Herzog & de Meuron wins competition to design Hangzhou’s Grand Canal Museum

Creating the image of a 'mountain plateau', the winning proposal overlooking the historic canal in China comprises a museum, a conference centre, a hotel and a public plaza.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Jan 06, 2020

Swiss architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron, reveals visuals of its winning entry for the Grand Canal Museum Complex in the Hangzhou city in China. The museum complex sits at a pivotal point within the historic 1800 km-long Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, which is the world’s longest as well as the oldest artificial river in the world.

The design proposes a long, linear hovering museum that celebrates the Grand Canal and its significance of being China’s harbinger of agricultural, economic and cultural development over the last 2500 years.

The design envisions a bold line like an elegant Chinese brush stroke that narrates the story of the Grand Canal. It exemplifies its 'monumental construction, its role in the agriculture of China’s eastern plain, its importance as a way of communication during the period of Imperial China and its cultural radiance until today.'

 Visualised exterior of the museum | Grand Canal Museum | Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
Visualised exterior of the museumImage Credit: © Herzog & de Meuron

Surrounded by water on the three sides, the museum is centered on the plot and elevated 12m off the ground. Its elegantly curved façade consists of large concave, cast glass elements that resemble the sparkle of rippling water on the surface, thus creating a distinct statement. A 50,000 sqm exhibition space is organised across two identical floors that functions independently, while public facilities such as a grand ballroom and a banquet hall are located under the elevated museum. Where the former appeals for its panoramic views of the canal and flexibility to accommodate diverse cultural programmes, the latter serves as a magnet facilitating access for large events.   

Conceptual rendering of one of the galleries within the museum | Grand Canal Museum | Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
Conceptual rendering of one of the galleries within the museum Image Credit: © Herzog & de Meuron

A monumental, mountain-shaped conference centre and hotel complex are located on the east side of the site, facing the canal. “This setting embodies ‘water in the front, mountain in the back’ - a classic Chinese ideal of harmonious integration of people, buildings and their natural environment,” mentions the architectural firm.

“Inside the complex, a contiguous vertical space connects the three key programs of the building: conference centre on the lower floors, museum lobby in the middle and restaurants and hotel on top, forming a vertical city in which different functions complement one another to form a synergistic whole,”

The green terrace of the museum overlooking the Grand Canal | Grand Canal Museum | Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
The green terrace of the museum overlooking the Grand Canal Image Credit: © Herzog & de Meuron

Outside, a tree covered promenade opens to a large park-like urban plaza. The landscape, comprising both public spaces and lush parks, is envisioned to include a variety of tree species found throughout China. The verdant ground elements transition onto the roof landscape, and the architecture merges with its surroundings to create an image of the building as a ‘mountain plateau’. Sustainability remains a key focus and is evident in the design as well as the prevalent storm water management system.

The winning proposal in the international competition, when realised, aims to create a link between the old and the new through a vibrant and contemporary gathering space at the Grand Canal that is distinctive in the city.

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