by Dilpreet BhullarJan 12, 2023
Following five years of construction, the HE Art Museum (HEM) complex located in Shunde, China’s Guangdong province, is set to open later this year. The stacked, spiraling form of the museum is designed by world renowned, self-taught architect Tadao Ando, known for his profoundly contemporary structures such as the Church of Light (Osaka, Japan) and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas, United States). The Japanese architect reveals a stunning cylindrical volume with a pair of helix stairwells journeying through its insides, enveloped by a vertically slatted façade. The official inauguration of the museum was planned for March 2020, but has now been postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak in China .
The museum derives its name from He Jianfeng, the entrepreneur who founded it, and the project is dedicated to his hometown by envisaging a world class institution coalescing modern art with local, historical heritage. The privately funded project will host a plethora of traditional and modern art in its exhibition spaces, besides being a home for his family’s collection of over 400 works by Chinese and international artists. The Chinese character 和 (HE) stands for ‘harmonious’, and also indicates ‘balance’ and ‘good luck’. This outlines the concept of the design, in tandem with embodying the founder’s aim for the institution – ‘provide a harmonious life through sharing of art and culture’.
A strong industry exists in Shunde, but there is no official art culture in the area. HEM hopes to fill this gap in the core of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. This will also ensure a convergence of existing traditions, while opening itself to the modern practices. The HE Art Museum aims to offer its visitors diverse choices by integrating art into local communities and introducing regional art to the world.
With an area of 16,000 sqm, the dedicated exhibition areas of the museum take up 8000 sqm of space. The permanent exhibition rooms are separated under two themes – ‘modern and contemporary Chinese collections and curatorial projects, focusing on the museum collections and contemporary art from all over the world, respectively’.
The museum’s form is summarised as an overlap of four circles, creating distinct peripheries for all four floors. Visual harmony is achieved within its expanse through the double helix pair of staircases that run through its centre, climaxing with a skywell above, which brings in natural light, a signature of Ando. The skywell’s circular form draws from the ancient Chinese philosophy of believing the heavens to be divine and round, and the earth, a square. Likewise, every floor adopts a circular plan, as opposed to the ground floor, which has a square gallery space, reflecting a harmonious union.
HEM’s design programme comprises gallery spaces, education areas and an open plan café and bookstore, resulting in the museum being used not only to house works of art, but also as a serene place of contemplation and meeting. The complex is interspersed with areas for resting and refreshment, such as the quaint ambience provided by the water body that lies next to the HE Art Museum, accessed by a nomadic pathway. This provides a cooling effect in the subtropical climate of the region, and draws from the local architecture, with its canals and waterways.
“I hope HEM will become a new cultural landmark in the Canton region, at the same time, a meeting point and a harmonious space for all,” shares Pritzker laureate Tadao Ando. He further explains the design saying, “by integrating traditional history and culture with modern and contemporary art, the exchange of cultures will bring people the long-cherished wish of a harmonious and peaceful life. The design of the building takes ‘harmony’ as the theme. From the architectural design to the very details, a variety of circles is presented. This is an attempt to create a new culture center integrating Cantonese culture by absorbing the special meaning of geometry in the regional context.”
The museum’s inauguration consists of two exhibitions dedicated to the collection at HEM, called Milieu in Change, and On the Rise. The slated opening will also see a curated international programme From the Mundane World, which includes contemporary art focusing on our relationship with nature and the need to be sustainable.