Foster + Partners houses Datong Art Museum with pyramid roof

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Four peaks clad in weathered steel cover the underground galleries of the Datong Art Museum, which British architecture studio Foster + Partners has completed in northern China.


The 32,000 square meter art museum, which is now open in Datong, is designed by Foster + Partners as an “urban salon” with facilities for artists and the public.

Top image: Foster + Partners completed the Datong Art Museum in China. Above: it is distinguished by a pyramidal roof

It is part of a new cultural district of the city, where there are three other major buildings designed as a creative hub for the region.

Foster + Partners first revealed the design in 2012, with completion initially slated for 2013, and again in 2020.

Weathered steel panels on the roof of the Datong Art Museum
The roof covers underground galleries

“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,” said Luke Fox, studio manager at Foster + Partners.

“Designed for the future, we hope the museum will become the center of the city’s cultural life – a vibrant public destination.

Weather resistant steel panels
The pyramid shapes are covered with patinated steel

The Datong Art Museum is designed as a series of four interconnected pyramids that are partly embedded in the ground, intended to evoke rocky peaks emerging upwards.

The pyramids are surrounded by landscaped plazas, which incorporate diagonal paths leading to the museum entrance and ramps leading to a plaza below and an amphitheater.

White Gallery inside Datong Art Museum
Interiors are lit by slatted windows

Foster + Partners chose to anchor the museum in the ground to reduce its scale and complement neighboring cultural buildings while providing sufficient gallery space.

The shape of the pyramidal roof, which varies in height, results from the large structural span of the building which ensures that the galleries are flexible and without columns.

White gallery space
Visitors enter the building on a mezzanine

The roof landscape is covered with weathered steel plates, which have been arranged in a linear formation to accentuate the shape of the peaks and help drain water.

Between each peak is a skeleton window that draws light inside the underground galleries during the day and illuminates the surrounding plaza at night.

According to Foster + Partners, these high-level windows face north and northwest to minimize solar gain and create a suitable environment for the artwork inside.

Visitors entering the museum are greeted by a mezzanine that overlooks the Grand Gallery – a space 37 meters high with a span of 80 meters. This forms the heart of the museum and is used for large-scale works of art, artistic performances and events.

White gallery space
Galleries alongside archiving and storage spaces

Around this, the Grande Galerie is a series of small air-conditioned exhibition spaces, alongside a media library, archives, storage spaces and a café and restaurant.

There’s also a dedicated gallery and education center for children, which is lined with tall south-facing windows to maximize sunlight.

Foster + Partners, the studio founded in 1967 by Norman Foster, also recently completed the Narbo Via museum in the south of France which is lined with colored concrete walls.

Other contemporary museums with underground galleries include Amos Rex from JKMM Architects in Helsinki and the Danish National Maritime Museum from BIG in Helsingør.

The photograph is by Yang Chaoying.

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