Unstable equilibrium | Íñigo García Odiaga

Museo de la mina de Almannajuvet (Noruega).
Museum of the Almannajuvet mine (Norway).

It is said that the classical Greek sculpture reached its maximum splendor when it began to use the contrapposto. This Italian term could be defined as the relation that the different parts of the body establish when initiating the movement. The weight of the body rests mainly on one leg, so that the corresponding hip rises with respect to the other, the trunk is stabilized compensating with the weight of the shoulders that instability and the body begins to move.

The sculpture freezes in this way a position in unstable equilibrium, which the body maintains fleetingly between one step and another of the walk. The muscular tension is such that even the marble blocks need reinforcements and in many of the classic pieces the characters appear supported or recostados on trunks, small columns or figured rocks that help to stabilize the human body.

This dynamic realism also seems to guide the last work of the architect Peter Zumthor, the museum of the zinc mines of Almannajuvet. The museum is divided into four small pavilions, four buildings that include a small museum, a cafeteria, a shelter and a service building, each offering a different view of the isolated landscape. Both the museum and the cafeteria stand on the strong slopes of the landscape, balanced by wooden meshes. Nearby, the service building is anchored on the cut of the river, clinging to a large stone wall that contains the road and a small parking lot.

Museo de la mina de Almannajuvet (Noruega).
Museum of the Almannajuvet mine (Norway).

This constellation of Almannajuvet buildings is also a response to the long process of more than 12 years that has taken the drafting and construction of the project. In this sense, the contamination of the project with others who inhabited the architect’s studio during those years is more than evident. The structure of wooden racks for drying fish that had inspired his Vardo project seems to be reinterpreted here.

In the same way, the asphalt coating used in the pavilion of the Serpentine Gallery in London, covers the different buildings replacing the cobalt blue material of the initial proposals. On the other hand, the final materiality of the four pieces alludes to the temporality, improvisation and modesty of the initial mining settlement, which with industrial materials, covered with corrugated sheet metal, boards and pieces of wood from the mine tunnel, formalized the remaining enclosures suspended on the slope.

But to place on the granite of Sauda, covered with moss, the new pieces that will rise on the steep slope of the mountain, Zumthor designed a feat of structural engineering complex that gives rise to dramatic views, which stress the landscape. The wooden scaffolding that solves the structure touches the ground with maximum tension, the metal pieces adapt to the slope of the rock, in a geometry that could slide at any time.

The wooden feet touch the ground like a ballet dancer on tiptoe, that is to say, with great muscular effort but with the elegance that this unstable equilibrium gives him, apparently, a being brimming with dynamism. A gesture similar to that of the contrapposto of the Greek sculptures, which despite being condemned to stillness like the structures of Zumthor seem ready to walk a new path.

Museo de la mina de Almannajuvet (Noruega).
Museum of the Almannajuvet mine (Norway).

Íñigo García Odiaga. Architect
San Sebastián. February 2017

Íñigo García Odiaga

Doctor Arquitecto y profesor asociado de Proyectos Arquitectónicos, ETSASS. Editor de NOMU. 1/5 del estudio de arquitectura VAUMM. Vivo en Donosti.

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