The Ningbo Historic Museum sit on a massive unpopulated plaza in Yinzhou, a district in the city of Ningbo that has a 5000-year history but looks like it was established last year. The building was designed by Wang Shu, an architect from the Amateur Architecture Studio, a practice that has some very interesting projects under its belt: the Xiangshan Campus and the Vertical Apartment at Hangzhou, the Wenzheng Library at Suzhou, the Sanhe House at Nanjing and the Five Scattered Houses along with the Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum again at Ningbo.
The museum occupies three floors in a total of 30.000 square meters. It looks like a skewed box with missing parts, made of a hodgepodge of materials that do not sit well together. The facade, embroidered with small, seemingly random placed windows, does a great job of concealing what's inside. It looks like it avoids any contemporary style – in fact, people in Ningbo were against the style of the building because it looked so different from the modern edifices occupying large plots of the area. But modern is defined in quite different terms from any architect and Wang Shu is no exception. He admits in designing with nature and specifically mountains in mind, as it is part of Chines tradition. But the use of traditional building techniques and materials is nothing but modern here.
Using the rich Chinese heritage as inspiration is of course not something new. In fact, it is almost expected from local architects. But Wang's inspiration from nature is much more well thought and executed than simple mimicry. Using fragments of older demolished buildings to make up the walls of this new one, collected from destruction sites all over the region, is in fact an old technique called wa pan, developed by local farmers to cope with natural disasters. Wang had used this one before in the campus of the China Academy of Arts in Hangzhou, but now it is being used in its birthing place.
The design is meant to evoke three valleys crossed by large stairways, two inside and one outside. The internal walls, made of concrete, were moulded using bamboo canes instead of wooden planks. This unusual technique is traditional but rarely used these days. This meant that they had to train builders to make this kind of wall, which looks so much different, almost made of natural stone. The main internal courtyard of the museum cuts through the building and reaches the roof terrace. Its skin of U-glass gives an otherworldly aura to it, as it comes into striking contrast with the opaque brute building materials.
Photos courtesy of Iwan Baan