At Mansilla + Tuñón’s Museum of Contemporary Art, or MUSAC, in northern Spain, bold artistic statements aren’t just reserved for the galleries – just look at the curtain walling

In León’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a kaleidoscopic facade of multicoloured cladding panels faces on to a new civic square
In León’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a kaleidoscopic facade of multicoloured cladding panels faces on to a new civic square

Forget ABout that lumbering power station that was transformed into London’s Tate Modern and that disused dockside flour mill that became Gateshead’s Baltic art gallery. The regional government of Castillo and León in northern Spain has had the audacity to create its £12m museum of modern art in – if you can believe it – a purpose-built modern building. Not standard modern either, but an overtly avant-garde building – as if to say that modern art might have some role in pushing forward the frontiers of our built environment.

To achieve this heroic, if risky, ambition in the regional capital of León, the council commissioned a design from Luis Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón. This dynamic due combine teaching at Madrid’s school of architecture with winning a string of competitions for cultural buildings including León’s new concert hall, completed in 2002.

For their latest trick, rather than contain the 10,000 m2 of floor space within a single building, they have strung it out into an interconnected complex of buildings. The newly completed Museum of Contemporary Art, or MUSAC for short, is a miniature city of angular towers, lower blocks, enclosed courtyards and an expansive amphitheatre-shaped civic plaza.

Although the blocks are mainly single storey, a multistorey effect is created by dividing the enclosing glazed curtain walls into three horizontal bands for each floor. This effect is intensified by tinting the glazed panels in a kaleidoscope of rainbow colours from warm gold to fresh lime and smouldering maroon.

Internally, the complex turns out to be a meandering sequence of concrete halls that are lofty, top-lit and jagged. As exhibition spaces, the halls and intervening patios can be regarded as separate or combined to create long interconnecting vistas.

Mansilla + Tuñón says: “In contrast to other types of museum space, which focus on the exhibition of frozen historic collections, MUSAC is a living space that opens its doors to the wide-ranging manifestations of contemporary art.” A living space, they add, where the architectural and artistic experiences are created by the movement of visitors.

Contemporary art, contemporary architecture and a contemporary experience.

Project team
client Castillo and León regional government
Mansilla + Tuñón Arquitectos
JG Asociados