12 November 2018

Álvaro Siza’s China Design Museum

China, too, has its own Design Museum. Built on the Xiangshan campus of the China Academy of Art of Hangzhou, one of the country’s most prestigious art schools, the museum is a gift from the Academy to itself to mark the 90th anniversary of its foundation. While the aim was, and still remains, that of investing in and promoting China’s artistic heritage, the stimuli from and contact with the West played a key role in deciding who should be entrusted with designing such an important space. Perhaps surprisingly (or not) the choice fell on the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza, winner of the 1992 Pritzker Prize, who, with the collaboration of Carlos Castanheira, turned a 16,800 square metre area into a modern exhibition space flanked by a laboratory, an archive, an auditorium, a multi-purpose room, a museum shop, a cafe and a bookshop due to open shortly.

The China Design Museum undoubtedly reflects Álvaro Siza’s design philosophy. The building seems to aspire to a timeless beauty and dimension, all the while interacting with the physical environment around it and with the function it is there to provide. As is so often the case with Siza’s work, monochrome and mono-material prevail and the architecture underscores some aspects of the natural and urban environment into which it has been inserted. The museum is at the intersection of two main roads, on a triangular urban plot that served to define its outline, form and volume. Inside, a right angle triangular courtyard and recessed entrances created by angular sections cut into corners enhance the geometric feel of the museum.

The entire building is clad in Agra red sandstone, imported from India, which lends spectacular definition to the look of the exterior. White marble has been used for the internal walls, while a self-supporting white cement volume serves as an entrance.

The layout of the internal spaces was conceived to guarantee flexibility and facilitate visitor flows. The basement contains technical and service areas, the archives and a café connected to the courtyard. The entry and relaxation areas are on the ground floor, along with the temporary exhibition spaces and auditoriums. The upper floor is geared to optimising efficiency of movement, while a flight of stairs leads to an outdoor hanging garden. Lastly, the top floor houses the permanent Bauhaus collection.

Five exhibitions are currently on show: Life World: The Collection of Western Modern Design (permanent); Subversion & Reshaping: The Collection of Massimo Osti Menswear (permanent); Bauhaus Imaginista: Moving Away; Álvaro Siza – Beyond Architecture; Xiang Peng - Figural Space Cabinet of Bauhaus; The Document Exhibition of architecture design of China Design Museum.


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