Vitoria, Spain

Francisco “Patxi” Mangado, the 54-year-old Spanish architect, compares his bronze-clad Archaeological Museum of Álava in Vitoria, Spain, to a “coffer guarding a treasure.” He has developed this apparently simple conceit at a number of different levels in the work, so that it acquires a sensual resonance that reaches beyond words to convey his poetic intent.

The “coffer” is composed of three gallery levels housing the permanent collection, with floors, walls, and ceilings finished in dark wenge wood. Five narrow glass shafts bring in daylight, descending from the roof to pierce all three floors at different angles. The galleries, featuring regional relics from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages, evoke an unexplored archaeological site, an underground mine, or a sunken ship. As visitors wander among the translucent shafts, spotlights tripped by movement sensors illuminate objects and vitrines. “The interior couldn’t simply be a well-organized space or a handsome play of forms,” Mangado explains. “It had to be capable of suggesting places and people with, say, a small fragment of clay that speaks to us of fragility and time.”

The architect uses the contrast between the building’s bronze and glass skin and its setting within Vitoria’s medieval core to further develop his evocation of archaeological layering. A quiet city of 230,000, Vitoria is the capital of the Basque region, with a rich history dating back to the sixth century AD. The museum, a mixed concrete-and-steel-frame structure, is part of an ongoing effort by local authorities to rehabilitate the medieval center, which has been in decline through most of the 20th century. Located on one of its livelier streets lined with bars, old shops, and a few monumental buildings, the museum adjoins the 16th-century Bendaña Palace. In 1994 the palace was renovated to house the Fournier Museum of Playing Cards as the town’s homage to a well-known local industry. The two museums now share a common entry court.

The Archaeological Museum stands out in a respectful yet contemporary manner in the stone-and-brick neighborhood. The vertical vanes of bronze convey solidity and depth despite the fact that the cladding is a nonstructural skin. The luxurious industrial material subtly harks back to the ancient civilizations of the Bronze Age, while the patina that bronze acquires through the years offers yet another mark of time.

This skin is not uniform. The two sides of the entry court — the main facade and a side wing that houses temporary exhibitions and offices — are sheathed in a glass curtain wall, luminous and open in contrast to the bronze-clad walls facing the surrounding streets. The burnished coffer seems to glow from within, particularly when approached from the entry courtyard. Here visitors see an interior stair with clear glass balustrades that floats up past the three gallery levels. The wall between the stair and the galleries is finished in translucent glass backed by mirrored glass so that the core appears to be a void of light held within a bronze cage. 

On the two sides of the building facing back streets, the skin presents a virtually closed surface of bronze vanes (designed in part for their resistance to graffiti). Large windows deeply set in handsome cedar surrounds puncture the bronze; the thick exterior walls contain interior display cases. Inside the galleries, these windows, boring through the walls, offer a counterpoint to the vertical light shafts. The windows frame surprisingly intimate glimpses of rundown buildings across the narrow streets of the old neighborhood.

Mangado’s mastery of spatial organization reveals itself in other details, such as the light trench that separates the entry from the court. It brings light into the underground research library, and is spanned, like a castle moat, by a wood-paved entry bridge. The irregular jogs of the side wing help modulate the spatial experience of entering the building from the street.

Based in nearby Pamplona, Patxi Mangado has achieved prominence in Spain for civic works such as his Baluarte Auditorium and Congress Center in his native city [record, March 2005, page 78] or his Spanish Pavilion at the Expo Zaragosa of 2008. Like his other projects, the Archaeological Museum exemplifies Mangado’s identification with the Modern movement that many Spanish architects have maintained with great vitality over the last few decades. In all of his work Mangado upholds the ideals of a functional layout and structural logic of 20th-century masters, and applies them to expressive ends chiefly through the sensual qualities of the materials he chooses and his manipulation of volumes in space.

David Cohn, who received his M.Arch. from Columbia University, is a Madrid-based correspondent for RECORD.

