On a beach along the coast of Northern China’s Bohai Bay, an Art Museum lies partially obscured underneath a sand dune. While certain portions conspicuously protrude above it, the full extent and scale of the spaces is masked below. Conceptualised by the Beijing-based firm OPEN Architecture, the design of the UCCA Dune Art Museum sensitively accounts for the context it lies within, without compromising on the aesthetics of the building. “Careful balancing of the construction with the sustainability of the ecology as a whole, carving a sanctuary for art, and seeking a habitat for the coexistence of human, plants and animal species, are of paramount importance to this project,” assert LI Hu and HUANG Wenjing, founding partners of OPEN Architecture.
The 930 sq.m Art Museum includes exhibition galleries, a café, reception, outdoor exhibition spaces and a roof terrace. Entry to the museum is through a long tunnel that leads to the reception area and subsequently to the gallery cells. The interior surfaces reveal slightly inconsistent finishes with impressions of the formwork (used for the construction) clearly visible. The architects have consciously retained this character since it not only lends a raw beauty to the space but also alludes to the story behind its manual construction. The building’s concrete shells were shaped by hand, by local workers from Qinhuangdao, using wooden strips and sometimes elastic materials as the formwork. “It is a truly authentic creation, and in a way, it even records the struggles that the builders had been through to construct these difficult forms,” share Li and Huang.
Elaborate studies were conducted, including digital simulations analysing the angle and trajectory of sunbeams on the site at different times of the day and year. These studies became the basis to design the skylights and determine their orientations to ensure that an appropriate amount of natural light filters through all year round. “Its sand-covered roof greatly reduces the building’s summer heat load, and a low-energy, zero-emission ground source heat pump system replaces traditional air conditioning. With construction completed, the plant life on the dune is also being restored; over time, the extensive root systems of native amorphas, locusts, and beach grasses will re-stabilize the dune’s sands,” say Li and Huang.
The project strongly draws on organic forms and this design language is reflected not just in the spatial configuration and the building form but also extends to the design of the interior elements. Each of the 8 custom-designed tables in the café echoes the floor plans of the organic-shaped gallery cells. The doors, windows, reception desk, bar counter and the bathroom sinks have been custom-designed and made on-site. The architects have envisaged spaces with the intention to offer visitors an engaging experience. This is reflected through certain intangible spatial qualities. For instance, the interior spaces buried underneath the dune are graced with natural light sublimely filtering in from the skylights above. The viewing platform at the top (accessed via the spiral staircase) and the outdoor exhibition areas open up from the enclosed interior spaces to overwhelming views of the seemingly endless expanse of the sea and the sky beyond. The serenely white interiors exude a soothing aura and also function as a perfect neutral backdrop to showcase various artistic creations. “The scale and relationship between each cell were also carefully designed and deliberately sculpted to enrich the visitors’ spatial experiences as they move through the museum’s galleries,” conclude Li and Huang.