Lascaux IV is honored with the Houen Foundation Award

In a ceremony at the Norwegian National Museum on Wednesday 20th September, Snøhetta was presented the Houen Foundation Award for Lascaux IV: International Centre for Cave Art.

The museum in southwest of France offers visitors an immersive educational experience of prehistoric paintings through modern storytelling technology and a copy of an original underground cave discovered nearby in 1940. Known by archaeologists as the "Sistine Chapel of Prehistory" due to their spiritual and historical significance, the up to 20,000-year-old paintings are among the finest known examples of art from the Paleolithic period.

"Our intention for Lascaux IV was to make references to historical art accessible through contemporary architecture and art, carefully adapted to its surrounding landscape. The facsimile and the center are creations of our time, yet deeply embedded in the precise revelation of history. We are deeply honored to receive this acknowledgment by the Houen Foundation Award," says Snøhetta's co-founder, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.

Thorsen and architects Rune Veslegard, Frank Denis Foray and landscape architect Andreas Heier accepted the award on behalf of Snøhetta together with the local client, Christophe Varallion from Conseil Général de la Dordogne.

The jury's verdict reads: 

With its paintings almost 20,000 years old, the Lascaux cave is known among archaeologists as the "prehistoric Sistine Chapel", one of the best-preserved artistic manifestations of that era. In creating the Lascaux facilities, the architects of Snøhetta highlighted a unique heritage, playing both on the landscape and the materials, whether above ground or underground.

The tour of the exterior and interior landscape is organized as an educational and mental journey through time and space. The very heart of the project is the exact reconstruction of the cave and the artworks in the basement, surrounded by a building with high architectural value, for an overall effect that is deeply moving.

See Norwegian version here

Photo by Luc Boegly and Sergio Garzia

Creating an authentic experience

The invited competition for Lascaux IV was won in 2012 in collaboration with SRA Architectes, scenographer Casson Mann and Duncan Lewis / Scape Architecture. The project was completed in 2016 in collaboration with SRA Architectes, scenographer Casson Mann, archaeologists, and painters to create a holistic experience for visitors.

In addition to the architecture, Snøhetta designed the landscape, including the exterior spaces on top of and within the center itself and the 75,000 square meter area surrounding it. The building is carefully integrated as a fine cut in the landscape at the intersection of a densely forested protected hillside and the agricultural Vézère Valley.

Snøhetta also provided interior design and wayfinding and signage, using deep, natural red colors and hand-drawn iconography to pay homage to the ancient grotto masters.

Photo: Luc Boegly and Sergio Garzia

Norway's oldest architecture award

The prestigious Houen Foundation Award is Norway's oldest recognition of architecture, established in 1893 by the businessman and endowment founder Anton Christian Houen. It is given to architects responsible for «designs for buildings, completed buildings or building ensembles, and other physical design attainments of outstanding, independent and architecturally consummate quality» and is presented by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture and managed by the National Museum in Oslo, with a jury appointed by the museum and the Association of Norwegian Architects.

Snøhetta previously received the award in 2012 for the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and in 2008 for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt.

You can watch a video of the award ceremony on the National Museum's YouTube channel.