Zhejiang University (ZJU), founded in 1897 as Qiushi Academy, has grown into one of the top universities in the world. Today, ZJU has 54,000 full-time students enrolled in 37 colleges and schools. In May 2019, the School of Art & Archaeology (SAA) opened as the first school of its type in China. The SAA includes the Archaeology, Cultural Heritage & Museology Department; the departments of Fine Arts, Art History, Design & Art, and the Museum of Art & Archaeology.
ZJUMAA is located in Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang and center of China’s fourth most populated metropolitan area. Hangzhou traces its roots back 7,000 years and is considered one of China’s Seven Ancient Capitals. The region, noted for its mountains, lakes, rivers, is a place of serene beauty and contemplative landscapes. Sited in the southwest quadrant of the Zijingang campus, ZJUMAA is one of the first building designed for theWest Zijingang Campus expansion. The building is sited along one of the city’s many waterways and helps to connect the city to the SAA and to the rest of the campus to the north.
The design for ZJUMAA began in 2008 and the completed museum opened in September 2019.
The Zhejiang University Museum of Art and Archaeology is the first Chinese teaching museum focused on undergraduate art history education. The notion of establishing China’s first teaching museum was put forth by the late Dr. Wen Fong, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Art at Princeton University and the first consultative chairman for Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The West Lake Society, a US-based nonprofit with a mission of supporting the development of art history education in Chinese liberal arts curriculum, encouraged and supported the project. This comprehensive teaching museum supports research and study of the arts on a growing university campus.
GTA worked with Zhejiang University, the SAA, Dr. Fong, and the West Lake Society to develop the buildings program, which includes a total of 25,100 square meters of museum and academic spaces, encompassing exhibition galleries, storage spaces, the Wen Fong Library, conservation studios, laboratories, conference rooms, and study rooms. The museum and academic wing share a 300-seat auditorium. GTA conducted careful analysis of the museum’s collections to understand the idea conditions for their display, including lighting conditions, along with the scale, proportions, and heights of the different gallery spaces.
The design concept for ZJUMAA emerged from questioning how a contemporary museum and academic building – the first of its kind in China – could draw inspiration from China’s long & rich cultural heritage. Knowing that this building would become a center for the study, conservation, curation and interpretation of Chinese art & artifacts and that it is located in a region recognized for its natural beauty, flat-perspective traditional Chinese landscape painting inspired the building design.
The building’s massing is composed of three east-west bars that rise in height as they move from the civic plaza alongside the waterway to meet the campus on the northern edge. The three bars also help mediate the shift in scale from the southern, low river landscape to the taller campus buildings to the north. Finally, landscape is woven between the bars, creating courtyards and gardens that introduce natural light into the building, while referring to traditional Chinese building typologies.
The first, and southernmost bar, containing the lobby, museum store, and cafe overlooks an existing canal side park and draws visitors along a waterside entry path to an arrival plaza with the main public entrance. The museum’s four galleries and back-of house spaces – conservation labs, art storage & handling areas, and administrative offices – are located within the second and third bars. A shared 300-seat auditorium, with its dedicated entrance, is located in the east portion of the second bar.
The tallest bar, facing to the adjacent main campus, includes back-of-house museum space on the first floor and the academic wing, where classrooms, labs, faculty offices, study spaces and the library are located on the upper floors. The Academic wing has a dedicated entry in the northeast area of the building, immediately adjacent to bike parking. The museum and the academic wing are also connected through a shared lobby physically and symbolically linking the Museum and the Academy.
ZJUMAA is clad in a rainscreen of custom-designed concrete masonry units (CMU), crafted in four textures and five colors, that recall local Chinese building materials & methods, as well as traditional textiles. The CMUs were scaled-up – the largest measures 3m long x .25m high – and the stacking patterns were varied help mitigate the scale of the building. The patterns and colors are simultaneously unique and instantly recognizable; a contemporary building that draws upon and celebrates ancient Chinese traditions.
GTA worked closely with Arup and the local contractors to develop this custom pre-cast masonry rainscreen, requiring physical models, mock-ups, on-site testing, and an in-depth jurisdictional review due to seismic loads.