To emphasize the subject matter, the museum will be located inside of a mountain peak, only four projections protruding from the rocky core. While the placement of the museum is fitting, achieving the design on the precarious site presented significant geometric and structural challenges.

The museum will be the sixth and final installment of the Messner Mountain Museum, a project by renowned Italian mountaineer and extreme climber Reinhold Messner. The 1,000 m2 structure will be located at the top of Kronplatz (known as Plan de Corones in Ladin and Italian), a popular winter skiing destination in the Dolomites mountain range, in South Tyrol, Italy. (South Tyrol is part of a multilingual region comprising Italian, German, and Ladin speakers.) Zaha Hadid Architects, an international architecture firm headquartered in London, with an office in Hamburg, Germany, designed the museum in collaboration with Messner for Skirama Kronplatz—a firm based in Bruneck, Italy, that operates the ski resort and lifts on the mountain. “Our main goal is to have more people on Kronplatz,” says Andrea Del Frari, the director of Skirama Kronplatz.

Skirama Kronplatz initially planned to construct a panoramic viewing platform to attract more visitors to the top of the 2,300 m tall mountain, especially during the slow summer months. The company had already begun working with Zaha Hadid on the platform when Messner, whose ancestors were born in the Ladin valley below Kronplatz, approached it about constructing his final museum there instead. Skirama Kronplatz agreed to invest in the Messner Mountain Museum Corones, as the museum is known, and Zaha Hadid agreed to design it. The design process commenced immediately thereafter, allowing construction to begin 12 months later. “This project is one of the most exciting things to have happened in the Dolomites in many years,” Del Frari says.

Another exterior rendering of the Messner Mountain Museum Corones, which will be constructed within the peak of Kronplatz, a mountain in South Tyrol, Italy

The Messner Mountain Museum Corones is being constructed
within the peak of Kronplatz, a 2,300 m tall mountain in South
Tyrol, Italy.
From the entrance, the museum will cut through the
rock at an angle, cascading ramps leading visitors through the
Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Messner wanted the structure to stress the museum’s rock theme, while also preserving the natural environment at the top of Kronplatz. Zaha Hadid met those objectives by designing an underground museum. “The idea at the beginning was very much to bring the museum beneath the rock ... to create the feeling that when you enter the museum, you step down into the rock formation,” says Cornelius Schlotthauer, Dipl Ing., an associate in Zaha Hadid’s office in Hamburg, Germany. “We also wanted to be very conscious of nature so as not to harm nature too much.” IPM, an engineering firm based in Brunico, Italy, is the structural engineer for the project. 

A continuous space, the museum will reach a depth of 9 m below the mountain peak. From the entrance, the museum will cut through the rock at an angle, cascading ramps leading visitors through Messner’s exhibits and ending at a small theater at the base of the structure. In addition to the entryway, three viewing windows—one leading to an exterior viewing platform—will project out of the rock. Measuring 4 to 5 m high, these windows will be strategically positioned to highlight three nearby mountain peaks that are significant to Messner. “These mountain ranges are quite important to Messner’s personal biography,” Schlotthauer says. “So he wants to focus on them and bring these peaks into the museum and into his exhibition concept to tell a story about them.”

The museum is being constructed in the traditional way, by excavating a large hole in the mountain and then building the structure within that void. It will be founded on a 40 cm thick foundation plate and framed entirely in exposed concrete. One of the greatest challenges facing the engineers has been the museum’s inclined geometry, which requires walls that angle as much as 15 degrees from vertical, and supports that angle as much as 25 degrees, says Manuel Agreiter, Dr.-Ing., an engineer with IPM. The team used three-dimensional modeling and finite element modeling to achieve the desired form. “The geometry was one of the biggest problems that we had to make calculations for on this project,” Agreiter says. 

Exterior rendering of the museum's viewing platform, which will give the sense of being suspended over the valley below Kronplatz

A viewing platform will cantilever 8 m to give visitors the sense of
being suspended over the valley below Kronplatz. Courtesy of
Zaha Hadid Architects

One of the most striking features of the museum will be the viewing platform, which will cantilever 8 m to give visitors the sense of being suspended over the valley below. Engineers initially considered using steel to form the cantilever, but the deflection and vibrations were too great. As a result, two concrete beams measuring 40 cm wide by 1.4 m tall will frame the platform and tie into two single foundations at the base of the museum. “We have to make two single foundations because a cantilever of eight meters produces a big load that we have to carry,” Agreiter says. “So we used two small single foundations to handle that load.”

Once construction is complete, the museum will be covered by an approximately 6 m thick layer of soil and rock to restore the appearance of the natural landscape. The museum will have a robust 70 m thick ceiling to carry the earth covering as well as snow loads—important factors in the project. “We put six meters of earth and rocks on the top of the museum, and that’s a lot,” Agreiter says. “So we need a seventy centimeter ceiling on top of the museum to carry the load.” Hollow plastic balls will be incorporated into the ceiling over the museum’s lower level, reducing the ceiling thickness from 40 cm to 35 cm, Agreiter explains.

Crews have a narrow window from June to October before snow will make construction on the mountain untenable. As long as the weather holds out, the plan at press time was to have the concrete roof in place by mid-October. “It’s challenging to construct up there on the top of the peak,” Schlotthauer says. “It’s a logistic challenge to get the material up there, and then you’ve got only a limited timeframe because when the snow is up there, you can’t really build.” The plan is to complete and open the museum in 2014.

Del Frari says that when the museum opens he hopes more people will be drawn to Kronplatz not only during the winter but the summer too. “People think of Kronplatz as one-hundred percent a winter mountain skiing destination,” he says. “We are trying to create a product on Kronplatz that will increase business in the summer months. And to associate the Kronplatz brand with the brands Reinhold Messner and Zaha Hadid gives a really high value to our destination.”



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