The world’s largest astronomy museum opens in Shanghai, and its complex curly shape is designed to reflect the geometry of the cosmos. Without straight lines or right angles used, the structure is instead formed by three overlapping arcs that point to the paths of the celestial bodies.
Opening Friday, the 420,000-square-foot Shanghai Astronomy Museum – a branch of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum – will house exhibits, a planetarium, an observatory and a 78-foot-high solar telescope. It was conceived by the American company Ennead Architects, which in 201
The Shanghai Astronomy Museum was deliberately designed without straight lines or right angles. Credit: Regards Ennead Architects
“We really thought we could leverage the architecture to make an incredible impact on this whole experience,” said lead designer and partner Thomas J. Wong in a video interview. “The building is meant to be this embodiment of … astronomically inspired architecture.”
By walking in front of straight walls in favor of curved lines, Wong and his team hoped to show that everything in the universe is in constant motion and controlled by a variety of forces.
According to Wong, they were also affected by the “three-body problem”, the currently unresolved question of how to mathematically calculate the motion of three celestial bodies – such as planets, moons or stars – based on their gravitational conditions. to each other. While this calculation can be performed with two celestial bodies, the paths become chaotic and unpredictable with three.
The Oculus in the main entrance acts as a clock, with a circle of light indicating the season and time of day. Credit: Regards Ennead Architects
“The reason we thought the three-body problem was interesting is because it’s a complex set of paths,” Wong explained. “(These are) conditions that are dynamic, as opposed to a simple circle around the center. And that was part of the (design) intention – to capture that complexity.”
In Wong’s design, the cosmic riddle is translated into three arcs: an oculus, a sphere, and an inverted dome that refer to the sun, moon, and stars, respectively. Each houses an important tourist attraction or design function.
Visitors first encounter the oculus, which opens above the museum’s main entrance. It acts like a clock, producing a circle of sunlight that moves across the floor throughout the day, indicating time and season.
The planetarium, located in a large sphere, was built with minimal visible support to appear weightless. Credit: Regards Ennead Architects
Then comes the planetarium theater, which is enclosed in a sphere and emerges from the roof of the building like a moonrise. The lower abdomen of the massive structure seems to flow weightlessly, with room to go under.
Finally, a huge inverted glass dome on the roof top gives visitors the chance to see the open night sky, in a press release described as “a real encounter with the universe to end the simulated experience from within.”
“We want people to understand the special nature of the earth as a place that hosts life, unlike any other place we know in the universe,” Wong said.
The inverted glass dome gives visitors the opportunity to look at an unobstructed view of the open sky. Credit: Regards Ennead Architects
Ennead Architects has offices in both the United States and China, and is also responsible for New York’s famous Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, a project designed by one of the firm’s founders, James Polshek. Wong said there was “a pedigree” between the two buildings.
“Polshek referred to the Rose Center as a ‘cosmic cathedral,'” Wong said. “It is very appropriate for the experience here at the Shanghai Astronomy Museum.”