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Warp and Woof: The Museum of Underwater Antiquities
March 13th, 2013

Warp and Woof: The Museum of Underwater Antiquities

Summer 2012

Location: Piraeus, Greece

Principals in Charge: R. el-Khoury and R. Levit

Team: Dimitra Papantonis, Faisal Bashir, Minghui Cui, Roya Mottahedeh, Yie Ping, Farnoush Saman

The Museum of Underwater Antiquities is to be housed within a building that is itself an artifact of great cultural significance: The Cereals Stock House Building. The underlying structure, the silos themselves provide the warp and the woof that organizes the collection of underwater antiquities–bringing these antique artifacts into intimate contact with the archaeology of a more recent history—the now iconic remains of Port of Piraeus’s 20th century industrial past in the form of the silos of The Cereals Stock house building.

Excavation of Silos: How to convert the small cellular nature of the grain silos into spaces adequate to the museum? Taking a cue from the artistic inventions of Gordon Matta-Clark we have cut conic voids across the tightly packed chambers of the silos. These voids provide a rich means of dramatic movement through the museum. In each of the voids that have been cut escalators have been placed that provide for a pattern of movement choreographing through the whole building the six specified exhibition themes, each of which occupies its own floor or, in the case of theme 5 and 6, share a floor.

The excavation of the silos provides a number of advantages. Like the boulevards that cut through the diverse neighbourhoods of city binding them to the larger scale of the city as a whole, these excavated passages in the building permit the visitor to the museum to recognize the unity of an institution to be housed in what began as the non-communicating chambers of silos. Under the original conditions each silo remained utterly segregated each from the next. The excavation is a cross-cut, more violent than the methods of contemporary archaeological excavation, but related to the act of uncovering, digging in, as it were, into the literally stratified material of the historical record. Here, the beauty of the internal organization of the silos is made visible to the museum visitor, both from within the museum and from without through the act of cutting or, to put it more thematically, through excavation.

The cross-cut voids opening up the silos slice great glazed openings into the outer wall of The Cereals Stock Building. They create fantastic views of the port from within the museum and, from without, reveal the complex internal spectacle of people. They expose to view the silo forms themselves and offer an X-ray of sorts into the building of the new Museum of Underwater Antiquities.

Building Crown: The rooftop restaurant is treated as a crown for the museum. Its forms are carved from extensions, above the room line of the silos below, making an iconic element atop the building that derives from the constitutive element of the building itself, which is, of course the silos. The rectangular chambered form of each silo is extended up two stories above The Cereal Stock Building’s current roof and carved into the ship-like form of the rooftop restaurant. The sculpting of this rooftop crown follows a related formal principle to that of the voids cutting through the silos below and within the building. By cutting through the silos, or as happens on the roof, by carving a shape out of them, a crate-like form is created from the separate chambers of the silos. In the restaurant-crown these chambers produce a number of smaller areas and terraces for the restaurant and a series of views that develop their order from the genetic-code of the building below. Visitors to the site are invited to think of how the museum is wrought from the historical forms of the silos and is made aware within and without, in iconic and spatial moments of the historically layered experience that the Museum has generated.

The crown of the building is an iconic element that establishes itself over the Piraeus port setting and reveals to everyone in the port a distilled expression of the museum interior.

The Galleries: The galleries themselves (on floors two through six) are made through the strategic removal of silo walls. The original chamfered intersection of the silo walls have become octagonal columns, retaining as much as possible of the original physiognomy of the building. The original walls of the silos are left behind as beams overhead, while underfoot the wooden floor of the main galleries is divided by concrete divisions that either mark or, if possible, will be the literal remains of the same silo walls-now the top of beams. The galleries on the exhibition theme floors are thus opened up in such a fashion to permit for a more fluid arrangement of the museum collection and the flow of visitors while retaining the explicit imprint of the original silo building form. The wooden floors of the gallery are wide plank, consistent with the industrial character if not the actual material of the original building. The wooden floor introduces a warmer material into the museum hosted by the concrete remains of The Cereal Stock Building.

“Archeaological” extension of the Aquatic Archaeology Museum: Alongside the southwestern colonnade and conveyor belt that extends from the The Cereial Stock Building silos a new sequence of sunken rooms, courtyards, and water-filled courtyard have been added. At grade these rooms look like the exposed remains of a buried palace–the tops of walls now visible over uncovered (excavated) rooms. These rooms extend from the basement of the museum but in this southwesterly extension they are skylight lit and courtyard lit. They include the laboratories in which antiquities will be catalogued and the many different forms of material conservancy performed. These rooms include the library and researchers and conservators research area. These rooms are linked by an oversize corridor to the basement level of the museum where an oversize freight elevator permits the movement of very big objects to any of the exhibition levels in the museum.

