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Copper Awards: Highly Commended

Villa Vauban, Luxembourg by Philippe Schmit Architects

The historic Villa Vauban is located in Luxembourg’s green belt and has hosted the municipal art gallery since 1959. In 2002, Philippe Schmit was commissioned to develop plans for a comprehensive renovation and extension project. This increases exhibition space from 350m² to 1200m² while respecting the site’s historic elements: a fortress wall, built by Vauban in 1739, and the villa dating from 1871−73, with its garden and public park from the same period. Essentially, the design aims to create a balance between buildings and landscape.

Integration is achieved by burying half of the volume underground and giving it a dynamic facade of translucent, large sheets of perforated brass, which reflects rather than dominates the park. The new architectural ensemble is clearly identifiable as a public building in its municipal park setting.

The new building provides two levels of exhibition spaces behind the villa, rising up from the foundation of the fortress wall below park level. Openings in the frontage create viewing points to help visitors’ spatial orientation and to reveal activities inside the museum to passers-by. The folds of the metal facade and roof surfaces covering the new building give a strong haptic quality and an impression of lightness while integrating it into the landscape. Internally, exhibition spaces are characterised by hammered concrete surfaces, etched translucent glass facades and oak wooden floors. The bare walls reveal small quartz crystals in the concrete, making them both tactile and light.

Old and new exhibition rooms have been integrated into flexible continuous spaces, with a linking entrance hall forming a transition between the two buildings. Galleries in the new extension have been articulated as superimposed flights of rooms. They are slightly offset along their longitudinal axis, creating setbacks and recesses for various uses, such as a sculpture gallery, a children’s workshop, a loggia with a view on to the park and a generous staircase leading to the lower exhibition level. These elements define the choreography of the museum circulation − slowing the pace and allowing visitors to savour the disappearing park landscape and appreciate details of textures and space within the building.

JURY COMMENTS

The jury was extremely impressed by this new addition to an existing art museum. Though the new parts are conspicuously of their time,
they form a sensitively judged counterpoint to the original historic building and the surrounding parkland landscape. The new extension is wrapped in delicately perforated panels of brass, and the jury especially admired how this metal skin appeared to dissolve at night, changing from an opaque surface to a sensuously glowing, translucent veil. The combination of aesthetic refinement and technical skill made this a stand-out project.

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