The ingredients for a success story are all there. Starting with the place: Plan de Corones, a ‘balcony’ at an altitude of 2000 meters overlooking the Dolomites and the Alps of Zillertal, in the heart of Alto Adige.
Here the protagonists of the tale, the architects Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher and the mountaineer Reinhold Messner, have created a unique, special, visionary project: one thousand square meters cut into the rock to narrate the great adventure of the mountains. We met with them to talk about ‘their’ new museum. Starting with Patrik Schumacher
What relationship did you have with the mountains before this project? Were you interested in climbing, and did you know about the feats of reinhold messner, and his efforts to support mountain culture?
I’ve always been fascinated by mountains. Anywhere in the world, if I am near mountains I like to go walking. I have always considered Reinhold Messner a hero, so the fact that we were chosen to design his museum of the mountains was a big honor for me and for Zaha.
And you, mr. Messner, have you ever visited one of the museums designed by studio hadid? Do you already know about their works?
Of course. I also recall the futuristic Hungernurg funicular, and the Olympic diving board in Innsbruck, also in Austria, just to name two works close to where I live. The signature of Studio Hadid is unique, always recognizable, never hidden. This is what I immediately liked about it: the fact that modernity is never concealed, but at the same time takes a ‘soft’ approach because it fits into the landscape with is soft, rounded forms. The same is true of the Plan de Corones Museum.
Zaha hadid, this project is somehow different from the latest works of your studio, mostly connected with urban contexts. What was the challenge and what was the motivation behind this job?
Actually the relationship with nature and in particular with the mountains connects this project to the initial phase of my career as an architect. I am thinking in particular about the proposal I did for the Hong Kong Peak Club in 1982, shaped around the geological and topographical characteristics of Victoria Peak, the hill overlooking the city. Later we also designed other projects in natural settings, especially Alpine environments. The Bergisel Ski Jump and the Nordpark Cable Railway in Innsbruck, are the most significant in this sense. The Messner Mountain Museum is a new, exciting step in this current of our activities.
Mr. Messner, what did you think when you saw the design of the museum by studio hadid for the first time?
I thought it was perfect. From the outset, I was convinced that in an Alpine landscape of great beauty like Plan de Corones, at an altitude of over 2000 meters, a museum about mountains had to be in the mountain. But the architects Hadid and Schumacher had the brilliant idea of ‘excavating’ right into the heart of the rock: the more you descend (there are three underground levels, ed.), the higher you can see. This is the magic of this architecture. Let me explain: when you enter the museum, through the glazings you see huts and pastures, but then as you gradually go down into the three underground levels, the landscape cultivated by man gives way to forest, then to rock, and finally the snow of the most beautiful peaks in the world… The dramatic museum itinerary magically culminates in two large panoramic windows and a terrace (at the lowest level, ed.) Aimed at the mountains where I was born: from the Sasso di Santa Croce, where I did the toughest climb of my life, to Sasso Putia, all the way to the Ortles, the tallest mountain of Alto Adige. In short, we have managed to achieve the dream of building an underground museum that simultaneously safeguards and enhances the landscape, bringing it inside and offering it in all its beauty to the visitor. An experience that would be hard to replicate anywhere else.
Arch. Schumacher, at studio hadid do you also think this is the winning idea behind the project?
Yes. The key idea for us, as Reinhold Messner has explained, was that of digging into the mountain, on the one hand, creating a sort of natural grotto, while then emerging precisely at the top of the other slope. In this way, the visitor has the exciting sensation of penetrating into the mountain itself, descending along a cavernous space and then surfacing on the face of the mountain, for a spectacular view.
Mr. Messner, what aspect of alpinism do you want to emphasize in your museum? How do you intend to get the audience involved?
I narrate the tradition of mountaineering, which means explaining what happens when human beings meet mountains. The museum of Plan de Corones is the latest in a circuit of museums, the Messner Mountain Museums, composed of six different structures, all in Alto Adige, that offer an interdisciplinary path about the mountains. Here, in particular, I have concentrated on climbing: the ‘great walls’ are the central theme of the museum, explored by displaying unique collections, from my four decades of activity as a climber and explorer. This is not an art museum, nor is it a museum of natural sciences: what I want to narrate is the tension between man and mountain. And the architecture, thanks to this fantastic container brilliantly invented by Studio Hadid, helps me to do this. Because here the audience ‘feels’ the landscape out there, sees the mountains, living their experience. It’s thrilling, in short…
Arch. Hadid, what do you expect from this museum? How will you and arch. Schumacher measure its success?
A museum on a mountaintop is truly a magnificent idea! We think it will be a fantastic destination, that will inspire people and motivate them to visit, understand and enjoy the mountains. The success of the project will depend not only on the contribution it makes to the local community, but also on its ability to transmit to visitors the passion, emotion and respect Reinhold Messner has for this zone, and for mountaineering. The number of visitors is important, of course, but for us it is even more important that the construction we have inserted in this splendid natural setting can further enhance the experience of all those who come here.
And you, mr. Messner, what are your expectations?
I hope everything goes well, of course. As I was saying, this is my latest museum and it was a high priority for me, because I do not want people to forget traditional Alpinism. In the 1960s the tradition was dying, as Walter Bonatti pointed out. He was right: today 90% of the people who climb do it in a gym. Or they climb Monte Bianco or Mt. Everest on already ‘prepared’ trails. Maybe we need to get back to the practice I did for so long, which I call ‘the Alpinism of sacrifice,’ which means reducing artifice, infrastructure, costs. To use a word that is much in vogue today, this means being more sustainable: I was sustainable at the age of twenty, because I had already learned from the mountains. This is what I want to narrate in my museum. Also thanks to Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, of course.
photos by Werner Huthmacher – text by Laura Ragazzola