These sunken rooms include several courtyards three of which have platforms within them and accessible to the public from the surrounding public park areas of the site. By making portions of the sunken courtyards accessible to the public the activities within the areas of conservation will be visible to casual and interested visitors regardless of whether they visit the museum. At the same time these courtyards and two additional ones provide light to conservation areas and outdoor rooms for the use of the museum staff.

In this area of sunken courtyards and in one of the courtyards there is an outdoor amphitheatre. It is visible from outside and accessible through the most public portion of the museum lobby. One of the sunken courtyards is adjacent to an existing cargo crane (one of three). This pairing of crane and courtyard is meant to permit delivery of large scale archaeological artifacts to the museum. The crane will offload artifacts from ships and deposit them in the receiving area of the courtyard. The poetry of movement that can be found in the operations of industrial equipment, described in this project brief’s account of the operations of The Cereals Stock Building and also visible in such canonical images of ports such as Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s film Marseille Vieux Port in which the mechanical operations of a port, ships and cranes, are vividly captured, is to be retained in the ongoing, if occasional operations of the Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

The sunken rooms rise to barely above grade, and are surrounded by a shallow reflecting pool to suggest the aquatic themes of the museum. The roofs of these rooms are covered in a dark polished stone to create reflections similar to those of the surrounding water as if all the rooms were under water. Finally, at the end of this sequence the reflecting pool deepens and grows larger. Here we propose that an artifact, or if necessary a facsimile of an artifact discovered through underwater archaeology be kept underwater. This underwater courtyard is visible from above, but also through an aquarium like window placed in the wall between it and the adjacent courtyard. Here, on a platform within the this adjacent courtyard members of the public may see a scene that recalls quite vividly and perhaps with some literalness the settings and sites of underwater archaeology.

Organization of exhibits: The combination of escalators placed within large passages cut through the silos creates a “chutes and ladders” like organization of the museum. Not that there are any chutes or ladders (of course), but because almost all the escalators bypass floors on ascents and descents that travel two floors at a time, and because of the sense that you are cutting through the building as you rise and fall, the pattern of circulation should have the allure and mystery that comes from the experience of short cuts and secret passage (all the while operating at a scale which is generous, public in feeling, and clear in the organization of movement).

The escalators create a linked sequence based upon the six themes proposed for the Museum. Thus from the ground floor lobby one ascends the first escalator two stories to floor two where the first theme (Sea, environment, man) is exhibited. At the end of each these exhibits, before rising or descending to the next theme, one passes through the experiential exhibit that creates the transition to the next theme. Thus at the end of exhibition galleries for theme one the experiential exhibit titled “what it is like to ride on ancient ship” is positioned. It combines partial physical ships with film projection beyond. The same is true at the end of each themed floor, each of which which ends in an experiential exhibit that creates the transition to the next themed exhibit floor.

The arrangement of themes from one through six is organized in a sequence that runs from the second floor to the fourth to the sixth, and then descends to the fifth, to the third. Themes five and six occupy the third floor.

The exhibitions related to the history and transformation of The Cereals Stock Building and its silos into the Museum of Underwater Archaeology is located on the third floor and is an integral part of the museum going experience.

Throughout the exhibits a combination of media and different manners of displaying artifacts are combined. Walls are built out smooth (eliminating the articulation of columns) in order to provide wall surface for multi-media projections. Objects will be exhibited on conventional pedestals, sometimes with multi-media backdrops. Supplemental materials: maps, wall graphics, digital models, interactive displays will all be included within the galleries. For instance on the fourth floor there are interactive quizzes, the large projection surface indicating the location of shipwrecks of archaeological interest throughout the Mediterranean, and the large scenographic surface for digital simulations. Each of the many specific program elements is indicated throughout the plans.

