New Architecture Telling the Stories of the Past
“Starchitects” are leading the way in showing that stunning architecture doesn’t have to be new! These architects are ushering in a new era in design where every future detail will tell a story of the past.
Peter Zumthor uses local materials to reframe historic experiences in his Kolumba Museum. Located in Cologne, Germany, a city that was almost completely destroyed in World War II, The Kolumba Museum sits on the site of the ruins of a late-Gothic church. The museum is home to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s collection of art which spans more than a thousand years, and what better way to pay respect to the treasure’s within than to celebrate the history of the church’s remains.
Zumthor, consistently mindful of the use of the materials, and specifically their construction details, has used grey brick to unite the destroyed fragments of the site. These fragments include the remaining pieces of the Gothic church, stone ruins from the Roman and medieval periods, and German architect Gottfried Böhm’s 1950 chapel for the “Madonna of the Ruins.” The facade of grey brick integrates the remnants of the church’s facade into a new face for the contemporary museum. Articulated with perforations, the brick work allows diffused light to fill specific spaces of the museum. As the seasons change, the”mottled light shifts and plays across the ruins,” creating a peaceful ever-changing environment.
Jean Nouvel is another prominent architect emphasizing the importance of working with the current conditions of historic landscapes as a “coming together of landscape and history, the history of past civilizations in an extraordinary landscape”. This week Nouvel revealed his concept designs for the Sharaan Resort. Located in a valley deep inside the newly-created Sharaan Nature Reserve, the designs draw on the nearby Nabataean wonders of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. In a world-first, this 2,000-year-old architectural legacy is being revived by Jean Nouvel for potentially the first time since the Nabataeans carved into the region’s millions-of-years-old sandstone rock.
Nouvel emphasised the importance of preserving such a unique landscape: “AlUla is a museum. Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archeological site deserves the greatest consideration. It’s vital we keep all its distinctiveness and conserve its attractiveness, which largely rests on its remote and occasionally archaic character. We have to safeguard a little mystery as well as the promise of discoveries to come.”
Nouvel’s commitment to respecting AlUla’s landscape and ancient heritage has not meant shying away from modern architectural ideas. “AlUla deserves to acquire a degree of modernity,” he suggests. “Envisioning the future is a never-ending obligation that requires us to be fully alive to places in the present as well as conjuring up the past.”
He explains how he’s adapting old ways of life to our modern world, minimising the impacts on natural and urban landscapes. To do this Nouvel has introduced a new typology of architecture never seen before, using abstraction, sculpting within the landscape itself rather than competing with it. Inspired by the Nabateans, it plays on the old ways of living to build on the present and meet the challenges of the future. Jean Nouvel integrates the way Nabateans interacted with their environment, both verticality and horizontality, to reconnect to the earth and build sustainable habitats, away from the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.
“Our project should not jeopardise what humanity and time have consecrated,” emphasises Nouvel, “Our project is celebrating the Nabateans spirit without caricaturing it. This creation genuinely becomes a cultural act.”
The end result will see guests immersed deep within in a memorable journey through time and space, offering a true discovery of AlUla’s essence. Through immersive experiences in Sharaan’s wilderness, visitors will have personalised exposure to the hundreds of archaeological sites within AlUla. Yet, this level of luxury will not be at the cost of the natural landscape, as the new resort will draw on emission-free power and new standards in sustainability.
The new resort, set to be completed by 2024, will include 40 guest suites and three resort villas. A retreat summit centre near the resort will feature 14 private pavilions.