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The 6th Messner Mountain Museum – half buried, half floating – sits at an altitude of 2,275 meters on the Kronplatz plateau between the Puster and Gader valleys. Photo © www.wisthaler.com
His 15th peak over eight thousand meters
by Franziska Horn
10/27/2015

A building that is creating quite a stir even on the other side of the Atlantic: “Mountain meets design,” wrote the New York Times in July 2015, and showed a photo of work # 6. And it is true the “MMM Corones”, the final Messner Mountain Museum (MMM), sits at an altitude of 2,275 meters on the Kronplatz plateau between the Puster and Gader valleys. “The museum chain was founded by Reinhold Messner,” explains the NYT author. Hang on a minute. Messner is building? An entire chain of buildings even, some at mountain height, on peaks? Who is not reminded of that brilliantly engineered sketch from 1988, when for the german Candid Camera version Kurt Felix installed a kiosk at an altitude of 4,000 meters on the top of the Matterhorn in order to pull the leg of Messner, a man known for his angry outbursts. The episode went down in TV history. And anticipated the credo of the greatest mountaineer of all times to campaign vociferously against the Alps being spoiled. (see Youtube – german only)

Mountaineering, mountains, and building in the mountains – these are the key issues Messner addresses today. And he has put a lot into them – physically, mentally and financially. The museum project alone is said to have cost around 30 million euros, shouldered by Messner and the Northern Italian province. The idea behind it? When you are the first person to conquer 14 peaks, all of them over 8,000 meters and without oxygen you have pushed the boundaries of what humans can do. Moreover, as the main actor and chronicler of international Alpinism Messner has struggled with the power of nature and experienced firsthand what it means to be exposed to its forces alone on a mountain. Which leads to introspection and existential questions. The journey in your mind that is the real journey. And as Messner is both someone who hunts records and a collector of cultural assets on his 100 or so expeditions in almost all mountains and deserts of the world he has not only collected personal experiences, but also a wealth of items from foreign cultures and philosophies, art and artisanship but also relics from mountaineers and mountain peoples. Both intellectual and material. That is his legacy. It was to give these items a home and to take others with him on his journeys that he started his museum project in 1995. An immense enterprise that he calls his “15th peak over 8,000 meters”.

Flashback: In 1983 Messner bought the ruined castle of Juval in Vinschgau. He had it restored and lived there. In 1995 he opened an exhibition called “Alpine Curiosa” in Sulden. Parallel to this in “MMM Juval” he showed exhibits under the title “The Mountain Myth”. While prolonged disputes delayed the opening of “MMM Firmian” in Sigmundskron Castle, the heart of the museums “MMM Dolomites” was created on the peak of Monte Rite between Pieve di Cadore and Cortina d’Ampezzo. Topic: “Vertical worlds”. In 2004 at an altitude of 1,900 meters “MMM Ortles” near Sulden opened its underground doors with the subject “The World of Ice”. With its jagged skylight the concrete building mimics the line of a crevasse. Finally, in 2006 “MMM Firmian” opened in Sigmundskron Castle near Bolzano. As the center of Messner’s museum chain it illustrates man’s encounter with the mountains. Then in 2011 the fifth museum in the series opened in an old castle in Bruneck, the “MMM Ripa” with a focus on “The Mountain Peoples”.

Look more closely and one thing is clear: Apart from MMM Ortles Messner only uses ruins or existing historical buildings as locations, which he then extensively restores and modernizes. As such there are no grounds whatsoever for the many critics who argue Messner disfigures or even ruins the mountains with his buildings. Another interesting point: Messner had a different architect design and realize each museum. “I didn’t want any repetitions,” says Messner by way of explanation. In particular the conversion of the “MMM Firmian” shows in many details that the mountaineer not only invented the so-called “Alpine style” but also transferred it to the construction. The criteria are clearly outlined: minimally invasive, true to the original, using only those measures absolutely necessary, and after 30 years ready to be removed without trace.

In July 2015 “MMM Corones” opened its doors. But why locate it on the region’s number one skiing mountain? You have to imagine the Kronplatz as a kind of guglhupf. On the busiest days in winter 32 lifts ferry up to 23,000 visitors to the plateau, while on summer days numbers never top 2,500. All that is missing here are roundabouts and traffic lights. “Originally,” explains Messner, who at that time of the year was out scouting for a sixth location, “Kronplatz AG was planning a viewing platform here. Zaha Hadid had won the tender for it. But I advised against it. It would have been counterproductive”. He was able to win over the developers. Names like Messner or Hadid are global brands, and a guarantee for international attention – in other words well-calculated value-added. Hadid designed the building which covers 1,000 square meters. The cost: 3 million euros. In keeping with Messner’s concept the building was realized underground.

