Zhujiajiao Museum of Humanities & Arts

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30 Meizhou Lane, Shanghai

Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town located in the Qingpu district of Shanghai. The roots of the town date back 1.700 years. Numerous bridges from Ming and Qing Dynasty span the many canals, streams and rivers. Zhujiajiao is already for many years an important location for Chinese and foreign tourists. Old temples, ancient shops and restaurant line the lanes and the waterways. In order to stimulate tourism, the authorities invest in infrastructure to promote the new cultural industries. At the entrance to the old town, the Museum for Humanities and Arts is established as a new cultural centre. Architect Zhu Xiaofeng and his firm scenic architecture from Shanghai, based their design on age-old traditions of the region. The administration hopes that the charming atmosphere of the canal town will attract artists of all kind for their ambitious plan to attract more tourists. With an international Water-Colour Biennale, Kunqu Opera performances and a Music Festival, the first steps are made. The motivation behind the cultural activities is the anxiety that the old town will become more and more an empty shell, based on commercial thrash rather than on a lively society. In resent years many of the local residents moved from the old town to new housing districts in the surrounding. They only come back to work in the tourist industries. Many of the old buildings are turned into shops or restaurants, without residents. To oppose this trend, the new structure includes a program to stimulate artists and cultural activists to open their studios in town. The new Museum for Humanities and Arts, next to two more than 470 years old ginkgo trees, is dedicated to house paintings and other works of art related to the history of Zhujiajiao.

Split into several volumes, the mass of the museum is grouped around a central atrium with a glass roof. Here an open zigzag stairway made of wood, stands like an abstract sculpture in the open space. The main exhibition space is places at the ground floor around the central court. On the first floor an internal circulation around the atrium links several smaller units and open courts for special exhibitions and events. The reference of the figure-ground texture of the old town can be seen in the relationship of court and building mass. The different parts of the building are sensibly turned to their neighbouring building. This has the effect that the rectangular boxes slightly interact with the urban structure. To honour the old gingko tree on the public plaza in front of the museum, a reflection pool on the second floor mirrors the tree into the space of the museum. The white washed walls of the building are a reference to the traditional local architectural style. The huge glass fronts on the second floor open the building to the surrounding and invite the people for a visit. The interconnected interior space gets its daylight from those huge openings. Whereas the buildings on the first floor is rather closed to the outside, in order to get the most space for the placement of paintings, the opening on the second floor, work in two ways: first they give daylight to the interior space and second they open the building to the passers-by.

The museum fits in scale and materiality perfect into the surrounding and testifies that a renewal of traditional values is possible with contemporary method and material. By avoiding usual attributes of “Chinese-ness”, like turned eaves and decorative applications, the concentration goes to deeper values, like space, light and materiality. As a place for cultural activities, the new Museum for Humanities and Arts gives a perfect place for cultural activities, hopefully far beyond the context of mere tourist interest. To renew a canal town like Zhujiajiao, the museum can only be seen as a starting point and further urban and architectural interventions are needed, before an active urban live can recreate a contemporary urban culture based on the interest of tourists and inhabitants.

Project: Zhujiajiao Museum of Humanities & Arts

Location: Zhujiajiao Town, Shanghai

Site Area: 1,448 sqm

Building Area: 1,818 sqm

Program: Fine Arts Museum

Design/Built: 2008–2010

Architect: Scenic Architecture Office

Design Team: Zhu Xiaofeng, Li Qitong, Xu Lei, Dong Zhiping, Zhang Hao

Structural & MEP: Shanghai Xiandai Huagai Architectural Design Ltd.

Client: Shanghai Dianshanhu Newtown Development Ltd.

Photographer: Iwan Baan

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Community Pavilion at Jintao Village
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