Nea Paphos

Protective mosaics shelter competition entry at UNESCO World Heritage Site

View of the Villa of Theseus shelter from the south-east corner of the site.

Gort Scott was shortlisted in an international competition for mosaic shelters at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nea Paphos, the ancient capital of Cyprus, for the Getty Conservation Institute.

The competition tasked us to develop two prototype shelter designs to protect mosaics within the ruins of the Villa of Theseus and the House of Orpheus, as well as interpretation proposals for the wider site.


View towards the proposed Proconsul’s Chamber volume in the Vila of Theseus shelter from the south side of the Peristyle Court
Axonometric showing construction sequence
Site views and archeological excavations

At Nea Paphos, large-scale structures and their associated impacts, represent a particular problem. This was highlighted during our visit to the site in July 2021, where we observed the foundation pits from a previous shelter project which had been abandoned due to the discovery of archaeology or poor ground conditions. We also observed that stone was commonly quarried from below or very close to the associated structures, reinforcing our earlier hypothesis that relying on ground-level foundations could prove unworkable.

1:1 model of the space frame roof structure

Our proposal for the shelters responds to the ‘genius loci’ with refined delicate sheltering structures. These are comprised of locally sourced materials (principally Cypriot pine and mud brick) which are brought together in easily assembled repeating components, utilising innovative structural techniques which avoid foundations but account for local building skills. Whilst delicate in appearance the structure resists the effects of seismic activity and wind loads.

Only the primary spaces containing the mosaics are enclosed, allowing visual connections to the landscape beyond. Differing roof heights, the tectonic language and the treatment of the enclosed elements helps to moderate the scale of the shelters, whilst the carefully selected palette of materials reflects the tonal qualities of the surrounding landscape.

The Design Brief and our discussions with the Getty and Cypriot team, highlighted the importance of internal lighting conditions which was emphasised during our site visit. Our proposals achieve optimum internal lighting conditions for viewing the mosaics by:

  • Providing continuous top light over the primary spaces which is moderated by internal shaped plywood baffles which exclude all direct sunlight.
  • Introducing a louvred configuration to the outside wall structures which bounces indirect light into the interiors and distributing it across translucent screens.

Materials are elemental in nature consisting largely of wood, copper, stone and mud brick. These have low embodied carbon and use local resources, suppliers and craftsmanship. The predominant material is Cypriot pine, which has been used extensively for an existing shelter and has weathered well in the local climate.

The lightweight reversible timber structures, which allow for visual connections through the shelters, were designed to minimise any impacts on the landscape and setting.

Enclosed shelter areas are clad in fibre cement panels, a long-life low-maintenance material, which can be recycled at the end of its life. Panels have a natural appearance and were designed to be etched with patterns inspired by geometric mosaics, providing an opportunity to collaborate with local artists.

View towards the House of Orpheus before moving on to the House of Dionysus.

Visitors are taken on an allegorical journey through the site and its history, experiencing spaces from the perspective of both a subject and the ruling Roman Proconsul.

At present visitor circulation through the site is counter-intuitive and does not reflect historic movement patterns, compromising accessibility and legibility. Our proposal reinstates the historic entrance into the Villa of Theseus and leads visitors on a sequential journey through the site.

The importance of internal lighting conditions was highlighted during our site visit. Our proposals achieve optimum internal lighting conditions for viewing the mosaics by providing continuous top light over the primary spaces which is moderated by internal shaped plywood baffles which exclude all direct sunlight. Also, introducing a louvred configuration to the outside wall structures which bounces indirect light into the interiors and distributing it across translucent screens, whilst allowing for cross ventilation.

Passive ventilation and lighting strategies, combined with the use of very low embodied carbon and largely recyclable materials, make the design highly sustainable.

Historically the mosaics have been exposed to direct sun and rain, creating large swings in temperature and moisture levels. Earlier enclosures have allowed heat to build-up so that even when sheltered, temperature and humidity variations are unsatisfactory.

The shelters therefore temper the external environment with minimum complexity and maintenance requirements, without utilising power supplies or motorisation. No direct sun is allowed in, and diffuse sun is limited to around 5% daylight factor.

The passively-tempered environment can be improved slightly by providing self-generated power for lighting and air treatment. This can be applied in a modular way, to selected enclosures, where desirable.

Further information

Data

Location
Paphos, Cyprus
Project type
Heritage and adaptation
Status
Competition

Credits

Gort Scott Team
Jay Gort, Fiona Scott, Sela-Jaymes Taylor, Joe Crawford, Fraser Leach-Smith
Consultants
Price & Myers LLP (Structural & Civil Engineers), Max Fordham LLP (Environmental Engineers), Aecom (Cost Consultants)

Awards

  • Architectural Review’s Future Projects Award 2023 - Winner

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