Fromelles, France, July 19th 1916. Several battalions of the 5th australian Division bravely cross the German front lines. Unfortunately, due to the allies miscommunication, the Germans surrounded them, until the end of the battle in the morning of July 20. The injured are cared for, prisoners interviewed, dead bodies gather and buried in five graves that remain unknown until a local historian reports them in 1999. Following field research and an exhumation in 2009, sponsored by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission on behalf of the Australian and Bristih governements, 250 bodies were recovered and a cemetery was created in the territory of Fromelles to host them.
The architecture of the Museum of Fromelles is aiming at establishing a link between sky and earth, between visitors and the “burial” of soldiers. This is a building with a low profile, which is half-sunk on its Northeast facade. The work on natural topography has helped to improve the natural slope of the site and cover, partially, the technical space of the museum. Only the volume containing the exhibition spaces emerges from the landscape, indicating the trace of a burial. This emergence is in concrete, which evokes the stacking of successive geological stratifications and different types of soil in the basement.
The museum is gradually revealed to people accessing the site, with its low profile, which is respectful of the presence of the adjacent cemetery. Two visual axes generate the plan of the museum. One axis to the cemetery, that allows to connect the room of the last sequence with the resting place of soldiers. The other visual axis opens the lobby area to the church spire of Fromelles, which immediately identifies the skyline of the city. These axes were used to guide and define the “edges” of the octogonally shaped exhibition space.
The museum is organized around a octogonal core which houses the exhibition hall. This form, in the spirit of the adjacent cemetery, evokes both the rigid geometry of military construction, and the pure geometry of the sacral as the octagonal drum of the Church of Fromelles. The band in the West includes the service and technical areas of the museum such as administration, reception, cloakroom, toilets and cafeteria. The roof depicts the division of the project between the volume of the showroom and that of the local administration. A skylight system overhead between these two components allows for much light into the lobby.
Natural light plays an important role in the museum spaces, it is at the heart of the project. All circulation spaces and reception areas are largely naturally lit, by a skylight on the outskirts of the showroom. The exhibition space starts in the shadow and is gradually illuminated by this system of skylight. On the evening, lamps installed in the peripherical skylight and connected to light sensors, gradually offset the lack of natural light. The outdoor spaces of the museum are marked by light-emitting diodes with long service life and reduced energy consumption. This markup allows a subtle nighttime tracking of public spaces and offers a truly luminous scenography of the building.
An exhibition focusing on memory
In direct visual contact with the cemetery, the path of the exhibition recalls the geometry faceted plan of the cemetery. The museum is mainly dedicated to the Battle of Fromelles, but by linking its international context, national and local levels. The flow of visitors should take into account the small size of the building the human and social composition of visitors expected and the rules of safety and disability. Upon entering, the visitor takes a bridge “across” the different sequences. It is suspended above the ground. This is a reference to archaeological excavations. Its quality is to channel the course in “accompanying”didactically the visitor. Sound of voice are broadcast along the exhibition path. These are diffused by directional loudspeakers conveniently located along the route. The focus of the visit is the War Room, a circular space, like a control room. The course of the Battle of Fromelles will be presented by video projection on a table. A series of coves, dilatations along the course, allow the visitor to discover the battlefield life of soldiers in a space that call forth mediation.Location: Fromelles, France Architect: Serero Architectes / David Serero, Xavier Begel, Lucie Reau Client: Communauté de Communes des Weppes
Engineering: ETR Ingéniérie
Area: 520,9 m2
Budget prévisionnel: 1 300 000 €