Built on brownland, the building is part of Renzo Piano Building Workshop's (RPBW) wider regeneration of Trento's Le Albere district, an 11-hectare industrial site that lies next to the Adige river. The site of a former Michelin factory, which was closed in 1998, the site and its regeneration is central to Trento's hope to tie its city centre closer to the Adige through the creation of cultural and recreational facilities on its bank.
The MUSE's drama derives from its distinctive roofing. Steeply angled glass and metal roof panels cut down to define the space, causing the interiors to fluctuate between three and six storey volumes. The intention is to create a flexible museum that accommodates research facilities and private offices to the east, before opening out into an open plan six storey exhibition space, hung with taxidermy and skeletons.
The building's roofs also serve an aesthetic purpose, echoing the peaks of the Dolomite mountain ranges that lie to Trento's north. “The idea of the roofs was important because we are in a deep valley, and the area is really visible from above," says one of the project's architects, Danilo Vespier. "You just need to drive half an hour into the mountains and you can look down on the area as if it was an architectural model.
"The idea was just to play with the slopes that give also the idea of the location of the building near the mountain.”
To the west of the building is a greenhouse, in which tropical plants are being grown. It is an exhibit in keeping with the architecture. Rainwater that falls on the museum's roofs is collected for reuse in the museum's services and to irrigate the plant species grown inside the structure, while the museum, as much as possible, will also be powered using renewable energy. "With a science museum you need to push sustainability," says Vespier.
The nearby Adige river forms a barrier to south of the Albere site, while a system of canals have been dug throughout the site, which feed a central pool upon which the MUSE has been constructed.
"The area is really close to the river but the relation between the town and the river has never really been direct," says Vespier. "So the idea was to use the canals as 'streets' running through the project and to highlight the public buildings. So the museum to the north sits on a pool, while a planned theatre to the south will also rest on the water. They're the north and south poles of the area, with water channels connecting the two."
This sense of connection to its surroundings is the defining feature of the MUSE, the first major statement of the 11 years that RPBW have spent working on the Albere masterplan.
“You have to try and think about how to together shapes across the project," says Vespier. "We wanted to do something coherent. We're using curved roofs and flat roofs, and little by little building up this whole area out of all these small blobs."