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A Cavernous Museum Designed For 17,000-Year-Old Cave Paintings

How do you share art from the beginnings of mankind? Take visitors to the source, deep underground.

About 17,000 years ago, people painted on the walls of a cave in Lascaux, France. These creations–many of which depict animals that are extinct today–weren’t even discovered until the 1940s. But by 1963, the paintings had to be sealed off from the public, as the carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors was damaging the works, and so much exposure led new funguses to take root.

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Now, a proposal by Snøhetta, Duncan Lewis, and Casson Mann will open up the paintings to the public once again. The new Montignac-Lascaux International Centre of Cave Art will sit flat within a crevasse in the landscape, like paint sinking into rough stone. The museum is like a modernist cave, as it consists of a network of caverns and tunnels that appear to be reinforced with concrete, immersing 400,000 visitors a year in an experience far grander than the paintings themselves.

To view the works, visitors will go on a bit of a journey, donning a cloak and an “interactive torch” before making their way through a forest, into the earth and, as their eyes adjust in a cavern, through a stream of light pouring in from a heavenly fissure, shining down on the ancient artwork. The designers call it “an almost sacred and spiritual atmosphere,” and I can believe it. But no doubt those high ceilings and open air skylights double with a practical purpose, too–to increase air circulation and protect the paintings for generations to come.

[Hat tip: Arch Daily]

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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