For almost 100 years oil shale was mined in the Messel Pit near Darmstadt in central Germany. Here very well preserved fossils were found again and again in the course of mining operations. After the mine was closed in 1971 it turned – due to the great number of fossils that it contains – into an archaeological excavation and was placed under UNESCO protection as a World Heritage Site. The Zurich based practice Holzer Kobler Architekturen recently completed the scenography and interior design for the Visitors Center of the exhibition.
Here is what the architects explain:
“The layers of oil shale serve as the motif upon which the entire building design is based. The floor plan looks like a view of a cross-section of the rock, with long, parallel concrete walls representing the different layers. We’ve extended this spatial concept to the interior design, so that in walking through the exhibition visitors symbolically penetrate through four layers of rock. Every room layer is subdivided by transverse glass walls into multiple, individually designed exhibition rooms. Crystalline shaped showcase units, interior constructions that resemble blocks of stone, and a large curved surface that resembles the acclivity of a crater wall are wedged in between the parallel walls like fossils or sediments. The interior elements are made to contrast with the exposed concrete architecture by means of their colorful forms.”
“In the foyer visitors can already begin learning about the mine. The tour of the exhibition itself begins in the Landschaft (Landscape) room with the story of the creation of the Messel Pit. A short film exploring the many different aspects of the site is then shown in the theater. Afterwards visitors are taken on a virtual ride into the depths of the pit − a kaleidoscopic journey in time through the world of rocks. The tour of the exhibition continues along the 24- meter long original drill core, describing a trip through the different layers of rock, all the way to the layers of oil shale. In the Eocene jungle visitors are immersed in a sultry, shimmering world, created by means of moving pictures and sounds. The way to the exhibition’s center piece, the vault, leads through the Evolution room. In the vault itself original fossils are presented as valuable treasures from the pit. These witnesses to a world now ossified leave a lasting impression.”