Total construction cost: €9 million

Mangado y Asociados
Vuelta del Castillo, 5, Ático
31007 Pamplona (Navarra)
Phone: +34 948 276202
Fax: +34 948 176505


Diputación Foral de Álava (Provincial Government of Álava)

Mangado y Asociados
Vuelta del Castillo, 5, Ático
31007 Pamplona (Navarra)
Phone: +34 948 276202
Fax: +34 948 176505

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architects and work direction: Francisco Mangado

Collaborators (architecture): Jose Gastaldo, Richard Král’ovič, Eduardo Pérez de Arenaza

Structural engineering: NB 35 SL Ingenieros

Mechanical engineering: Iturralde y Sagüés Ingenieros / César Martín

Quantity surveyor: Laura Montoya López de Heredia

Museography and Exhibition Assembly: Empty

General contractor: UTE Arqueología (Dragados SA, Lagunketa SA)

Roland Halbe
phone: +49 711 6074073
fax: +49 711 6074178

Pedro Pegenaute
phone     +34 660 683 447

CAD system, project management, or other software used:



Structural system
Metal structure: Goros, Talleres La Casilla

Concrete structures and formworks: Estructuras de hormigón Onarri SL

Post-tensioned elements: CTT Stronghold SA

Exterior cladding
Masonry: Iberdouro

Bronze panels on façade: Dragados and Lagunketa, Connectic

Supplier of bronze: KME Locsa

Metal: Goros

Bronze cladding: Connectic

Glass: Etxeglass

Wood: Tarimas y parquets Gamiz SA

EIFS, ACM, or other:Gabiria

Moisture barrier: Alimco

Built-up roofing:Pavimentos de Tudela

Wood frame: Tarimas y Parquets Gamiz S.A.

Metal frame: Inoxfelgon

Glass: Etxeglass, Secrisa

Metal doors: Lama

Wood doors:Gamiz

Sliding doors: Dorma

Fire doors: Noratek, VTL

Sliding doors: Dorma

Extension jamb kits: Oca Industrial

Locksets: Lama

Exit devices:SVC

Security devices: SVC, Tecdoa

Other special hardware: Domotic control: Tecdoa

Interior finishes
Partitions: Fejeme Norte, Aisnor

False ceilings: Fejeme Norte, Aisnor

Wall coverings: Wood: Tarimas y Parquets Gamiz S.A.

Paneling: Tatec

Floor and wall tile: Resins in flooring: Oca Industrial SA

Office furniture: Urretabizkaia, Ofita, Kemen Haworth

Reception furniture: Mobaux

Fixed seating: Dynamobel

Other furniture:
Wings of exposure: Empty

Mobile shelving: Grupo EUN

Interior ambient lighting: Eskoop, Ca2L

Downlights:Eskoop, Ca2L

Exterior:Eskoop, Ca2L

Elevators/Escalators: Electra Vitoria


Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Electricity, public-address system, voice, data: Eskoop

Air conditioning: Venticlima

Fire detection, access control: SVC

Fire network: Rabsal

Metalwork (stainless): Inoxfelgon, Calderería César

Metalwork (iron): Vemsa, Talleres Ral, Lama

Paints: Adok

Prefabricated concrete elements: Pavimentos de Tudela

Monolayer application: Armentia

Polyurethane application: Gabiria

Sandwich roof, Tramex_ Oli-Cer

Brick: Jorge Fernández

Tiles: Disdelan

Deployee: Veca-Tech

Lifeline: Proteclan

Soundproofing: Sico Ayala

Masonry workers: Oberduoro

Companies that worked with COMSA at the start of construction:
Demolition and digging: Excavaciones P. Fernández SA

Fibercement dismantling: Cespa Conten

Micropilotis: Perforaciones y Sondeos SA

Masonry: Construcciones Subhani SL

Scaffolding: Nopin Alavesa SA

Post-tensioned elements: CTT Stronghold SA

Damp-proofing: Alimco SL

Insulation: Aislamientos Vascos Isocas SL