Herzog & de Meuron

Mediterranean Museum of Nuragic and Contemporary Art: An Alternative Site?

At first we were disappointed about the location the client had chosen – a bit out-of-the-way and right next to not so attractive football stadium Sant’Elia and the council housing Sant’Elia. We therefore tried to find an alternative site on the nearby mole or on one of the piers in the Bay of Cagliari. We felt that the new museum should link past and present, complement the existing urban topography of Cagliari and establish a concrete spatial relationship to the city.

A New Landscape for Cagliari

An alternative site was not an option for the client, however, because one important objective of the new museum is to revitalise the slightly rundown neighbourhood. This is certainly an interesting consideration, both culturally and politically, and it has proven extremely successful elsewhere, in London, for example, where Tate Modern has exerted a positive influence on the entire Southwark neighbourhood. So we decided on a different strategy: since we couldn’t move the building closer to the centre of Cagliari, we would instead introduce a striking visible device to link the museum up with the urban area: a new landscape of trees, starting from the museum and radiating throughout the entire metropolitan area of Cagliari. Working on the basis of a virtual geometric grid, we would work out specific sites with the city authorities where the trees would be planted: single trees, groups of trees or even a small wood.The geometric grid of this landscape project establishes a concrete relationship to the historical city of Cagliari. Above all, however, this plan creates a new overarching network of relations in the current metropolitan area of Cagliari and also clearly extends the concrete reach of the museum. This reach could be underscored by sporadic artistic projects in various urban locations, initiated by the curators of the new museum.

A new landscape of this kind even evokes memories of Beuys’ Installation to plant 7000 oak trees: an ordinary, everyday action (the planting of trees) combined with spiritual overtones (an invisible urban network of relations).

Changing the Neighbourhood

An important urban decision has yet to be made, namely: what will happen to the stadium? At present, it is like a huge wedge that divides the city. Will it stay there? Will it be renovated and updated or moved to another location? If it remains, one would have to work towards including additional uses in the stadium so that it would be open to people from the neighbourhood for other activities as well. Another important decision has apparently already been made, namely to replace the large-scale housing slabs in the neighbourhood with modernised and more contemporary forms of housing.

The museum project offers a unique opportunity to rethink this part of the city and improve connections with surrounding areas. To that end, we propose a fragmented building typology in varying scales, which would not only facilitate links with neighbourhoods north of the canal but also with the proposed pavilion structure of the museum. The urban typology would extend into our area from north to south, while the wooded landscape that we propose would move in the opposite direction, towards the city.

What Kind of a Museum?

More and more museums all over the world are vying for attention by seeking maximum visibility and ‘unique selling points’. What makes this museum in Cagliari exceptional enough to attract visitors from all over Italy and even the entire world? Unusually imaginative architecture designed by a famous name in architecture? This in itself is not enough because such icons will soon be a dime a dozen.

What is required is a special relationship of the institution and the building to the city, one that will add a new urban dimension that was not there before. This is what we are trying to achieve by planting a new landscape of trees. A special relationship to the city also means the active involvement of the museum, both in terms of curating and programme. The curatorial challenge consists of attracting the interest of an international audience while also involving and affecting local artists and people. Putting down local roots without succumbing to populism and anecdote is difficult especially because the collections do not – or rather not yet – carry sufficient weight.

Collection Strategies and the Emergence of ‘Anchor Rooms’

The absence of a substantial collection can be seen as unique opportunity; it offers freedom and opens up interesting perspectives, which also served as our point of departure for the choice of architecture in this location. A commitment to the present potentially offers a great deal of leeway for the experimental, the untried and the untested. By mounting only a few but very substantial exhibitions, one to two works could be created and acquired annually, which would lead in a few years to a special focus. These acquisitions could form the basis of the Anchor Rooms, enabling visitors to experience the museum as a curatorial topography of specifically focused presentations. One such Anchor Room could certainly house the large Nuragic figures from Monti Parma. The Anchor Rooms are the cornerstones of the museum with a lot of room in between them for other exhibitions, production laboratories, multimedia installations and interstitial spaces. The latter are public and social spaces scattered throughout the entire building, comparable to marketplaces in a city, where people meet or simply hang out.

Fragmented Architecture

The architecture of the project or rather its typology is a direct product of these thoughts on the brief and the urban/social functions of the museum: because of the parcelled, fragmented structure of the project, it is possible to react with great flexibility to changes both during the planning process and later when the museum is up and running. All parts of the building are laid out and placed on top of each other with no apparent order. The free geometrical arrangement of the ground floor premises – workshops, working spaces or artist’s studios – is combined with lanes and squares, as interstitial spaces. The ground floor has access to the new park and public space, in much the same way as shops and workshops do in a city.

A closed block several storeys tall, rises above the ground floor and contains the storage space. It is the most hermetic, clearly defined and ordered geometrical element in the museum. Here the art is archived, registered, catalogued and stored. However, the space could also have another function by being made accessible to researchers and school classes — similar to a Schaulager. The Museum visitor’s journey cuts straight through the block to the galleries above, which are placed next to and on top of each other, creating terraces, outdoor spaces, cantilevered areas and small squares. These can be used as platforms by visitors but also as sites for performances and outdoor installations by curators and artists. The vertical dimension of the museum functions not only as an urban landmark that relates explicitly to the hills and historical towers of the city, but also as an object that it is to be used for artistic interventions, which means that it is subject to change and therefore communicates with the city of the present in ever new and different ways.

Schaulager, Anchor Rooms, Cave and Loft Galleries, Marketplaces and a Varied Exhibition Route as an Adventure in Space.

As described above, we suggest a curatorial extension of the new institution by designing the storage area as a Schaulager, architecturally positioned so that visitors must travel through the block in order to reach the exhibition galleries.

Up there, also complementing the curatorial specifications and brief of the competition, the so-called Anchor Rooms will be connected so that a kind of promenade through the building results. Visitors might begin their promenade at the top of the museum by taking the lift through the entire building; they can also proceed in reverse by starting at the bottom. In addition, there will be other connections and forms of access, offering visitors a complex and varied spatial experience. The size and shape of the galleries varies as well. Some rooms will be more intimate (Cave Galleries) to enhance the spatial impact of small Nuragic or contemporary works of art. At the other end of the spectrum there will be large, open-plan lofts (Loft Galleries) to satisfy the requirements of contemporary art productions.

The use of the Interstitial Spaces is not rigidly defined; they can host a wide range of public and social functions, comparable to public squares in a city. These places vary architecturally in order to afford a specific view of the city, the hills, the sea or the lagoons, thereby each establishing a clearly focused frame of reference.

Herzog & de Meuron, 2006




Regione Autonoma della Sardegna, Cagliari, Italy
Architect Planning: Herzog & de Meuron, Basel, Switzerland
Partner Architect: SPA architects, Cagliari, Italy
Structural Engineering: WGG Schnetzer Puskas Ingenieure, Basel, Switzerland
Mechanical Engineering: Stokar & Partner, Basel, Switzerland
Building Data
Site Area: 430'556 sqft, 40'000 sqm
Gross floor area (GFA): 125'507 sqft, 11'660 sqm


“Museum für mediterrane nuragische und zeitgenössische Kunst in Cagliari, Sardinien.” In: “Wettbewerbe aktuell.” Freiburg i. B., Wettbewerbe aktuell Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 01.2007. pp. 29-36.

“Herzog & de Meuron.” In: Stefano Boeri (Ed.). “Domus. Sardegna: i Paesaggi del Futuro.” Vol. No. 899, Milano, Domus, 01.2007. pp. 46-49.