The Ordos Art and City Museum of Inner Mongolia

Posted by Staff on Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Ordos Art and City Museum, Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China

The shape of the Ordos Art and City Museum is not the only unusual thing about the project. At the time when architect Ma Yansong, founder of MAD Architects, was selected to design the museum, the city of Ordos was nothing more than one building surrounded by the Ordos desert of Inner Mongolia. The region is rich in natural resources and one of the wealthiest regions in China, but only over the last decade has the city been substantially developed. One of the first projects to be funded was the Art and City Museum, which gave the up-and-coming Ma Yansong considerable freedom in his design.

Ma Yansong runs MAD Architects out of Beijing, but the young, Yale-educated architect is quickly picking up projects all around the world. MAD was founded in 2004 and after winning a design competition for the Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, the projects stared pouring in. As we mentioned before, when Ma Yansong first began surveying Ordos for design inspiration, there was little else besides desert to be seen. In an interview with Azure Magazine, he recounts his first encounter with the desolate site: “I got off the bus, and I could see only one building – a new government building still under construction – but nothing else. So I climbed to the roof and looked around. The road system was already in place, but there were no buildings. There was nothing.” Out of this nothing came the freedom to design something original and avoid the influence of surrounding buildings.

Ordos Art and City Museum, Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China

The inspiration for the museum’s design ended up being the desert itself: “Mongolia has a lot of horizontal landscapes: sand dunes, windswept land, big skies. I decided to make a building that would be set into the desert.” (Azure) Those horizontal features of the desert were translated into the curved aluminum panels that make up the building’s façade. The fluid and undulating surface mimics the windswept dunes, and the museum seems to rise up right out of the desert floor. Considering the amount of money that was about to be dumped in Ordos, Ma Yansong wanted his project to connect with the natural surroundings and remain an anchor in a city expecting Dubai-type growth. A large public plaza extends through the center of the building in what he calls a “canyon” in the museum. The stone plaza is a simple and open space designed to create a calm and contemplative atmosphere.

The “canyon” that passes through the museum is crossed by a network of bridges connecting the various galleries. Natural light pours in through the numerous skylights and accentuates the white, organic shapes of the bridges and gallery walls. Ma Yansong describes the interior space as warm and safe from the harsh desert conditions.

Just recently completed, it still remains to be seen what the actual content and impact of the museum will be. For all the money that’s been spent on building up Ordos, very few people have actually moved there. So while the museum is an interesting exercise in design influenced by its environment, it could very possibly end up being the central cultural artifact. Watching the video below, in which the architecture is the primary focus, one gets the feeling that the building functions more as a serene desert oasis or temple than a museum.

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