by Sunena V MajuApr 11, 2023
Ennead Architects' proposal has won the competition to design the Wuxi Art Museum in the historic port city of Wuxi in China. The new centre for art and culture will take shape within the Shangxianhe Wetland Park, extending the need for architecture to respond and dwell in harmony with the natural environment. Responding to the geographical and cultural sensitivity of the site, the New York and Shanghai-based Ennead Architects' proposal draws cues from traditional Chinese gardens, whose legacy has for long been a part of the Wuxi-Suzhou-Shanghai area. “The museum’s site design and architectural form closely connect to the natural context and integrate the museum experience with the natural environment," state the architects in an official release.
Striking a balance between Chinese architecture and the natural landscape of the wetland area, the concept of Wuxi Museum and Art Park is inspired by Taihu scholar's stone. Scholar’s stones, either occurring naturally or shaped, were appreciated by Chinese scholars and are often associated with notions of contemplation, poetry, and natural forces. Shaping the form to be an architectural metaphor for the concept, the art museum presented itself on the site as a contemplative and intricate spatial structure. Along with a strong design character that appears inviting, the building also submits to the broader natural context.
The design of the art museum with cracks and subtraction in its larger volume, stages an interesting space, one that establishes a visual connectivity to and from the building. The architects draw a similarity between this intervention and concepts of scholar’s stones, comparing the voids thus created “to the erosion of spirit stones by the natural forces of wind and water.” Portraying inspirations from Taihu scholar's stone and traditional Chinese gardens, Wuxi Art Museum not only translates these concepts into formal propositions but offers an added experiential aspect.
At the intersection of art, architecture, and nature, a civic plaza with the capacity to exhibit public art introduces the museum, nestled amid nature to the visitors. Providing a reference point for the museum is a central court with a lily-filled waterscape. This space, imparting reflection and tranquillity, remains visually connected to adjacent programs and footbridges crisscrossing the upper galleries. Carving out voids from the mass, the design establishes distinctive outdoor spaces that can be utilised to curate art exhibits set against the natural setting of the exteriors.
The facade design with unique perforations and textures not only shapes the elevations of the museum but also elevates the interior experience. The stone facade becomes an integral part of the design, guiding in a play of light to the interiors and framing views to the exteriors. Along with perforation, the translucent glass curtain wall also adds to the multiple characters of the facade, displayed during the day and night. "During the day, the articulated limestone facade creates a textured expression and an interesting dialogue between smooth surfaces and forms and porous areas of roughness," mention the architects. Extending the concept to materiality, the stone facade bears semblance to the scholar's stones, where voids and crevices contribute to adding a level of interest and entrance to the viewer. Encompassing elements of design to reflect the concept, the architects extend an interesting dialogue on how a building form can create an integrated relationship between landscape, environment, and architecture.