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THE BASALT PRECIPICE, NEW PREHISTORY MUSEUM
Gyeonggi-do Jeongok 2006
Republic of Korea

PROGRAM : International Architectural Competition for the New Prehistory Museum
LOCATION : Jeongok-ri Paleolithic Site, Il-won Gonung-ri san1, Yeoncheon-gun, Gyeonggi province in the mid-west part of the Korean peninsula
SURFACE AREA : 5 250 M²
PROMOTER : The Gyeonggi Provincial Government
PERSPECTIVES : Philippe Steels
The Jeongok-ri prehistoric site and its rich archaeological discoveries will welcome the new Prehistory Museum, the future window of this most important Palaeolithic region in world archaeology.


In the bowels of the earth :

The implantation concept of the project is based on the stratigraphical and geological studies having made appear a 20-meter-deep basalt precipice located under the ground level. This significant cliff shows accumulations of long history of nature and man in the underground starting from the vicinity of the north boundary of the building limit. Historically, the basalt was settled during the Quaterny from one volcano, named Mt. Ori in the Pyounggang plateau in the northern area of the region. The current Hantan river channel flows over Precambrian gneiss after a long erosion of the channels has left almost vertical basalt cliffs along the river.

This basalt precipice is exposed in the form of a huge longitudinal section which releases it on its whole height. True “backbone” of the project, the fault thus created articulates all the programme of the museum in the underground. The visitor is thus invited to go windingly along the rock and to sink progressively until twenty meters under the earth with monumental stairs so as to reach the museographical cavern. On the other end, some banisters enable to go back to the surface towards the prehistoric park. The Prehistory Museum coils up silently inside a long excavated hole such as a field of blank excavations of basalt. The museum erased itself in favour of the landscape and an emotional experience in the bowels of the History of the Earth and the Men.


The underground basalt cliff:

In front of the dark side of the basalt of the vertically laminated columns, the long North facade of the museum deploys itself in a regulated surface in glass and steel. The smooth part of the silica touches frontally the scratches of the volcanic rock. This exterior promenade along the underground wooded belt of the site is an initiation space to archaeological excavations. Actually, some cavities frame geometrically the rough surface of the basalt to offer the visitor’s eyes a true geological section telling all the stratigraphy of the Gyeonggi province. All the history of the site appears in this mineral in-between. In the heart of this precipice between the dilatations and the spatial contractions, the stairs and the banisters seem to rush down the difference in height such as a great lava flow in fusion. It is a meeting space in hypertension between the Man and the Nature at the rough state. It is a plan open to the conviviality between the humanity and its ancestors that invites the walker to discover the Prehistory.


The excavated cavern :

At less than twenty meters under the natural ground, in the heart of the precipice, the main entrance towards the interior parts of the museum takes the form of a pebble eroded by the time which punches the regulated glass facade. The voluptuous rock seems to leave the archaeological excavation and integrated the ticket machine and the security of the museum. After the entrance, an incredible cavern seems to deploys itself as a shock wave. On the varnished bottom with warm and ochre colours of the crystalline schists (coming from the river deposition, the erosion and the sedimentation during the Late Pleistocene) of the supporting wall, the thematic spaces of the museum take place successively in seven interconnected rooms in elliptic forms. A common hall enables the access of the public to each of them. The continuity with the exterior is assured by a ground treatment recovering also each of the three-dimensional ellipses. The ceiling of this cavern corresponds to the natural ground level. It seems to be in levitation, separated from the walls by a long horizontal glass fault diluting the natural light in the cavern. Moreover, oblique views from the promenade in surface are thus possible. Between the rooms and the basalt precipice, the hall distributes thus all the spread out programmation on a sole horizontal level.

The seven elliptic rooms :

The seven thematic spaces of the museum are clearly divided into seven different volumetric entities. Thus, each theme develops itself in a cavernous room developed on an elliptic plan. The whole space is as a built organisation chart which announces clearly the seven museum functions : administration, public amenity, exhibition, archive and storage, curatorial, educational, technical equipment.

The interior surfaces with gold colours of the seven elliptic rooms are ribbed so as to provide a structural stability. They are thus auto-supporting but linked by buffer spaces of storage and secondary circulations. The access to each of them is made through large surface deformations in form of embouchures. Thus, each function is in its own troglodytic entity such as holed in the rock recreating the Prehistory spirit of insertion in the landscape.


The cathedral of temporary and permanent exhibitions :

Central element of the Prehistory Museum, the great exhibition of 1 650 m² is spread out in an open space which is divided in alcoves in the way of a huge rock cathedral. Thus, the great ellipse deploys in its periphery a jagged ring dedicated to the temporary exhibitions. The ribs of the ceiling descend their loads of the ground by forming museum orifices peculiar to the presentations of the artefacts discovered on the excavation site. The 300 exhibition items (Acheulean artefacts, ovate handaxes, cleavers, picks), even small, are thus emphasized individually.

From this ring overhanging of three meters the central space of the cathedral, two circular banisters lead the visitor towards the permanent exhibition. A flexible lay out of mobile plinths enables to tell the Palaeolithic culture covering Jeongok-ri. In the centre, the keystone leave place to a zenithal canopy under which will be projected three-dimensionally by holography the most beautiful pieces discovered on the site such as the Acheulian handaxe. The natural history of human evolution from Palaeolithic era to Prehistoric era related to Jeongok-ri site and simultaneous images of the archaeological excavation site will be described also by virtual projection.

As each era is the result of technological innovations, the project mixes in an organic way the paradox of building a prehistoric museum in an urban contemporary context. The articulation of the scenography and the museographic spaces put into tension the past and the future, the smooth parts and the striated parts, the polishness et the voluptuousness, the air parts and the underground. The “Basalt Precipice” is a silent project from the surface but its judicious implantation sets up a coherent outline that will branch out the flows between the prehistoric park, the Hantan River and its Entertainment Park, the History-Culture Village and the six-lane no.3 national highway which links Seoul, Euijungbu, Dongducheon and Yeoncheon.

COPYRIGHT : VINCENT CALLEBAUT ARCHITECTURES