Warp and Woof, Organizing exhibitions in the silos: Three silos have been kept open through the section of the galleries (depending on the resolution of exhibition programming details, more might be opened up) These open voids running through the strata of the stacked gallery floors are, as it were the warp, in conjunction with the large circulation voids that have been opened through the silos, and they run through the woof of the many gallery floors. We have proposed hanging various objects, including large boats in these open silos, although it could also be smaller artifacts including even those in cases that are hung. The curatorial opportunities that we link to these open vertical voids are these: if the floors are organized by themes that divide up objects whether by geography, or time, or type of object, alternate themes can be used to organized materials hung within the silos. Thus if floors should be divided by the region, then the materials hung in the silos might belong to a single object type revealing in a vertical array the diversity (or similarity) that this object-type exhibits from region to region. If by contrast the floors were organized by time, that is as in the layers of an archaeological site, then the elements hung within a silo could expose a temporal cross section of a single comparable object type.

The combination of the excavated passages through the silos and the retention of vertically open silo spaces represent strategies by which the original form of the The Cereals Stock Building is used to advantage by the Museum. It generates curatorial concepts. But, it is also a means by which the original physiognomy of the building remains actively present in the structuring of experience in the museum. The conventional notion of adaptive reuse is lent a particular poignancy in the effective role that the historical forms of the original building play in the curatorial conception of the new museum. And, the museum thus becomes an archaeological site in and of itself.

Finally, the escalators, a common element thought they are, here possess a particular significance in the silo building recalling the machineries used for the movement of cereal, recast now in terms of the new uses: conveying visitors through the museum.

Staff and administrative offices: Staff and administration are located in close proximity to the galleries, but within the somewhat separate volume of the existing addition to the southwest end of the silos. Here taking advantage of existing windows these offices, principally on the second and third floors, with a VIP room on the first, have spectacular views out to the port overlooking the “archaeological” extension of sunken rooms to the southwest. These offices have a separate entrance, stairs and elevators accessed from the southwest corner of the building.
Site plan and major public amenities and museum entrance: Much of the site plan is developed to draw attention to the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. A combination of rectangular flower planters, surrounded by bench-height masonry enclosures alternate with rows of trees that all loosely radiate from the face of the southeastern façade of the museum. These rows of flowers and trees have a twofold role. Seen from the city-side approach from the north they appear as a shaded bosque. But, from the water’s edge they converge in rows upon the Museum.

The passengers of cruise ships docking at the southeastern edge of the site will enjoy the park like setting and be able to make their way along the radial paths towards the museum where it is hoped they will wish to visit. Whether they all visit the museum, they will all get a taste of the museum through the views into its courtyards, workshops and aquatic exhibition (at the southwest end of the site).

Museum Entrance: The entrance into the museum is made by following the same procedures used to make passages through the silos within the Museum: namely, a conical section is cut through the building at the ground level. The geometry of this opening, prominent in the otherwise solid figure of the silo building, is extended out to the edges of the site in a great telescoping pattern of distinct stone pavers.

Entrance to the museum is made off of this passage. A café and restaurant are situated at the ground level. The restaurant is at the northeastern end of the building and is accessed from the entry passage and looks out over the reflecting pool that surrounds it. At the southwestern end of the building a café, is accessed through the museum lobby and overlooks the outdoor amphitheatre (whose audience it can serve).

The educational area: This portion of the museum is on the mezzanine level surrounding and overlooking the lobby— visible and easily accessible. Located beneath silos with the original machinery of the silos visible, the setting is rich with the history of the silo site.

Parking: Outdoor parking has been provided at the northeastern end of the site, on the city side as provided for in the project brief, while additional underground parking is beneath the northwestern end of the building. Truck deliveries for the restaurants and for the museum are made from this underground parking lot with access to the rooftop elevator and to the freight elevators and to the conservation areas of the museum.

Sustainability: Most of the significant contributions to sustainability and to the qualification for such official recognition of LEEDS certification do not reside in the visual rhetorics of building form. The adaptive re-use of a building, in this case The Cereal Stock Building, is already a significant contribution to sustainability. The savings in materials and energy inputs in the production and transportation of materials is significant. It is our intention to add to this benefit by using as many locally sourced and recycled materials as possible. The benefits in energy savings from a well-designed HVAC system that recycles and purifies air, harvesting energy from it in order to reduce heating costs, and minimizing costly heat exchanges. It is our intention to develop with consultants should we be chosen such a state-of-the art system, budget permitting, for the proposed Museum of Underwater Archaeology. We also propose to process on site water runoff from park surfaces and building through a combination of holding tanks (installed during the time of construction of the sunken rooms mentioned above) and to use biotopes within some of the planting areas of the park to facilitate purification of water captured in underground holding tanks.