The Vézère valley in Dordogne, France, is a mecca of prehistory. It contains about 15 major sites, all on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Lascaux cave has one of the most important groups of Paleolithic rock wall art, both by its number and by the exceptional quality of its works.
The Lascaux IV project is in line with the decades of reflections and initiatives focused on reconciling the safeguarding of a heritage that is unique for the history of humanity.
The Lascaux IV site, in the Montignac-sur-Vézère commune, is on the border of the Vézère valley and the Lascaux hill. It is stretched out along the edge of an agricultural territory marked by human activity and a thick forest whose dense and tall vegetation plunges the undergrowth into the shade. At the intersection of these two contrasting landscapes, the project takes advantage of the geography and relief. It is building-landscape that seems like an incision, a horizontal fault that accentuates the line between the valley and the hill. Following contextual reasoning, the International Center of Rock Wall Art of Montignac-Lascaux has been designed with the existing strengths, the natural irregularities, with the place’s roughness.
The Lascaux cave, discovered in 1940, was opened to visitors in 1948. Very quickly, however, the first signs of alteration were observed, and its access was prohibited in 1963. In the years that followed, the research undertaken made the preservation of the heritage the first priority; kept intact for thousands of years and nonetheless so fragile. Concurrently, the desire to transmit this invaluable scientific and cultural wealth of Lascaux to the public, resulted in the idea of a replica. A first work, which partially reproduced the cave (Hall of Bulls), was completed 200 meters from the original. Lascaux II opened to the public in 1983. Through the development of replica techniques, a major exhibition was mounted in Montignac in 2008. Lascaux: The International Exhibition, also called Lascaux III, revealed scenes appearing in the cave’s nave – a gallery that had not been represented in Lascaux II. Today, this exhibition is still traveling throughout the world.It was in 2010, for the 70th anniversary of the Lascaux cave’s discovery, that the International Center of Rock Wall Art of Montignac-Lascaux project was announced. This center, called Lascaux IV, will inaugurate a new phase in the promotion of the knowledge of this exceptional site. It is a large-scale project whose aim is to house the virtually complete replica of the original cave (Hall of Bulls, Axial Gallery, the Passageway, The Shaft, the Apse, and the Nave), accompanied by a digital presentation and rock wall art interpretation spaces.
In a certain way, the spirit of Lascaux also guided the project’s architectural stance. It contributed to the development of a sober architectural proposal, without any ostentation or excess in forms or materials, and gave off a genuine power, notably in its dialogue with the elements: the relief, the forest, the rocks, and the light.
The choice of material was made in line with this desire for a building-landscape, which fits into the geography and which splits it. The floors (interior and exterior), the walls, the roof and the façade strip are made of the same architectural concrete that gives the whole a monolithic aspect. The unfinished treatment of the material evokes the mineral world - the rock of the hills and the cave. The project’s second material, glass, dominates in the façade and the roof of the orientation area. Together with the concrete, it produces a series of contrasting effects: opaqueness and transparency, light and shade, unfinished and sophisticated, rough and smooth. Their balance helps give the facility a unique contemporary feel.
As to uses and functions, International Center of Rock Wall Art of Montignac-Lascaux is an interpretation center. Unlike a museum in the traditional meaning of the word, an interpretation center does not exhibit collections of works, but has the objective of highlighting and explaining a site and its wealth. That is why architecture, site and pedagogic vocation are intrinsically combined here.
Visitors will be given 'Torches' at the beginning of the museum visit. When shined on the paintings, these interactive tools will reveal more info about the caves' history.
Snøhetta collaborated with lighting designers 8'18'' to create a lighting strategy that illuminated different portions of the caves as visitors passed through.