Mountaineer Reinhold Messner brings the work of architect Zaha Hadid to the top of Mount Kronplatz.

Credit: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid

Buried in the Alpine peak of Mount Kronplatz in South Tyrol, Italy, the Messner Mountain Museum Corones is the last of six mountaineering museums built by accomplished Italian adventurer Reinhold Messner. Messner was part of the first team to reach the peak of Mount Everest without the aid of supplemental oxygen, and the first to climb all 14 of the world’s “eight-thousanders,” peaks over 26,000 feet above sea level. He likens the feeling of finishing the museum to conquering a 15th.

The museum’s exhibits trace the 250-year development of modern mountaineering, both through improvements to climbing equipment and what Messner calls the “triumphs and tragedies on the world’s most famous peaks.” The “submerged” nature of his new building leaves this peak relatively undisturbed. The only outwardly visible elements of the three-story structure are four canopies of in-situ concrete, framing the museum’s entrance, two large viewing windows, and a cantilevered terrace.

Credit: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid

For the museum’s architect, Zaha Hadid, the project represents a bit of a departure. Her mostly large-scale, urban projects are marked by dramatic, sloping silhouettes, like that of the London Aquatics Center, or the award-winning Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan. It’s probably safe to assume that the developers and governments who hire her don’t want to hide her work underground.

Credit: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid

The idea, says Hadid, is that “visitors can descend within the mountain to explore its caverns and grottos, before emerging through the mountain wall on the other side, out onto the terrace overhanging the valley far below with spectacular, panoramic views.” Views of the Ortler and the surrounding Dolomites, whose jagged limestone peaks informed the light shade of glass-reinforced fiber concrete chosen for the exterior paneling.

Inside, the darker paneling is meant to recall the “luster and colouration of anthracite.” Exhibition spaces are connected by a series of staircases that cascade through the interior “like waterfalls in a mountain stream,” according to a project statement from Hadid’s firm.

Credit: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid

The museum’s focus, says Messner, is “not on sport and records but on people, on the key contributors to mountaineering, including philosophers and pioneers who had the courage to take the ‘golden step’ from the idea to the deed, disregarding the question ‘Why?’” For many visitors to the top of Mount Kronplatz, the “why” is great skiing, hiking, and launch points for hang-gliding, but a very novel space from a world-famous architect could be a draw all its own.