Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners in Datong, China
Project name: Foster + Partners
Architects: Foster + Partners
Location: Datong, China
Site Area: 51605 m2
Gross Area: 32,000 m2
Building Footprint: 13313 m2
Date of Beginning project: 2011
Date of Completion: 2021
Museography and Exhibition design: Lord Cultural Resources
Contractor: China Railway Airport Construction Group Co. Ltd.
Structural: China Architecture Design & Research Group
Mechanical and Electrical: China Architecture Design & Research Group
Landscape Architect: AECOM
Client: Datong Municipal Administration of Culture Broadcasting Television Press & Publication
Design Team: Norman Foster, Luke Fox, David Nelson, Michael Gentz, Zheng Yu, Loretta Law, Spencer de Grey, Meng Xia, Yasuko Tarumi, Bartenis Siaulytis, Ahmed Hosny, Pil-Joon Jeon, Mitsunori Sano, and Yung Kim
Collaborating Architect: China Architecture Design & Research Group
Cost Consultant: China Architecture Design and Research Group
Lighting Engineer: Claude Engle Lighting, Tsinghua University
Museum Consultant: Lord
City: Da Tong Shi
Images: Yang Chaoyin
Drawings: Foster + Partners
Datong Art Museum/ Foster + Partners is one of the significant cultural destinations of China. It was opened for the public with a specific exhibition space showcasing oil paintings by local artists after around a decade of construction. The museum is situated in the city of Datong which is in the northern Shanxi Province. It is around two hours from the west of the city of Beijing via a new high-speed line. This city is found in the Datong basin at a height of up to 1040 meters and borders Hebei to the east and inner Mongolia to the north and west in China.
Foster + Partners is a global design studio founded by Norman Foster in 1967. It practices urbanism, sustainable architecture, design, engineering, and design. From the beginning, their practice was founded based on the philosophy of sustainability, innovation, and design. The practice works as one and the only entity that is both culturally and ethnically diverse with its offices across the world. Over the years, they have developed the analytical frameworks for their own office. Datong Art Museum has been one of their anticipated works diving into symbolic cultural architecture.
The city of Datong was the flourishing capital of imperial China about 1600 years ago. It is trying to restore its infrastructures and avoid being the most polluted city in the country. Moreover, the authorities are producing significant cultural and urban development plans to alter these situations. And Datong Art Museum is one of the four prominent buildings within the cultural plaza of Datong New City and thus has become a new hub for the region’s creative industries. The first design was first released in 2012 by Foster + Partners, however, its completions were originally condemned for 2013, but then in 2020. Foster + Partners planned to embed the museum into the ground to minimize its scale and supplement the surrounding cultural buildings thus providing ample space for galleries.
“A key aspect of the building is the focus on education and learning with a dedicated children’s gallery, filled with sunlight from tall, south-facing windows,” said Foster + Partners.
Apart from these cultural programs, there are other spaces that are dedicated to education and learning such as a media library, archive, children’s gallery, and art storage facilities. Also, there are a few more exhibition areas that are climatically controlled and are planned around the periphery of the museum. And the group entrance lobby, children’s gallery, café, restaurant, and other supporting amenities are placed around the large courtyards.
Foster + Partners, Luke Fox, Head of Studio, said: “The museum is conceived as a social hub for people – an ‘urban living room’ for Datong – that 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 generously scaled, flexible exhibition space designed to accommodate specially commissioned large-scale artworks as well as performance art and other events.”
Foster partners Datong Art Museum China is also popularly recognized as the ‘Museum of the 21st Century of China. It is a space wherein the artists will be offered to produce large-scale works of art. The space is pretty much efficient and flexible. All the services are integrated within this beautiful building and the gallery can be directly accessed through an articulated 40-foot vehicle to install stage, lighting fixtures, and large-scale sculptures.’
From an external view, the form of the building is treated as an exploded landscape, and only the roof portion is visible at ground level. As the building sinks into the plaza, it relates to the scales of the other three cultural buildings in the complex thus balancing the overall composition of the masterplan and enhancing the internal volume. A clerestory window between each unit produces a dynamic play of light and shadow internally. It helps to illuminate the structure from the inside.
The roof of the Datong Art Museum/ Fosters + Norman consists of four pyramids that are interconnected. It keeps increasing in height and fans out on the outer sides pointing towards the corners of the cultural plaza.
“The design of the roof is a direct response to the large structural span of the building and the desire to create a vast, flexible column-free volume below while mediating the smaller gallery spaces towards the edges. The roof is clad in naturally oxidized curved steel plates that help drain water and give a rich, three-dimensional quality to the surface. The panels are proportioned to suit the large scale of the museum and their linear arrangement accentuates the pyramidal roof form,” explains the British engineering, architectural, and integrated design practice that was founded in 1967 and known as Foster Associates by Norman Foster.
Visitors enter the Datong Art Museum from a subtle ramp and stair that are combined with the sunken plaza forming an informal amphitheater. The visitors are guided towards the museum building via strong diagonal paths seen in the landscaping. The entry is planned through a winding sequence of ramps, which lead down visitors into an open sunken plaza. There is also an amphitheater provided for outdoor performances.
Entering the structure, the visitors reach a mezzanine level overlooking the spectacular Grand Gallery. This 32,000-square-meter grand gallery is the centerpiece of the museum with a height of 37 meters and spanning till around 80 meters. It is used for events, performances, and large-scale artworks. Moving ahead, climate-controlled exhibition spaces are located around the periphery of the museum, all on the same level, offering ease of access.
The smart and efficient passive design strategies of the building respond to the climate of Datong. There are high-level skylights that take advantage of the building’s north and northwest orientation. It utilizes natural light to support orientation while reducing solar gain and also ensures an optimum environment for the artwork.
Also as the building is sunken into the ground with an enclosure of high-performance it further minimizes energy needs. The roof portion is majorly solid and is insulated twice as the building code requirements.
The Datong Art Museum/ Foster + Partners has been a remarkable project in the history of China. It has touched both the cultural and aesthetic values to a larger extent. Also, there is an incorporation of strategies for attaining sustainability throughout the structure.
“Designed for the future, we hope the museum will become the center of the city’s cultural life – a dynamic public destination,” added Fox.
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