Foster + Partners' Roman history museum begins construction in south of France

Roman artefacts will be housed in this museum and archaeology centre by Foster + Partners, which is now under construction in France (+ slideshow).

Norman Foster's firm won a competition to design the Musée de la Romanité Narbonne (MuRéNA) in 2012, and the building is expected to complete in 2018.

Museum Narbonne by Foster and Partners

The British studio is working with French museum specialist Studio Adrien Gardère on the project, billed as a "showcase for the illustrious history of Narbonne".

Narbonne was once a major Roman port. The museum will host some of the ancient relics uncovered by archaeological digs in the area, as well as research and restoration facilities, an education centre, a library and storage areas.

Museum Narbonne by Foster and Partners

"Inspired by the natural setting and the fascinating collection of Roman artefacts, the building hopes to strengthen the connections with the landscape and the region's incredible past, as well as being a major centre for research, restoration and interpretation of the story of antiquity of the wider region," said Spencer de Grey, head of design at Foster + Partners.

The focal point of the public galleries will be a wall made from over 1,000 stone funerary blocks. The blocks are decorated with relief carvings and were recovered from the city's medieval walls in the 19th century.

The wall will separate visitors from a restoration workshop, which will be accessible during organised tours.

Museum Narbonne by Foster and Partners

According to Foster + Partners, visitors will be able to glimpse the work of the archaeologists and researchers through a "mosaic of stone and light".

"The flexible display framework allows the reliefs to be easily reconfigured and used as an active tool for learning," said the firm.

Museum Narbonne by Foster and Partners

Exhibition spaces are to be located around a central atrium – a key feature in Roman homes. Skylights and clerestory windows will light the mezzanine-level offices and ground-floor exhibition halls.

"A visit to the museum will be like going for a walk across one of these antique villas discovered in the Narbonne area," said Studio Adrien Gardère, which is based in Paris.

The single-storey museum will be topped by a large precast concrete roof, which will shelter wide walkways around the edge of the building.

Museum Narbonne by Foster and Partners

Gardens will run from the museum entrance towards the banks of the nearby Canal du Midi and feature an amphitheatre for open-air events. The landscaping will be based on formal French gardens and Roman courtyards to create "a tranquil, natural setting".

Foster + Partners has also recently unveiled a masterplan for a waterfront neighbourhood in Cairo and a slender skyscraper in New York.