Narbo Via, a museum of Roman antiquities designed by Foster + Partners, is about to launch in Narbonne. Opening in an official ceremony tomorrow (11 December 2021), the brand new cultural draw for the region is set to become a landmark destination for its city, located on the Canal de la Robine in southern France. 

The museum’s low, linear volume is raised on a podium, balancing ‘civic monumentality’, the architects say, with restraint. It is placed among lush, green architectural gardens and landscaping including an outdoor theatre, embedding the new structure into its surroundings. Stone mixes with steel and a distinctive concrete roof, making for a building that appears strong and firmly linked to the earth and its site. 

And while the exterior is defined by its relatively discreet, yet confident, presence, the interior clearly and unashamedly celebrates its content by placing it centre stage through the presence of a ‘Lapidary Wall’, a shelving grid featuring stone displays that belong to the collection. This architectural element is open for all to see, cleverly separating public galleries and restoration spaces where specialists are at work to preserve the museum’s precious cargo. Visitors can catch glimpses of the professionals at work through this semi-permeable wall that places the collection at the design’s heart.

visitors areas at narbo via museum

The project also includes an array of public-facing spaces, such as galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions, a multimedia education centre, an auditorium, a restaurant and a bookshop. Research, restoration and storage facilities, as well as offices, complete the building, which is brightly lit through swathes of glass in openings and floor-to-ceiling transparent walls. 

Foster + Partners has recently completed more work in France – namely the winery Le Dôme, which opened its doors to visitors a couple of months ago. It sits alongside older, iconic projects from the firm’s portfolio, such as the Millau Viaduct and the Carré d’Art in Nîmes. ‘Our work on Narbo Via extends a long relationship between the Foster studio and the south of France. The arts are vital to the life of a city, and a cultural building has the potential to reinvent and regenerate its “sense of place”, to break down physical and social barriers. Bringing together the old and the new, Narbo Via will renew the image of the museum, becoming not just a place for reflection but a creator of knowledge for future generations,’ says the practice’s renowned founder and executive chairman, Norman Foster. 

Looking to the future, the Narbo Via building also employs a comprehensive sustainability strategy. This, the architects note, has been inspired by ancient Roman technology. Natural ventilation is achieved through the clever concrete ceiling structure that helps push air to circulate throughout the interior, supporting a healthy environment for visitors, as well as its rich collection of Roman antiquities. §

hero exterior of narbo via msueum on a sunny day
interior of via narbo museum with ancient sculpture
inside the archives at narbo via museum