Datong Art Museum – China’s ‘Museum of the 21st Century’ – is one of four major new buildings within Datong New City’s cultural plaza. The centrepiece of the 32,000-square-metre venue is the Grand Gallery, a heroically scaled, top-lit exhibition space measuring 37 metres high and spanning almost 80 metres, in which artists will be commissioned to create large-scale works of art. The space is flexible and efficient – services are integrated with the structure and the gallery can be accessed directly by an articulated 40-foot container vehicle to install large-scale sculptures, stage and lighting equipment.

Externally, the building’s form is conceived as an erupted landscape, with only the top of the roof visible at ground level. Like natural peaks, the roof is clad in earth-toned corroded steel. By sinking the building into the new plaza, it relates in scale to the three other cultural buildings in the group, balancing the overall composition of the district masterplan while maximising the internal volume. 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. Further exhibition spaces, with state-of-the-art climate controls, are placed around the perimeter of the museum and a children’s gallery, group entrance lobby, café, 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 minimising solar gain and ensuring the 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 minimised.

source: Foster + Partners