MuSE - Museo delle Scienze

Trento, Italy


Peak Performance: MuSE, Trento, Italy

Almost a decade in the planning, the MuSE (Museo delle Scienze) project is an ambitious feat of institutional evolution. MuSE had long since outgrown its home within the walls of an historic building in the center of Trento. The Museum had been situated theer since the late 1800s; it desperately needed room to expand further and reimagine its public and research spaces fit for the 21st century.

The solution involved migrating the contents of an entire museum to a new location. Exhibitions, collections, staff and facilities – everything was decanted and reorganized for a brand new, state-of-the-art museum building, designed by celebrated Genoa-based architects, Renzo Piano.

Located on the banks of the Adige River, at the heart of a new urban cultural quarter that transformed an abandoned industrial zone, the new museum opened in 2013. It is a remarkable achievement. It stands out for its attention to environmental sustainability and an eye-catching modernist look that pays homage to the nearby mountains; the shapes of the building create geometric interplays that perfectly reflect the surrounding landscape of the Dolomites, and the engaging scientific and cultural journey of discovery that visitors experience within.

Set over six levels with a dramatic central void space, MuSE brings together the specimen-rich and traditional approach found in natural history museums with new themes, aquariums, a tropical greenhouse that recreates a slice of Tanzanian rainforest, and the interactive methods of modern science centers.

Utilizing its unique alpine setting, MuSE explores the local region’s human story, from early evidence of ancient hunter-gatherers through centuries of settlement and modification of the natural environment. It shows visitors the close, interconnected relationships between people and nature across the different altitudinal zones of this UNESCO World Heritage landscape. Height and space are exploited to impressive effect with suspended and free-standing specimens populating each area as part of a ‘zero gravity’ concept.

For Goppion, this project was truly a unique challenge. In addition to providing the display cases for which we are world-famous, we were also asked to fulfill the role of fit-out contractor. This entailed directing and coordinating the complex installation on the interior, which went far beyond engineering and supplying single elements.

The actual museum display cases made up just a small part of Goppion’s work. Designed by Piano’s studio and based on a series of unique installations, each case required engineering studies, prototyping and dedicated testing. But the ‘zero gravity’ concept also required many objects to float in the air with their supports and containers, which are invisible and minimalist, separated from the context of their surroundings. Thus tables are ‘loose’ and maintain only their horizontal surface in wood. Legs are reduced to simple steel reinforcing rods, which anchor them to the structure.

The MuSE void is anything but an empty space – in fact, it’s filled with life. Animals and birds are displayed along a spiral that gets increasingly narrower; all taxidermy is organized by the altitudinal habitats in which species are found, from the lowland plains to the highest peaks. Floating levels intersect and are connected by steel cables create an enormous ‘house of cards’, that has lightness as its dominant theme. But this doesn’t mean that the complexity of the building is hidden and, symbolically, neither is the complexity of natural evolution.

As part of this evolutionary narrative, visitors travel down to the basement level and into the past, to discover a gallery of dinosaurs and other ancient life. There, prehistoric Trentino is recreated based on the extraordinary fossil evidence found in the Dolomites region, stretching back more than 280 million years.

Once again, Goppion worked closely with the Museum’s artistic and scientific directors, bringing life and substance to their vision with elegant and practical solutions. What was once imagined on paper became a tangible expression made of real structures – cables, wires, tie beams, glass, display cases, supports, graphics and multimedia. Goppion’s solutions created the best expressions for the cultural and formal messages the MuSE team had in mind when they dreamt of an entirely new building.