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Famous cave paintings get Snøhetta-designed visitor center

A massive replica of the Lascaux cave paintings has opened in the south of France

A low, long concrete building is built into the side of a hill, its roof line echoing the site’s undulations with jagged points. Much of the facade is glazed.
The museum acts like a fissure in the landscape.
© Boegly + Grazi, courtesy of Snohetta

Renowned international firm Snøhetta has designed an immersive educational center of the prehistoric Lascaux cave paintings in southern France.

Lascaux IV: The International Centre for Cave Art recreates, in part, the ancient Paleolithic cave paintings of large animals that are thought to be over 17,000 years old. Discovered in 1940 by an 18-year-old and opened to the public eight years later, the cave, known by archaeologists as the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistory,” has been closed since 1963 in an effort to preserve the art.

Conceived as an “interpretation center,” the 90,000-square-foot museum pairs experiential storytelling technology with a replica of the caves offering visitors the opportunity to discover the caves as if they were their original explorers.

The vast center acts like a fissure in the landscape and sits at the foot of the hill where the original cave is located, at the intersection of a dense forest and the agricultural Vézère Valley. Its jagged roof line, constructed from unfinished concrete, echoes the undulations of its site, while its glazed facade creates a seamless indoor-outdoor connection. A skylight runs along the entire length of the roof, providing natural light overhead.

© Boegly + Grazia

Visitors follow a carefully designed course, beginning on the roof, then descending into the cave replica, which feels damp, dark, and chilly, and was created through 3D laser scanning and hand-painted by 25 artists. From the cave, visitors emerge into a transitional garden space, before entering into an exhibition space enhanced by interactive technology and facsimiles of the main paintings that can be studied up close.

The Oslo and New York-based firm behind the SFMOMA expansion worked with scenographer Casson Mann (based in London), local firm Duncan Lewis, and SRA Architectes on the center.

© Boegly + Grazia
© Eric Solé
© Boegly + Grazia
© Eric Solé
© Boegly + Grazia