by Jerry ElengicalMay 30, 2022
A deserted coastal region to the south of Peru's capital Lima, is the backdrop for a new museum complex that was envisioned as a means to reinvigorate a once vulnerable site, occupying an excavated lot of vast proportions. Situated near a place that holds great cultural significance for the people of Peru, with a history of settlements stretching back for more than two millennia, the new National Museum of Perú (MUNA), by leonmarcial arquitectos, stands resolute yet aligned with the low terrain of its context. The location itself is towards the west of the Archaeological Sanctuary of Pachacamac in Lurin Valley, which started its life as a small ceremonial site but rapidly grew to become one of South America’s largest religious complexes, achieving the peak of its renown around the sixth century AD as an important pilgrimage destination prior to the arrival of the Inca Empire. Representing the latest transformation of this storied area, the new museum’s realisation stemmed from an architectural competition, which positioned the project as a facility for conservation, research, and restoration, working in tandem with regional cultural institutions.
Respecting the site’s heritage as well as its coexistence with the urbanised parts of southern Lima was crucial to the design brief specified by the Ministry of Culture during the competition. In confronting these parameters to find solutions that would allow the structure to fulfill its functions while seamlessly blending into both these contexts, the design team also had to create a structure that would act as the beating heart of Peru’s national museum system, devoted to upholding and preserving the country’s cultural legacy. Furthermore, the museum's design also needed to possess a degree of flexibility that would leave room for expansion into different museologies and museographies throughout the course of its lifetime.
In response, leonmarcial arquitectos imagined a structure that would bridge these concerns without dominating the visual presence of the surrounding sand dunes to instead complement them. This approach is further augmented by the structure’s placement inside a previously excavated lot, ensuring that its elevation aligns with the rise of the terrain, almost like a ruin from centuries past that has been unearthed to serve a fresh purpose. Tying into this vision for the project, the museum’s spatial distribution was based on the typology of a traditional Andean kancha, a village settlement based on an orthogonal grid layout, with functional areas placed around a large clearing in its centre.
Similarly, MUNA takes form as a monumental exposed concrete structure, with an evident geometric design slant, consisting of a massive 126 m x 126 m quadrangular volume which branches off into discrete outdoor platforms on its sides. These platforms have been treated with an egalitarian outlook, each assigned an almost identical position in the building’s spatial hierarchy. Corresponding to the Archaeological Sanctuary of Pachacamac, the Site Museum, the Pacific, the Urpiwachak lagoon, the agricultural landscape, the desert tablazo, as well as the developing urbanisations of Julio C. Tello and Villa El Salvador, the platforms are topped by green roofs which link the roofscapes of these protrusions to their surroundings. Almost 70 per cent of the structure has been submerged below the terrain, which tackles issues of seismic and thermodynamic resistance. In fact, the inclusion of eight structural plates connected to a technical area below the surface, provides additional reinforcement to the infrastructure.
Beyond the large expanses of bare concrete surfaces, the museum’s façade design is adorned with a series of modular screens made up of T-shaped components rotated at varying degrees, which add rhythm and texture to the composition while fostering a play of light inside as it filters through these perforated sections of the building envelope, which vary in height at the entrances and exits. Concealed joints between the individual members constituting the screen add to the conciseness of the assembly, which appears as if it was hewn from natural stone. Outdoor courts and plazas surround the main body of the structure, as public spaces that supplement the role of the museum’s interior.
The centre of the museum’s plan is home to a large 25 m x 25 m x25 m skylit void - an idea directly borrowed from the arrangement of Andean kancha villages. Besides its role as a nexus point between different program areas, this zone creates visual connections between different floor levels and permits daylight to enter the deep plan. Mechanical louvres placed on the roofscape regulate the amount of light entering the structure, granting a certain degree of control over the internal microclimate. The building has also been fitted with dense insulated floor slabs that make use of compacted earth and plants on horizontal exterior surfaces alongside mobile concrete blocks and screens that have been separated from glazed parts of the envelope by a gap of 4.5 metres as part of the contextual design measures in the museum’s architecture.
Over its three-fold assortment of spaces, the design incorporates a research and conservation centre with educational programs, storage and technical areas, and a public museum with collections connected to social spaces such as an auditorium, restaurant, library, and large flexible non-programmed rooms. The interconnected nature of the plan used to house these functions was developed with an eye on facilitating organic interactions between researchers, staff, and visitors to the museum, which manifests the project’s goal to preserve, restore, and connect Peru’s archaeological heritage with its contemporary culture.
Winding along the periphery of the skylit void, a large ramp connects temporary exhibition areas on the ground floor to the main galleries underground along a continuous route, in an inversion of the scheme that was popularised by Frank Lloyd Wright in his design for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Concrete structural members, glazed partitions, exposed building services, and terrazzo flooring impart an almost industrial-style feel to the interior design, which simultaneously extends but also diverges from the monomaterial aesthetic of the structure’s exterior.
Flexibility in the structure’s functional segregation is not only restricted to the exhibition areas but also finds its way into the laboratories and storage spaces, which can be further subdivided to accommodate a range of other functions. According to the architects, the elimination of restrictions in both the structure and spatial ordering breeds a configuration made up of parts that act independently of one another, with a technical perimeter installation ring along all the levels which coincides with circulation corridors. Generating an organic trajectory of growth and expansion for the facility’s museology and museography, this adaptive arrangement is integral to the initial parameters that guided the design process, which will allow the structure to develop and change in accordance with the variety of Peru’s landscapes.
There is an underlying sense of humility that pervades MUNA on all fronts, beginning with its low profile against its surroundings, extending into its simple yet effective exterior, and finally, culminating in its open, adaptive, and unpretentious interior. Over time, leonmarcial arquitectos expects that the structure will ingrain itself into the very identity of Peru’s cultural architectural strongholds, and perhaps nurture new discoveries about its past that could potentially spell out ways for the nation to collectively advance towards a sustainable future.
Name: National Museum of Perú (MUNA)
Location: Lurín, Lima
Year of Completion: 2021
Building Area: 75,308 sqm
Architect: leonmarcial arquitectos
Principals (Contest Phase): Alexia León, Lucho Marcial, Paulo Dam, Jose Canziani
Principals (Project Phase): Alexia León, Lucho Marcial
Project Managers (Project Phase): Mareika Kardum, Francisco Rodriguez, Alejandra Carreras, María Huamán
Collaborators (Project Phase): Alex Cuadra, Henry Villalta, Luis Falen, Gustavo Reyna, Sandro Casanova, Arturo Ghezzi, Alberto Bautista, Percy Iparraguirre, Jorge Cabrera, Daniella Dibos, Vanessa Laos Virginia Angell
Structural Engineer: GCAQ Ingenieros, Carlos Casabonne.
Electrical, Sanitary, and Mechanical Engineering: JG Ingenieros, Julio Mora
Acoustic Consultant: Carlos Jiménez.
Landscaping: Claudia Melgarejo/ P.Arq con Leonmarcial arquitectos.
Security Consultant: Eddy Tafur