Jean Nouvel’s National Art Museum of China Design Inspired by Calligraphy

International, Newsletter
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
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Jean Nouvel's Design for new National Art Museum of China. (Courtesy Jean Nouvel)

Jean Nouvel’s Design for new National Art Museum of China. (Courtesy Atelier Jean Nouvel)

Over a star-studded semi-finalist list of Western architects, Pritztker-Prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel has been awarded the commission to design the world’s largest art museum: the new National Art Museum of China in Beijing. The 130,000 square meters NAMOC building is intended to exhibit works by 20th-century and traditional artists from worldwide. The Financial Times reported earlier this year that Jean Nouvel’s design idea as that of a single ink brushstroke, a concept of traditional Chinese art and calligraphy. With sweeping glass and a reflective facade, the museum’s exterior takes obvious inspiration from the art visitors will encounter within its walls.

(Courtesy Beijing Institute of Architecture Design).

(Courtesy Beijing Institute of Architecture Design).

The winning design’s facade makes up a tangible interpretation of a brushstroke. Pierced stone screens and streaked patterned glass create a varied, yet continuous exterior. Shimmering and semi-transparent, the surface allows for a blotted reflection of the colors and shapes of the surrounding dragon-shaped garden and sea of red flags.

The building touches the ground only at four points, sweeping upwards in its center as if the artist had a vertical inspiration. In this phenomenon, Nouvel has envisioned two different leveled lobbies for entrance to the museum. The summer lobby on the ground floor is exposed to the elements, surrounded by nature. But, in winter months it can be closed off and visitors enter through the first floor, protected from the elements yet surrounded by semi-transparent glass walls that give visions of what’s outside.

After entering the competition in December 2010, Jean Nouvel’s design was set on a shortlist of twenty, then narrowed down to five, alongside Hadid, Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron (who withdrew), and Safide. Although there was some speculation for a winner after Gehry Partners released their design renderings to the public for a current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Jean Nouvel’s highly coveted win was later confirmed by his advisor, Olivier Schmitt.

The museum will be located in Olympic Park adjacent to the Ai Wei Wei-designed Bird’s Nest Stadium from the 2008 Olympics. The Chinese government has made no official comment on the commission decision or a timeline for construction.

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