Shanghai Astronomical Museum / Ennead Architects
Text description provided by the architects. Designed by Ennead, the new monumental museum creates an immersive experience that puts visitors in direct contact with real astronomical phenomena. Through the scale, shape and manipulation of light, the building increases awareness of our fundamental relationship with the sun and the orbital motion of the earth. Covering an area of 420,000 square feet, the new astronomical branch of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum will be the largest museum in the world entirely dedicated to the study of astronomy.
“In realizing this building, we wanted to create a place where the institutional mission is fully linked to an architecture which itself teaches and finds form in some of the fundamental principles that shape our universe,” said Thomas J. Wong, Design Partner at Ennead Architects. “The big idea of the Shanghai Astronomical Museum was to infuse a visceral experience of the subject into the design and deliver it even before entering the building. And at the end of your tour there is that climax directly with the sky, which is framed and supported by architecture.
Winners of the international design competition in 2014, Ennead delivered an ambitious architectural design – without straight lines or right angles, echoing the geometry of the universe and the dynamic energy of celestial movement. Wong took inspiration from the classic “three body problem” in physics, looking at the complex choreographies created by the gravitational pull of several bodies within solar systems. This is reflected in the winding architectural ribbons of the Museum’s facade. The building envelope traces a series of arc paths which are visibly influenced by the gravitational pull: the heart of the central atrium, the forward momentum at the entrance and the planet-shaped sphere which envelops the planetarium theater. The museum and each of the three main architectural elements that define the design – the Oculus, the inverted dome, and the sphere – act as functional astronomical instruments, tracking the sun, moon, and stars.
The Oculus, suspended above the museum’s main entrance, shows the passage of time as it follows a circle of sun on the ground through the entrance plaza and reflecting pool. At noon during the summer solstice, there is a full circle, which lines up with a circular platform inside the museum entrance plaza. The Oculus creates a real timepiece in the civic place.
The Sphere is home to the Planetarium Theater, which is half-submerged in the building. With an inconspicuous support, it evokes an illusion of weightlessness or anti-gravity. The pure spherical shape refers to the primordial forms of our universe and, like the orientation we give of our position in relation to the sun or the moon, becomes an omnipresent point of reference for the visitor. The sphere derives its shape not only from the demands of the programmatic element it contains, but as an abstract manifestation of a primary celestial form. Embedded in the roof plane of the lower wing of the Museum, as if rising from the earth-bound horizon, the sphere gradually appears as one circles the building, the drama unfolding as if the ‘we approached a planet from one of its moons allowing visitors to experience it as a weightless mass from below.
The inverted dome is a large inverted glass tension structure that sits atop the central atrium of the building at the roofline level so that visitors can occupy the center of the glass dish with a breathtaking view of the sky . The culmination of the exhibition route, this space intersects the view of the horizon and the adjacent urban context and focuses the visitor on the all-encompassing sky – a true encounter with the universe to conclude the simulated experience inside. . The 720-degree spiral ramp inside the museum and under the inverted dome traces the orbital flow of the sequence of visitors through the museum’s exhibits and shoots the eye upward to its summit.
Located in a vast green area, the museum grounds include a multitude of buildings and programs, including temporary and permanent exhibits, a 78-foot solar telescope, an observatory, an optical planetarium, an education and research center, and a Digital Sky Theater. The Museum’s programming will include immersive environments, artefacts and space exploration instruments, as well as an educational exhibit.