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Elegance of containment and an economy of means

The work of David Chipperfield at the Biennale Architettura 2016

The project by David Chipperfield Architects for the visitor center of the archaeological site of Naqa (or Naga'a), Sudan aims to demonstrate that a simple design can produce “classic” architecture, even where there is a scarcity of economic and technological resources. The project commenced in 2008 with the Naqa Site Museum designed to protect excavated objects from the tough conditions caused by sun, sandstorms, rain and looters.

David Chipperfield was a keynote speaker at the 4th International LafargeHolcim Forum 2013 on the “Economy of Sustainable Construction” where he addressed notions of permanence. He noted that beyond issues of materiality and mass, sustainability is more “a declaration of lasting priorities”. The exhibition at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition continues upon themes of economic performance with an economy of means, and contextual impact where the material manifestation of the design makes a positive and lasting contribution to the physical, human and cultural environment: essential elements of the transition towards sustainable construction.

Venice-Chipperfield-10.jpgThe Naqa site contains the ruins of a former trading city (BCE 400 – CE 400) that once belonged to the Kingdom of Meroë. As one of three sites of the Kingdom of Kush, Naqa was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2011. The Island of Meroë was the seat of the rulers who occupied Egypt for close to a century and features, among other vestiges, pyramids, temples and domestic buildings as well as major installations connected to water management. Their vast empire extended from the Mediterranean to the heart of Africa, and the property testifies to the exchange between the art, architectures, religions and languages of both regions. Naqa is only accessible via sand tracks and is located a three-hour drive away from Sudan’s capital Khartoum. With the exception of an artesian well, where Bedouin herders bring their animals to drink, a small watch house and a temporary archaeologists’ building for the ongoing excavations, the area appears completely unspoiled.

Venice-Chipperfield-04.JPGDavid Chipperfield’s Naqa Site Museum addresses a number of challenges faced by the architects, including the site’s extreme remoteness and the requirement that the museum does not interfere with the ruins of the nearby Temple of Amun. The museum will be positioned on a raised 1.5m plateau, with foundations constructed on the existing rock plateau beneath the sand. Local materials and construction methods will be used to create the outer walls (compressed concrete with local sand and aggregates) and the simple roof structure will be prefabricated off site.

“Conceived as a ‘daylight museum’, the building is designed without glass (which is unsuitable due to the sandblasting effect of prevailing weather conditions) and the exhibition spaces receive indirect light through the profiled roof construction,” said the studio in a statement. “A system of prefabricated elements generates a wedge-shaped longitudinal section, forming a very simple spatial sequence that begins with an arrival space, followed by a ramp, a courtyard, and an exhibition space, and culminates in a generous viewing loggia.”

Venice-Chipperfield-12.jpgDavid Chipperfield starts the description of his project for the ruins of Naqa by stating that there is nothing less appealing than a visitor center. But instead of being intimidated (and exaggerating a solution) or giving up (surrendering to the existing), he is able to deliver a simple, pertinent, elegant, to-the-point, and powerful architecture. The work of David Chipperfield at the Naqa Site Museum continues inside the Giardini’s Central Pavilion as part of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale until Sunday, November 27, 2016.

Public invitation to attend panel discussion at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition

The LafargeHolcim Foundation invites members of the public to attend a panel discussion featuring Alejandro Aravena, Jonathan Ledgard, Milinda Pathiraja, and Robert Mardini at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition on Friday, November 25 at 17:00. “Reporting from the Front: Sustainability vs. Security” is a concluding feature of the Biennale Architettura 2016, the panel will discuss how growing security concerns will add complexity to the challenges to which architecture must respond.

More information:

Reporting from the Front: Sustainability vs. Security

Last Updated: October 14, 2016
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Venice, Italy
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