ocated at the very tip of Lyon’s Presqu’Île district, where, as the name suggests, the Saône and the Rhône meet, the Musée des Confluences received more than 150,000 visitors in the first few weeks of 2015, having opened just before Christmas. Now, either there are a lot of nosey people living in Lyon, or this museum has something.
Let me tell you: it really does have something.
And, if you have never visited a museum in your life before, and even if you vowed you never would; now is the time to break that vow. Go out of your way to visit Lyon for this museum alone; you will not be disappointed...amazed, sure, but not disappointed. This extravagantly modern concept in museum design is the successor of the former Musée Guimet and the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle to whose collections, with superlative understatement, ‘it has given a new configuration’.
And what a configuration!
This is Brigit Bardot meets the Eiffel Tower meets the Millau Viaduct meets a team of museum-ists with a very idiosyncratic slant on design, and, possibly, exclusive access to be best wines of the Rhône valley. And therein sounds the keynote: it’s not so much the design of the building – I’ll come to that in a moment – it’s the purity and originality of imagination that has gone into displaying the contents: a synergy of harmonious inspirations, a perfect mélange of thought and artistry. This is a dynamic and thought-provoking project that confronts contemporary questions, issues and challenges, or, in less articulate language, one weird, wacky world of wonderment.
The building itself is a monumental collaboration of ideas meant to create an environment that facilitates the links between things of the earth and things of the skies, of Crystal and Cloud. And with such a huge and inspirational building with which to work the only sadness is that the best view of it is not from the point of entry, although my wife thought the security guard fit for something she couldn’t quite bring back to mind... And it was rather let down by a series of cattle pens intended to shepherd visitors to the foot of the steps leading up to the urban forum of the Crystal, symbolising openness to the surrounding world. But that minor quibble aside, once you’re in the tangle of metal and glass, the airiness, the luminosity injects a shot of pure anticipation.
The rest of the building is the Cloud, constructed from a diversity of materials and standing on three principal columns and fourteen monumental pillars that provide a load-bearing skeleton and an outer skin with a combined weight of 6,000 tonnes.
Inside, it’s all lifts and escalators and stairs and metal struts and great glass roofs. One floor is given to temporary exhibitions, although with more than 800 items on display it would take some changing; one level up and we reached the permanent displays set either side of a grand couloir, with burly (and apparently handsome) security people to deter you from entering the exits. There are more than 3,000 pieces on display from stromatolites to a huge-osaurus, butterflies to brown bears, luxury cars to waffle makers; it’s all quite bewildering in the most delightful way. Even the adults gaze in wonder, and you can see their minds whirring away – ‘Do you think the kids will miss us if we go for a glass of Chablis?’ ‘Will we ever find them again, if we do?’
The underlying thought behind the permanent displays is to demonstrate the enormous variety of human existence, ‘...encompassing nature and the environment, the objects we have created and the techniques we have developed, but also our myths, narratives and geographical locations.’
I won’t reveal the content detail any more than I have, except to say that as a writer about Australia I was delighted to find a pukka Tasmanian tiger, circa 1884 – so a bit dead, now. So, given the Down Under on-going saga of whether it still exists in the Tasmanian forest, it’s good to know what it looks like, when I send someone in to find it.
There are museums and museums, but I have to say this doesn't feel like a museum, it doesn't look like a museum, and it doesn't smell like a museum. You really can spend a whole day in here – with a break for lunch, of course – and since that’s what we did, I heartily commend you to do the same.