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Monday, May 14, 2012

Datong Art Museum

Information & Photography: Foster +Partners

When it comes to design with iconography, stalwarts like Hadid, Rohe, Holl, Foster + Partners etc. - the ‘big’ league, so to say, create masterpieces that not only have a local impact but become a global benchmark for organic iconic architecture.

Being designed by Foster+Partners, construction is underway at the 32,000-square-metre Datong Art Museum, one of four major new buildings within Datong New City’s cultural plaza. Professed as China’s ‘Museum of the 21st Century’, the building’s form, externally, is conceived as an erupted landscape, albeit more ordered. The entire museum is sunk into the ground with only the peaks of the roof visible at ground level. Clad in earth-toned Corten steel, the roof will weather naturally over time. The building relates in scale to the three other cultural buildings in the group, balancing the overall composition of the master plan while maximizing the internal volume of the Grand Gallery.

The roof is composed of four interconnected pyramids, which increase in height and fan outwards towards the four corners of the cultural plaza. A clerestory between each volume creates a dynamic play of light and shade internally, while illuminating the building from within to create a beacon for the new cultural quarter at night. Visitors approach via a gentle ramp and stair, which are integrated with the sunken plaza to create an informal amphitheatre. The arrival sequence culminates in a dramatic overview of the Grand Gallery.

The Grand Gallery constitutes the centre-piece of the structure, a heroically scaled, top-lit exhibition space 37 metres high, 80 metres wide, in which artists will be commissioned to create large-scale works of art. Arranged over a single level, it can be subdivided to create individual exhibition spaces, and the interior is accordingly designed as a highly flexible space to accommodate a changing programme of displays. With services fully integrated with the structure, various areas including the children’s gallery, group entrance lobby, and cafĂ©, restaurant and support spaces are arranged around sunken courtyards to draw in daylight.


The building’s efficient passive design responds to Datong’s climate. High-level skylights take advantage of the building’s north and north-west orientation, using natural light to aid orientation while minimizing solar gain and ensuring optimum environment for the works of art. A high-performance enclosure further reduces energy use. The roof, which accounts for 70 per cent of the exposed surface area, is insulated to twice building code requirements and, with just 10 per cent glazing, maintenance requirements are also minimized.

Says Luke Fox, senior partner at Foster + Partners, “When complete, Datong’s new quarter will be the centre of the city’s cultural life, with the new museum as its ‘urban room’ – a dynamic space, open to everyone to meet and enjoy its different displays and activities.”

The museum is scheduled to open in 2013 to represent China in the ‘Beyond the Building’ Basel Art international tour.


  1. Maybe architects should not be so enamored with "Iconic Architecture." which translated means my architectural statement is more important than anything else. Same for "local impact." Even Frank Lloyd Wright with his enormous ego built buildings whose driving principle was that they should work with the world they are a part of. That is why as radical as they were at the turn of the 19th century they still feel fresh today. It strikes me that too many Starchitects are striving just to be outlandishly different not trying to create for the community or for posterity. How many of Frank Gehry buildings are going to be more than quaint curiosities in a hundred years?
    Posted by James Martin on Linkedin Group: Architecture in response to IAnD's discussion thread: What role does iconographic design play in building architectural history?

  2. It must be remembered that what is considered 'iconic' today might not hold the same appeal and appreciation 20 years from now. Changing social, economic, political and religious climates often dictate the fate of buildings. Hence one must realise that an iconic building is one that has stood the test of time. Only time can tell.

    Architect Anne Tyng who was Louis Kahn's long time associate visited their famous Trent Bath House project four decades later only to find it in a state of neglect and disrepair. After much lobbying it was finally restored in 2009.
    Posted by Anup Magan on Linkedin Group: London Architecture Network in response to IAnD's discussion thread: What role does iconographic design play in building architectural history?


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