The Cultural Revolution began a tumultuous ten-year period in the history of China. Spearheaded by communist leader Mao Zedong in 1966 until he died in 1976, it left a violent and turbulent legacy in his wake. The ramifications of the Cultural Revolution have been memorialized as a Museum in an attempt to mourn its dead, remember its history, and provide information to future generations to learn lessons from it. The Clock Museum of the Cultural Revolution is a part of the Jianchuan Museum Cluster.
Location: Chengdu, China
Project Year: 2008
Project Area: 3885 Sq.m
Materials: Brick, Exposed Concrete
This cluster comprises 30-odd museums organized around four main themes – The Anti-Japanese War (1939-1945), the ‘Red Age’ (Cultural Revolution 1966-1967), The 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, and Folklore and Culture. The Jianchuan Museum Cluster is the largest non-state museum project in China, established by Mr. Fan Jianchuan. The Museum is designed by Liu Jiakun, Principal Architect at Jiakun Architects. Jiakun has been called an architect of memory who believes ‘Treasuring the value of ordinary lives will be the foundation of our nation’s revival’.
The Clocks Museum is embedded into the heart of a derelict commercial zone. A discrete entry wedged between shopfronts leads into a passage that acts as a central spine and runs across the building. The design is an interpretation of the co-existing fabric of temples and local markets that is customary to ancient china. It emulates the experience of stepping into a temple from the street. The sharp contrast between culture and economy is highlighted as the visitor steps in from a bustling exterior to a tranquil interior space.
The museum dedicated to the ‘Red Age’ or the Cultural Revolution in the history of China consists of various smaller museums, information displays, and photographic exhibitions. It also features a memorial hall of Deng Xiaoping. Built-in exposed concrete and exposed red brick, the primary material continues onto the ceiling and floors in parts. The continuous hue becomes a muted backdrop and allows the exhibits on display to be highlighted. Large room heights with displays up to the ceiling envelopes the visitor within the space and creates a completely immersive experience.
A tight tall passage that circulates across the building periodically opens into the three main exhibition spaces. The museum commences with a rectangular apse-ended memorial hall that houses the statue of Deng Xiaoping. The memorial features an arrangement of benches for seating with walls adorned with frames. The concrete ceiling that is a grid of exposed beams is punctured in parts to create skylights. The skylights brighten the interior spaces as lights wash over the walls. The largest skylight is at the semi-circular end and lights up the statue, and draws attention to the memorial, which is the highlight of the space.
This strategic use of natural light is observed across the museum that helps conjure an air of quiet reverence. A square gallery space includes an exhibition space running along its perimeter. The gallery spaces are lit with a combination of diffused and artificial lighting. The lighting is simple and unobtrusive, and aids in a comfortable viewing experience.
Sweeping curves help erect plenty of secluded spaces for contemplation and reflection, as one proceeds across into the Clock Museum of the Cultural Revolution. A columbarium, traditionally built to store cremation urns, contains a series of clocks that signify the end of the Cultural Revolution. These clocks are displayed in niches, which is a characteristic design feature seen across Jiakun’s earlier projects.
The final exhibit of the museum is located in a large circular structure punctured with a round aperture that is open to the sky. A band running along the interior circumference is the display for a series of photographs. The heightened scale of the walls further encloses the visitor and allows for a moment of quiet introspection. This sense of disconnect from the outside world is aided by the void. Man is one with himself and nature.
The attentive approach to the interior spaces of the museum is also met with a meticulous plan for its exterior. The Architect addresses the reality that for a museum to survive, it must be met with economic activities that allow it to sustain over a period of time. The provision of adequate open-air space around the museum attracts food vendors to set up shop and draws in a steady stream of visitors. The intersection of economy and culture, or traditionally between the sacred and secular, develops a unique sense of space by encouraging an urban dialogue between the two. As Jiakun says, “Many see culture and commercial success at opposing ends of the spectrum, but I believe that they can co-exist. Only then could cultural and historical institutions have the hope of surviving”.