The new town of Kangbashi in northern China, which was planned to house over one million people, now only has a tenth of its original population. Chinese government officials invested over $1 billion in the construction of the settlement, which is located several miles south of Ordos in Inner Mongolia, in the early 2000s. 

According to Raphael Olivier, a French photographer, the result is a “very beautiful city full of contradictions.” Olivier recorded the ghost town and its partly completed architectural marvels, drawn to the “post-apocalyptic” feel created by the juxtaposition of abandoned, large-scale structures and the surrounding desert.

Ordos Art & City Museum by MAD Architects: Familiar yet a Distinct Museum Sheet1
Ordos Art City Museum_©

The project took place in the Ordos, China‘s southwestern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in the Kangbashi district, a city-up in the heart steppe. The museum was built next to the city library, which was also recently constructed.

The Ordos is about 30 kilometers south of Dongsheng, and Distrito Kangbashi, which means “palaces” in Mongolian, is an area with thousands of residential apartments and duplexes designed to house employees from the city’s nearby coal mines. Agency complexes, administration offices, government houses, museums, parks, playgrounds, classrooms, and galleries are all included in the development project. However, the estimated one million residents who were supposed to live or visit the area have not shown up, and the neighborhood, as well as the houses, are in disrepair and abandonment.


Ordos Art & City Museum by MAD Architects: Familiar yet a Distinct Museum Sheet2

Until recently, the space filled by the city of Ordos, founded several miles away from every urban center, was one of the Gobi Desert’s many steppes. The government plan master drew and presented a visual vision of the city, depicted by a sequence of static and precise urban scenarios emanating from the central square, like a ray of sunlight, but transforming a cold, desolate city that did not take into account the inhabitants who would inhabit it.

In comparison to the rigid geometry of urban architecture, the Museum was conceived as a response to this urban solution, assuming the shape of a natural, irregular nucleus. Shiny metal panels wrap the structure, reflecting and dissolving the atmosphere. This shell encloses a new interior that is cut off from the rest of the world.

The domed structure, which is meant to house the region’s cultural heritage, is surrounded by a logical and geometric urban fabric, resting on an inclined surface and winking at the surrounding Gobi Desert.

When the artist was told where the project could be built, he pictured a metal bubble that had landed in the desert. “……..inspired by the animation film The Simpsons Movie, in one of whose scenes all city inhabitants are isolated by a bubble, and the Second, science fiction, executed as suggested by Buckminster Fuller and built-in Manhattan, where humans can only live under a glass dome,” he said. “Viruses are everywhere, and there are unhealthy conditions……”, he further added.

Materials and spaces

Ordos Art & City Museum by MAD Architects: Familiar yet a Distinct Museum Sheet3

The house, which has an irregular nucleus, has five levels above ground with a total constructed area of 41,227 square meters and one underground floor with an area of 8,175 square meters, with a maximum height of 40 meters.

The museum is divided into several display rooms, all of which are accessible to the shared public space that runs across the museum and is characterized by continuous curvilinear walls. This massive central plaza enjoys sunshine from a height of 30 meters and is crossed by bridges that span the vast gap and guide visitors from one level to the next, providing a continuous flow of foot traffic. The architect hoped that people would treat this room as though it were an “urban space.”

The louvered glass roof allows light into space, which is then channeled into the building through the luminescent walls, while the metal slats skin filters sunlight and allows for natural ventilation. The house, which is designed to look like a light rock with a bronze steel skin, stands out and blends in with its arid surroundings.

“…… I wrapped this new world with a reflective metal facade, to serve symbolically protection for users,” Yansong Ma said in an interview. The dark color of the base metal lends a sense of calm to the structure.


Ordos Art & City Museum by MAD Architects: Familiar yet a Distinct Museum Sheet4

People employed in the building industry in China are familiar with conventional methods and materials, so explaining that what was meant was a thin metal shell rather than a substantial steel frame was challenging. A thin stainless steel shell, not a heavy tank, was raised in the architect’s eye. A structural engineer who was familiar with building science who worked to achieve a concrete design that looked the way it did was employed.

Since certain sections were displaced 2 to 3 meters of the curve shown in sketches, the final shape does not quite follow the initial version suggested by architects. By counting the various panels and arranging them according to schedules, a complete and logical review of the building’s skin was performed in the study; but, once they are in place, staff do not immediately mount them in the correct location.


  1. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 June 2021].

BIANCHINI, R., 2021. Ordos Museum 鄂尔多斯博物馆 – MAD Architects | Inexhibit. [online] Inexhibit. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 June 2021].

ArchDaily. 2021. Ordos Art & City Museum / MAD Architects. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 June 2021].

WikiArquitectura. 2021. ✅ Ordos Museum – Data, Photos & Plans – WikiArquitectura. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 June 2021].


Tushar is currently an architecture student in VIT. Whenever he finds time from browsing through memes, he's constantly lost in dreaming about new conspiracy theories. He is constantly trying to stay awake through online classes one class at a time.