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Ole Scheeren unveils huge art museum slotted in beside Beijing's hutongs

Architect Ole Scheeren has released the first official photographs of his Guardian Art Center, which he describes as a "big culture machine" on the edge of Beijing's Forbidden City.

Billed as the world's first custom-built auction house, the huge structure accommodates a wide range of facilities, from art galleries and art-conservation facilities, to a hotel, event spaces and public transport infrastructure.

At its base, the building comprises a cluster of small blocks that are designed to match the scale of the surrounding hutongs – the densely packed neighbourhoods filled with traditional courtyard houses, largely unique to Beijing.

But above these, Scheeren designed a large "floating ring" that frames the entire outline of the structure.

"I was interested in how we could fuse this everlasting tension between history and modernity," the architect told Dezeen.

"My idea was to conceive the base of the building as an extension of the scale of the historic city, as a series of sediments that relate in scale and materiality to the historic context. And then to take the scale of the modern city and float a volume atop this articulated cultural base."

The smaller blocks at the base are clad with grey basalt stone and dotted with perforations. Together, these tiny circular openings form an abstraction of a historic Chinese landscape painting by artist Huang Gongwang.

By contrast, the ring that forms the upper section of the building is covered in a grid of translucent glass panels, described by Scheeren as being "like floating bricks".

There are only a handful of transparent openings, which take the form of window walls, making it clear where visitors get in and out of the building.

"It’s not a building of glass," explained Scheeren. "This slight sense of introverted-ness is very Beijing. It is a city that unfolds all of its grandness from the inside – in many ways it works with the place."

Scheeren, who is based in Beijing, first unveiled his design for the Guardian Art Center in early 2015. Photos began to emerge in the summer of 2017, shortly before the art galleries opened, although the hotel is still yet to receive its first guests.

The architect sees the building as a model for how Chinese architecture can be both contemporary and respectful to history – a combination that might please Chinese president Xi Jinping, who called for an end to "weird architecture" back in 2014.

Photo is by Shuhe

"This is an important statement vis-a-vis architecture in general in China at this point, to not only present the glaring and new, but to find ways to address a sense of historic continuity without falling into historicising," said Scheeren.

"You could see it as a response to that [speech]," he added. "I had actually designed the building long before the issue came up, but there was a notion of it being an important issue, even before it became a political issue."

Photo is by Alex Fradkin

Inside, the building's layout is as much of a jigsaw as its exterior. At its centre is a 1,700-square-metre gallery space that is designed to be as flexible as possible. Integrating a system of moveable partitions and adaptable ceiling systems, it can be used for exhibitions, auctions and other events.

A series of smaller exhibition and auction rooms are scattered around the outside, along with two large auction halls that are more traditional in appearance. Areas for art conservation are located in the basement, with parking below and a metro station to one side.

Photo is by Shuhe

The hotel is located in the floating ring, while a small tower accommodates educational facilities. There are also restaurants, offices and a bookshop slotted into the upper levels.

"The building is very intricate accumulation of pieces. What I tried to achieve was a sense of understated monumentality," added Scheeren.

Photo is by the architects

Scheeren, who ranked at number 255 on Dezeen Hot List 2017, founded his studio in 2010.

Initially he was predominantly working in Asia, on projects including the The Interlace in Singapore. But he has just announced a series of projects in a variety of global cities, including a skyscraper in Vancouver, a high-rise refurbishment in Frankfurt and a landscape-covered tower in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Photography is by Iwan Baan, apart from where otherwise indicated.

Project credits:

Design architect: Buro Ole Scheeren
Principal/design: Ole Scheeren
Partners: Eric Chang, Dan Cheong
Associate in charge: Virginia Chiappa Nuñez
Team: Marcel Holmberg, Sun Ke, Emily Liang, Cecilia Lei, Yingda Liu, Anna Pierotello, Nina Sattler, Olaf Turck, Lin Wang; with: Benjamin Ahrens, Mark Biemans, Kim Bjarke, Catarina Canas, Alicia Casals, Michael Cavander, Jeffrey Cheng, Patrick Conway, Dyno Du, Nicolaz Frez, Brian Fung, Daniel Hawkins, Xinran Ji, Philipp Kramer, Emeline Laurencon, Yuyang Lin, Mavis Liu, Wymen Lo, Max Ma, Rafael Merino, John Murphey, Marcin Olszowski, Kevin Ou, Kevin Park, Yanyadech Phornphong, Aaron Powers, Klementina Savickaite, Jim Shi ,Chiara Storino, Joseph Tang, Yang Tao, Elena Yang, Quentin Yiu, Francis Young, Lei Yu, Danny Zhang, Bruno Zhao, Weiwei Zhang, Yi Zhu
Concept team: Catarina Canas, Brian Fung, Paloma Hernaiz, Marcel Holmberg, Tait Kaplan, Jaime Oliver, Joseph Tang

Local design institute: Beijing Institute of Architectural Design
Structural engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
Building services engineer: WSP
Facade consultants: Front Inc, PFT Construction Consulting
Interior design: Buro Ole Scheeren, MQ-Studio
Lighting consultant: ZDP

More images and plans

Photo is by the architects
Photo is by the architects
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