Foster + Partners' Datong Art Museum in China features intersecting pyramidal roofs

Foster + Partners conceives the recently completed Datong Art Museum as an urban living room, its four intersecting, earth-coloured pyramids surrounded by landscaped plazas.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jan 06, 2022

Intersecting soil toned peaks erupt from the earth to form the dynamic Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners, conceived as an important new cultural destination in China. Located in Datong, a city in the north of Shanxi province, the building opened its doors to the public with a special exhibition featuring oil paintings done by local artists, after almost a decade of construction. Erected among three other major buildings within Datong New City’s cultural plaza, the museum design is set to become a hub for creative industries in the region, which aims to recharge its infrastructure.

The sculptural Datong Art Museum is articulated as four interlocking pyramidal roof peaks | Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
The sculptural Datong Art Museum is articulated as four interlocking pyramidal roof peaks Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

"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,” mentions Luke Fox, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners.  

The recently completed Datong Art Museum is a fine example of modern architecture | Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
The recently completed Datong Art Museum is a fine example of modern architecture Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Akin to a cardboard model, the sculptural Datong Art Museum is articulated as an erupting, landscaped terrain, a series of interconnected pyramids swathed in the colour of the earth emerging from the ground, with the museum’s gallery spaces submerged below and surrounded by a stepped and landscaped plazas. “By sinking the building into the new plaza, the design relates in scale to the neighbouring cultural buildings, balancing the overall composition of the district masterplan while maximising the internal volume,” the British architect relays. An array of spaces dedicated to education and learning, including a children’s gallery, media library, archive and art storage facilities further compliment the museum’s decorated cultural programme.

Roof lights at the apex of each pyramid ensure natural light streaming into the interiors | Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
Roof lights at the apex of each pyramid ensure natural light streaming into the interiors Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Strongly etched diagonal paths in the landscaping guide visitors towards the museum architecture, its entrance expressed qua a meandering sequence of ramps pooling into an open sunken plaza. This also becomes an ample amphitheatre dedicated to open-air performances. The “social heart of the museum”, the Grand Gallery, greets guests upon entering the building at a mezzanine level, presenting a spectacular overview of its 37-metre high ceiling and spanning almost 80 metres of column-less space. More climate-controlled exhibition spaces line the perimeter of the museum on a single level, allowing ease of access.  

Façade detail | Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
Façade detail Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Datong Art Museum also places cogent focus on education and learning with a dedicated children’s gallery, with sunlight flooding in from tall, south-facing windows. A smaller education centre and a media library accompany the education programme, while facilities have been included to host artists residencies, talks and conferences.

The conjugated and linear roof pyramids rise in height, fanning outward towards the four corners of the cultural plaza. Roof lights located at the apex of each pyramid ensure natural light streaming into the interiors. A clerestory streaming between each volume makes certain a naturally lit interior during the day, as well as creating a distinct beacon for the new cultural quarter at night.

The pyramidal outline continues inside the museum space | Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
The pyramidal outline continues inside the museum space Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

"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 oxidised 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 architectural, engineering, and integrated design practice founded in 1967 as Foster Associates by Norman Foster.

Entering the Grand Gallery | Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
Entering the Grand Gallery Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

The contemporary architecture also employs efficient passive design strategies as direct response to Datong’s climate. High-level skylights take advantage of the museum’s north and north-west orientation, using natural light to aid orientation, in tandem with significantly cutting down solar gain, and ensuring the optimum environment for the hosted works of art, displayed with natural illumination. Energy needs are further minimised by sinking the building into the ground along with a high-performance enclosure, while the mostly solid roof is insulated to twice the building code requirements.

The gallery spaces essay an all-white appearance as background for the artworks | Datong Art Museum by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
The gallery spaces essay an all-white appearance as background for the artworks Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

“Designed for the future, we hope the museum will become the centre of the city’s cultural life – a dynamic public destination,” Fox adds.

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