But do Messner’s dreams for a museum go with Hadid’s style? The one or other has described Hadid’s flowing architectural forms as a designer’s campaign against right angles and argues that in a kind of manic repetition Hadid only ever quotes herself. One thing is clear: her diagonal lines emulate the natural course of mountain slopes much more than any cube planted in the area would. Reinhold Messner himself says about Zaha Hadid: “She is more of an artist and designer than an architect. And that is how she operates. She does her thing and sees it through. Her architecture is not aligned to the content, but stands for itself. And the computer supplies the curves.”

Indeed, in 2002 with the Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck Zaha Hadid scored a great success, both in design and functional terms. “A landmark”, Messner calls the ski jump. But he deliberately chose not to construe “MMM Corones” as a “landmark” – with its topical focus on traditional alpinism and the development of modern mountaineering. Instead, what he had wanted here, as with “MMM Ortles” previously, was to deliver an image for the future: “We deliberately set it into the rock face so as to leave the landscape largely unspoiled and also better exploit climatic conditions. This experiment up there goes much further than people realize!” In fact, with “Corones” Messner also plays with views and lines of vision: “They draw the eyes to the routes on my first ascents, to the Heiligkreuzkofel, the Geislerspitzen, the Peitlerkofel – or the land developed by man in the valley”.

What Messner cannot deny is that some exhibits, for example, large paintings by Compton or the collection of historic pitons clash visually with the building’s organic, dynamic lines; sometimes they actually appear out of place. Messner admits he found it difficult arranging his works satisfactorily in the rooms. “Hadid congratulated me, she thinks things are presented well. But she would prefer it if there were nothing in it. I am quite sure of that,” Messner says and laughs. Back in the valley the one or other visitor is convinced: The mountain could only benefit from “MMM Corones”. It remains to be seen whether the much-cited Bilbao-effect will also come about in the Puster Valley.


Book tip:
Andreas Gottlieb Hempel
“Die Messner Mountain Museen” – Architektur & Berge,
hardback, 160 p., Callwey Verlag, 2011,
EUR 64.00
ISBN 978-3-7667-1911-9

The book documents the first five museums that Reinhold Messner realized. Photographs, architect’s plans and information on the exhibitions explain the concept

The viewing platform draw the eyes to the routes on Messners first ascents: to the Heiligkreuzkofel, the Geislerspitzen and the Peitlerkofel. Photo © Inexhibit
The exhibition topical focus is on traditional alpinism and the development of modern mountaineering. The lighting solution in the exhibition spaces of the building with its organic, dynamic lines comes from Zumtobel. Photo © www.wisthaler.com
Messner is a collector of cultural assets: On his 100 or so expeditions in almost all mountains and deserts of the world he has collected a wealth of items from foreign cultures and philosophies, art and artisanship but also relics from mountaineers and mountain peoples.
Photo © Tappeiner AG
"MMM Firmian" is the center of the museum chain and illustrates in the exhibition the confrontation between man and mountain. Photo © Paolo Zanzi
In 2004 at an altitude of 1,900 meters “MMM Ortles” near Sulden opened its underground doors. Photo © Tappeiner AG
With its jagged skylight the MMM Ortles building mimics the line of a crevasse – which fits quite well to the exhibition’s topic „The World of Ice”. Photo © Tappeiner AG
The "MMM Dolomites" is located on the top of Monte Rite between Pieve di Cadore and Cortina d'Ampezzo. Photo © Tappeiner AG
"Vertical World and Rock Climbing" is the exhibition focus at the "MMM Dolomites". Photo © Tappeiner AG
Messner's first project: the ruin Juval in Vinschgau, where he also lives. Photo © Tappeiner AG
Names like Messner or Hadid are global brands, and a guarantee for international attention – in other words well-calculated value-added fort he regions. Photo © Franziska Horn
“We deliberately set it into the rock face so as to leave the landscape largely unspoiled and also better exploit climatic conditions. This experiment up there goes much further than people realize!”, explains Messner. Photo © Werner Huthmacher
Construction Timelapse. Video © Zaha Hadid Architects