Chengdu Museum of Natural History

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Chengdu, China
540,000 square feet / 50,000 square meters

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects was chosen as the winner of an international competition for the Chengdu Natural History Museum. The other competitors were Zaha Hadid, Sutherland Hussey Harris, Nihon Sekkei, Valode & Pistre, and FUKSAS.

The site is located in the eastern part of Chengdu, a historical and culturally rich city in China within the western Sichuan Basin. The site is bound by Chenghua Ave on the west, Dongfeng Canal on the east, and Erxianqiao Road on the south. The program defines a 50,000-square-meter building. Program elements include exhibition and educational spaces, permanent, temporary and interactive exhibits, a gift shop, a café, cinemas, and outdoor spaces. Parking will be accommodated below-grade, along with direct access to and from an adjacent subway station.

The architectural character of the building evokes the birth of the mountain forms rising from the Sichuan Basin. The mountains were formed by volcanic activity and shifting tectonic plates, causing the rock to break apart and shift with the horizontal and vertical forces of the plateau’s uplift. The building is designed to express the mountains as one with the surrounding landscape—not placed upon but, rather, grown from the land. The existing river landscape embraces the building as reflecting pools at the base of the mountains and as silky tributaries threaded through the landscape. The paths of the tributaries are controlled with weirs as an homage to the deep history of water control in the region. The earth is cut to reveal the geological strata of time and sediment. Flora that evokes the rich hues of the Sichuan agricultural traditions bring the aura of the modern agriculture industry into the city. The building meets the earth and water in a strong relationship between mankind, the man-made, and the natural environment.

The central atrium is tall and filled with light. The generous space connects the city, street, and main entrance visually and physically to the landscape and canal. A forest of slender columns and trusses filters light from the glass ceiling and provides habitat for pterodactyls. The atrium walls are clad in the same stone found on the exterior, but smooth to create a harmonious atmosphere with slatted wood screen walls and a glossy stone floor. The interior palette creates layers and reflections as a painting superimposes textures and hues.

Public museum spaces, such as the café and gift shop, are located directly from the atrium and have access to the north basin. Exhibit spaces have been arranged to be experienced vertically as visitors travel through space and time and horizontally as the exhibits relate in environmental sequence. Educational spaces have been located at the ground floor and at lower levels for easy access to public transportation and site amenities. The landscaping will provide outdoor spaces for cultural performance and interactive experiences. A pedestrian bridge connects from the street, through the landscape, and across the canal to the Chengdu Technical University.