Foster + Partners just announced that they have broken ground on a new art museum in Datong’s New City, in China. The distinctive 32,000 sq m museum will be largely submerged into the ground, with the four large interconnected steel pyramids that form its roof appearing to erupt through the surface of the surrounding plaza. The dramatic, unusual structure also assists with the museum’s passive energy savings, as skylights placed within the north and north-west facing pyramids allow for maximum natural light while minimizing the impact of solar heat.

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Since the roof dominates the Datong Art Musuem, comprising 70 percent of the building’s exposed surface area, Foster + Partners added double insulation to the panels of the roof. This measure further reduces energy consumption while maintaining the precise climate control required within an art museum. The relatively narrow skylights which follow the roof line of each of the four interconnected pyramids allow for maximum natural light for appreciation of the art work, as well as serving as a “beacon” for the museum, illuminating the night sky. Forming only 10 percent of the overall structure, maintenance requirements will be minimal. The earth-toned Corten steel panels which encase the visible exterior elements of the museum will naturally weather over time, enhancing the impression that the museum has somehow erupted from the cultural plaza.

The smooth, sloping entrance to the museum will lead visitors in the the Grand Gallery. Described by Foster + Partners as a “heroically scaled… top-lit exhibition space measuring 37 metres high and spanning almost 80 metres,” it will serve as home to a rotating cast of commissioned large scale artworks, taking a traditional art gallery feature, and providing a contemporary and surely more dramatic environment for the art work and its viewers. Separate areas, including a children’s gallery, group entrance lobby, café, restaurant are arranged within sunken court yards, again provided with focused natural light. The interior can be additionally subdivided to allow for event and exhibition appropriate usage of the space.

Scheduled to open next year, the Datong Art Museum will be one of four new buildings constructed in Datong’s Cultural Plaza. Unveiling the plans, Luke Fox, a senior partner at Foster + Partners states: “We are delighted to reveal designs for the new museum and look forward to working with the city to take the project to the next stage. 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.”

+ Foster + Partners

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