Nestled in the historic city of Ningbo, China, the Ningbo museum is a testament to the culture of the city. Designed by architect Wang Shu, leading the Amateur Architect Studio, the museum is a symbol of a deceased civilization and the geographical features of the city.
About Wang Shu
Founded by Wang Shu and his wife Lu Wenyu in 1997, the name Amateur Architect Studio reprimands the ‘professional, soulless architecture’ practised in China. The architect asserts that careless material choices and insensitive approaches have led to serious deterioration of Chinese cities. Therefore, the firm resorts to sustainable procedures and aims at preserving the identity of sites. Wang Shu often draws inspiration from nature and his work is perceived to ‘open new horizons while resonating with place and city’. These endeavours introduce the architect into a lesser-seen realm of Critical Regionalism in China.
The academic interventions of Wang Shu have played a pivotal role in shaping the architect he is today. Joining the China Academy of Art in 2000, Shu established himself as the head of the architecture department in 2003 and the dean in 2007. Thereafter, the architect initiated some path-breaking changes in the university’s curriculum. Shu insists his freshman architect students invest their introductory year in hands-on experience. He suggests they experiment with various materials, learn bricklaying principles, pottery, and so on. He also recommends that professors actively engage in studios and learn fundamental building techniques supporting the adage ‘Only people who understand the nature of the materials can make art using the materials.’
Working with local craftsmen to revive culture lies at the core of Shu’s practice. Hence, these novel perspectives transformed themselves into tangible edifices like the Five Scattered Houses and the internationally acclaimed Ningbo Museum in China. Shu won a competition for the museum in 2004 which was opened to the public in 2008. The architect’s narrative resembling the notion of the mountain with a profound intention of looking back while looking forward.
Resting in a relatively unpopulated region, the skewed colossal mass lies amongst scattered rigid cuboids dominating a skyline featuring partly unfinished towers and offices. Wang Shu, the principal architect of the museum explains,’ this is a no memory area ’, silently hinting at the elimination of local towns, endangered farmlands, and obliteration of tradition. Hence, ‘the building appears to be in a state of temporal limbo – its past abandoned and its future yet to arrive.’
Establishing a Sense of Place
Encompassing age-old temples and tech-savvy skyscrapers, the two-thousand-year-old city results from the layering of urban forms on the vernacular forms. Along with contemporary buildings, the city is home to humble abodes and sanctuaries of the bygone era. Hence, the Ningbo museum acts as a bridge linking the diverse dynamics from the two eras.
Built on the site of a demolished settlement, the complex pays homage to its former occupants. Fabricated from the ruins of a demolished village, the museum succeeds in establishing a sense of place and reinforcing the identity of the city.
Conveying Chinese Culture
Contrasting with the government buildings in the vicinity, the Ningbo Museum is inspired by the nation’s reserve of natural entities – the valleys, caves, lakes, and mountains. In the museum, architecture integrates with ancient Chinese Philosophy, resembling ‘an intersection of three valleys crossed by large stairways – two on the inside and one on the outside.’ The museum is an introverted building revealing very little on the outside but houses a series of tapering courtyards to witness the world from within.
Furthermore, the absence of a prevailing urban context enabled the architect to envision the building as a lively mountain realized as a high platform on the roof, fissuring the building in five pieces. Tilting on one side, the platform also serves as an abstract notion of a boat, another important element in Chinese Philosophy.
New techniques for using conventional materials.
Exhibiting an overlay of recycled materials, the facade of the Ningbo museum is a paradigm of blending traditional and modern materials. The upper half of the facade showcases an exposed concrete render once encased in bamboo shuttering. Hence, the bare vertical planes of the complex were transformed into a series of organic murals.
The lower half of the facade was developed in collaboration with craftsmen via the Wapan technique, a textured cladding of brick and tile. In conversation with Denzeen, Wang Shu reveals, ‘Many of the recycled bricks and tiles date back over a thousand years. These materials have been used to preserve memories of people living here, ‘ consciously aiming to discover new techniques for using conventional materials.
Due to Wang Shu’s sensitivity towards a mutilated society, recognition of beauty in primordial settlements, and the determination to revive their rich heritage, he was awarded the Lu Ban Prize in 2009, and the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2012. Thus, the Ningbo museum becomes a timeless example of preserving the dying Chinese culture today.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Wang Shu. Wang Shu – Wikipedia. Retrieved 09 13, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Shu
Dezeen & Hobson, B. (2016, August 18). Wang Shu’s Ningbo History Museum was built from the remains of demolished villages. Video: Wand Shu on Amateur Architect Studio’s Ningbo Museum in Ningbo. Retrieved August 08, 2021, from https://www.dezeen.com/2016/08/18/video-interview-wang-shu-amateur-architecture-studio-ningbo-history-museum-movie/
Domus & McGetrick, B. (2012, March 03). Ningbo History Museum. Ningbo History Museum – Domus. Retrieved August 09, 2021, from https://www.domusweb.it/en/from-the-archive/2012/03/03/ningbo-history-museum.html