A cut above: Zaha Hadid’s Messner Mountain Museum

Patrik Schumacher
ZHA director and senior designer Patrik Schumacher, who joined the practice in 1988 and collaborates with Zaha Hadid on all projects, responds to Herbert Wright about the Messener Mountain Museum:

Patrik Schumacher at the MMM Corones opening in July this year. Photo: Harald WistHalter
Patrik Schumacher at the MMM Corones opening in July this year. Photo: Harald WistHalter

Blueprint: You compared the Messner Mountain Museum with Zaha Hadid's 1983 project for The Peak, both burrowing into the rockface. But wasn't The Peak concept more stratified, and the MMM more flowing?

Schumacher: You are right that there are significant formal differences - I would say innovations - that distinguish the MMM from The Peak. However, the project does connect to The Peak engaging with the mountain - as you say - carving and burrowing into it and cantilevering out.

Blueprint: You revealed that the three great west-facing windows were Reinhold Messner's idea. Does the platform live on in the cantilevered balcony?
Schumacher:
Yes, you might say so. I think Messner's idea was a strong one... and we embraced it from the start. The key concept for this project is the idea of carving into the mountain on the one side - like a natural cave, and then re-emerging above the slope on the other side; conveying the thrill of entering the mountain, descending into a cavernous space, and then to emerge on the face of the rock, with a spectacular panoramic view.

Blueprint: The angular, fractal mountainscape contrasts with the smooth, flowing unitary volume of the museum. Was that contrast deliberate?
Schumacher:
Well, the jagged mountain silhouettes and fractal surfaces belong to the distant backdrop. The immediate context into which our design is set is the smooth, rolling, undulating surface of the meadows below the mountains. The Kronplatz plateau - the highest point to which cattle had been herded for summer grazing for thousands of years - belongs to the cultural landscape, which is overlooked by the natural, jagged wilderness above. This contrast was super important to Messner.

Blueprint: Innsbruck's Hungerburg Nordpark funicular stations and the Bergisel ski jump were also mountain structures. How does MMM fit in with them?
Schumacher:
For us, the MMM belongs to this family of mountain structures. And we made sure they are all different enough to each become new, original members of this family.

Blueprint: How much does the surrounding rock's thermal insulation affect the energy performance of the museum?
Schumacher:
Since the temperature of the rock below 1m never falls below zero the ground works like a buffer and an additional layer of insulation. Therefore we were able to reduce the thickness of the perimeter insulation from 24cm on the outside to 18cm in the underground parts. A building buried in the ground will always have a better energy efficiency.

Mountain-top view from the Messner Museum
Mountain-top view from the Messner Museum

Blueprint: Can lessons from shell pioneers like Candela and Isler be applied to a structure that is a hollow inside solid rock? After all, tunnels are sometimes thin-membrane concrete structures...
Schumacher:
Yes, absolutely. Tunnels are usually compression shells. In theory, this idea could also have been applied to the MMM. However, the spans here are rather small and the build-up of weight on top not too large, so that a strong concrete slab with beams worked better and was more economical to build.

Blueprint: Can you say something about the linear vitrines, intriguingly embedded in vertical walls and horizontally beside ramps?
Schumacher:
We are proud of the way the vitrines are integrated into the architecture. The nice element here is that we have a purpose-built museum for Messner's collection that allows for the deep integration of architecture and exhibition design, rather than just temporary vitrines placed like furniture. The movement through the museum has a surprising complexity and even interior monumentality, with surprising turns from deep internal vistas to intimate niches, and then the spectacular vistas on to the surrounding landscape, as well as the exciting experience of stepping out onto the terrace.

Blueprint: The niches include three 'nooks' (for a yeti, a Buddha, and minerals). Was this Messner's idea?
Schumacher:
Yes, I think Messner had a lot of fun realising his dream in building for his collection. This is the most personal of his six museums.

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