“You cannot simply put something new into a place. You have to absorb what you see around you, what exists on the land, and then use that knowledge along with contemporary thinking to interpret what you see.” – Tadao Ando.
Location – Shunde, China
Year of Completion – 2020
Architect – Tadao Ando
Spanning over a massive area of 16,000 square meters, one can spot this beautiful Tadao Ando designed museum, tucked away in the quaint and traditionally agricultural, Shunde district in Southern China. Named after the founder of the museum, He Jianfeng, the structure borrows its concept from the word “He” which denotes harmony, balance, and fortune. It is the first museum to preserve and exhibit the regional Lingnan culture. The Ancient Chinese cosmology believed that the sky is round and divine and the Earth is square and flat, the design values of this museum hence try to reflect these traditional beliefs by creating the main structure that is round (sky), the ground that is square (earth) and a crescent-shaped garden at the entrance that is meant to resemble the moon and stars.
Ando’s spectacular architectural design experiments with the usual dynamic geometry and plays with several layers of circular rings that expand on the periphery hence creating a sense of rhythm and tension. These circular rings are in the form of a slick concrete shell that ripples their way from the bottom to the top and form the core of the structure. This framework covers four levels that are internally connected by a dynamic double helix staircase that eventually meets the majestic round skylight in the center of the museum. This staircase is in the form of a DNA and is meant to act as a tranquil pause point with a temple-like vibe that enables the user to look up at the roof directly and see natural light entering the building.
The idea behind creating such a setting is that when two people walk up and down the stairs at the same time, a sense of rhythm and movement is created along the vertical axis of the structure. Half of the total area of the building is dedicated to an exhibition space that caters to Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art. The rotating exhibition display showcases the work of legends like Picasso and Yayoi Kusama. Exhibition spaces on all levels are square, except for the gallery on the ground level that has a square form and an open plan book-store and café. In addition to that, there is a 300 square meter flexible education space. The internal circulation areas have an ample amount of natural light, ventilation, and open into green buffer spaces that appear as pockets along the periphery of the museum.
The spaces with larger footfalls like the exhibition areas and cafeteria are treated like bays where the width of the room increases to ensure hassle-free movement. The overall circulation in and around the structure is meandering and reflects rhythm and harmony. Because the region includes two coastal provinces and an island, the garden has been designed keeping mind water as a very important element hence replicating the Water Pavilions from Lignan’s heritage in form of a huge pond that envelopes the museum and marks the main entrance to the gallery that is supposed to indicate a tranquil transition from the exteriors into the world of art and culture.
The museum reflects one of Ando’s finest conceptual ideas that breathe freely within four slick concrete walls that exude minimalism, where the Lignan art and history come back to life during exhibitions, lectures, and informal discussions in the vast discussion spaces. The structure is also very well connected to four International airports and the Guangzhou South High-Speed Railway station.
“I want to create a museum that can synthesize southern China’s richly diverse cultures that stretches many millennia and the influences that birthed the Lingnan architecture. I imagined HEM as an energetic central anchor point to all the artistic and regional customs, climate, landscape and civilization in Lingnan. I hope HEM can become the heart of Lingnan culture, not just in Shunde but the whole of Greater China. I look forward to seeing the artworks and programs activate the building, stimulating provoking thoughts with high-quality spaces and art.” – Tadao Ando