Datong Art Museum / Foster + Partners
Text description provided by the architects. The Datong Art Museum – an important new cultural destination in China – opened to the public with a special exhibition featuring oil paintings by local artists. One of the four main buildings in the Cultural Square of Datong New Town, it is fast becoming a new center for the region’s creative industries. The sculptural form of the building was designed as a landscaped plot with a series of interconnected pyramids emerging from the ground – the gallery spaces are sunk below the ground and surrounded by landscaped plazas. The museum’s cultural program is complemented by a series of spaces dedicated to education and learning, including a children’s gallery, media library, archives and art storage facilities.
Luke Fox, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners, said: “The museum is designed as a social hub for people – an ‘urban living room’ for Datong – which brings people, art and artists together in a space where they can interact. At the heart of the museum, the Grand Gallery exemplifies this spirit with a flexible, large-scale exhibition space designed to host specially commissioned large-scale works of art as well as artistic performances and other events.
Visitors are guided to the museum by steep diagonals in the landscaping. Entrance is via a winding sequence of ramps, which lead to an open plaza below – this also provides an amphitheater for outdoor performances. Upon entering the building, visitors arrive at a mezzanine that reveals a spectacular glimpse of the Grand Gallery, the social heart of the museum, which measures 37 meters in height and spans almost eighty meters. Other air-conditioned exhibition spaces are placed around the perimeter of the museum on one level, allowing easy access. A key aspect of the building is the emphasis on education and learning with a dedicated children’s gallery, bathed in sunlight through the tall south-facing windows. A smaller education center and media library complete the education program and there are facilities to support artist residencies, lectures, and lectures.
The four interconnected roof pyramids rise in height and extend outward towards the four corners of the cultural square. Natural light enters the interior through skylights located at the top of each pyramid. The roof design is a direct response to the large structural span of the building and the desire to create a large flexible volume with no columns below, while mediating the smaller gallery spaces towards the edges. The roof is covered with naturally oxidized curved steel plates that help drain water and give a rich three-dimensional quality to the surface. The panels are proportioned to fit the large scale of the museum and their linear arrangement accentuates the pyramidal shape of the roof.
By embedding the building in the new plaza, the design relates to the scale of neighboring cultural buildings, balancing the overall composition of the neighborhood master plan while maximizing internal volume. A skylight between each volume creates a naturally lit interior during the day, while creating a unique beacon for the new cultural district at night.
The efficient passive design of the building responds to Datong’s climate. Raised skylights take advantage of the building’s north and northwest orientation, using natural light to aid orientation while minimizing solar gain and ensuring an optimal environment for works of art. Sinking the building into the ground with a high-performance enclosure further reduces energy requirements. The roof is largely solid and is insulated to twice the building code requirements.
“Designed for the future, we hope the museum will become the center of the city’s cultural life – a vibrant public destination,” Fox added.