Shelters for a Roman Archaeological Site, from the Zumthor Project / scores and images (Sheet: II 2)
Hans Danuser, Peter Zumthor

Gelatin silver print
19¹¹⁄₁₆ × 15¾"

Chur is no less than the oldest town in Switzerland: the first settlements found at the site date to 3.500BC. In 15BC the Roman Empire conquered the village and designated Chur (Curia Raetorum) to be the capital of their new funded Roman province of Curia – hence the name Chur. In those days the location at the right shore of the Rhine River was a strategic crossroad where several of the major Alpine transit routes came together before continuing down river. The Romans inhabited the area that is nowadays called Welschdörfli, just off the historic town center of Chur.

In modern days archaeological excavations uncovered a complete Roman quarter. The authorities decided to preserve the excavations and to open them for public exhibition. Local Swiss architect Peter Zumthor was chosen as responsible for the design.

Zumthor came up with a design of wooden pavilions that functions not only as a protective cover but a museum and a veritable architectural jewel. The timber lamella shelters allow visitors to comprehend the original extent of the Roman buildings, providing a visible and physical form to distinguish the ancient remains in sharp contrast to the modern city.

The new entrance takes place in one of the side facades. Almost hidden, an enigmatic metal box comes out apparently suspended from one of the building’s wooden facades. Avoiding any contact with the ground, this mysterious floating access contains a small stair and a solid steel door.

Just a few steps up, the stainless steel door opens into a long modern metal footbridge which runs across the interior of all the buildings at a raised observation level. Suspended here above the ground Zumthor’s design definitely works as a time machine that allows the visitor the unique opportunity of walking down the stairs to step on real Roman soil. —arcspace

Hans Danuser (born in 1953 in Chur) is a Swiss artist and photographer.

(Photo: MoMA & arcspace)