Material Focus. San Telmo Museum Expansion by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos

The original San Telmo Museum building, a Dominican convent built in the 16th century, is the result of a long process of successive modifications that have partially altered its physical and functional aspect.1 In the design of a new extension for the museum, Spanish architects, Nieto Sobejano were tasked with creating an architecture that respects the rich history of the museum and its surrounding landscape while providing a contemporary solution made possible using current building techniques.

One of the most prominent features of the new extension is a truly unique façade that plays a central role in helping the new building respect the existing architecture and interact with the surrounding landscape.  In collaboration with artists Leopoldo Ferrán and Agustina Otero, Nieto Sobejano designed a wall system with layers of depth in terms of functionality. The façade is made from a series of crisp, two-sided, cast aluminum panels with angled holes that penetrate the full depth of the panel. The panels are mounted on steel framing that connects back to the main structure. By rotating and flipping the panels inside out, the designers were able to achieve a remarkably varied appearance across the façade and one that looks non repetitive to all but the most observant eye.

While the material technique of the cast aluminum panels is interesting, it is a combination of this material choice and a well-considered design that make the façade of the San Telmo Museum extension remarkably successful. The holes in the panels serve multiple functions and provide several effects at varying distances. From a distance, they make the exterior of the building appear to be pitted on a slightly larger scale than the ancient stone of the existing building. The textured, pitted effect fits comfortably into the rocky, hillside backdrop in which the museum is set while the crisp exterior edges of the façade distinguish the extension as contemporary. It is only from an up close view that the sharp, manufactured edges of the holes become apparent. From planters hung inside the cavity, between the panels and the structure, plants grow out through the holes in the panels seeking sun. Not only is the vertically, vegetative wall representative of current cultural and design thinking, but it also references the hardy plants hanging onto the rocky hillside behind the museum. As the plants grow, the face of the museum extension will become a sort of extrusion of the mountain, with it’s flat metal and, crisp lines distinguishing it as man made.

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