In 1959, ten major public buildings were commissioned for Tian’anmen Square in Beijing, in close proximity to imperial palace The Forbidden City, many of which are now viewed as key milestones in China’s architectural journey. Several years ago, ten international practices including OMA, Kohn Pedersen Fox and Foster + Partners were invited to generate outstanding designs to reinvigorate the dominating National Museum of China in the Square, converting and extending the former Chinese History Museum and Chinese National Museum.
The competition was won by Hamburg-based firm gmp Architekten which suggested gutting the existing museum structure, removing a central block and inserting a bronze flying roof into the void. This flying roof was designed to house a permanent exhibition on Chinese history and would provide far-reaching views over the city, however the client and associated Chinese architectural experts felt that the concept needed certain revisions. Now completed, the amended design combines the north and south wings by removing the central structure. A grand 260m-long ‘forum’ now stands in this void, widening at the centre the embrace the front entrance.
A series of slender pillars characterise the western entrance to the existing building, encapsulating the classic grandeur of temple and palace architecture. The west façade of the new building is planned analogously, the ‘dougong’ resting on its supports and carrying a prominent projecting roof. In historical Chinese architecture, the ‘dougong’ is a slightly projecting feature of bearings and joist ends. With the existing north and south wings now united by a expansive ‘forum’, wayfinding within the immense building has been fully simplified as all public access sections branch off from this central cavernous space.
At nearly 200,000 sq m the National Museum is now the largest museum in the world, its prestigious main collection distributed over four levels in the new extension. The central hall or ‘forum’ will provide a venue for state receptions, banquets and similar important events, above a separate events hall with fixed tiered seating for lectures, concerts, cinematic productions and stage-based performances. Despite the incredible size of the project, the architects sought to retain a ‘homely’ feel, employing the use of local granite, wooden cladding, recycled glass and red wall coverings.