Fangshan Tangshan Geopark National Museum | The Plan
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Fangshan Tangshan Geopark National Museum

Studio Odile Decq

In the age of faith, great churches were erected to enshrine the bones of a saint, and credulous pilgrims flocked to venerate them. Museums are the cathedrals of our secular times, and in China a showcase (of more than 20,000 square meter) was commissioned by local authorities to celebrate the discovery of two early human skulls. “Smash the Old” was the slogan of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In China today, surviving fragments of ancient times are eagerly exploited for their tourist potential, and the Fangshan Tangshan Geopark National Museum is a product of the drive to bring culture to the masses.

China offers a welcome opportunity to Western architects to realize their dreams in a form and on a scale that is becoming increasingly rare in cash-strapped Europe and America. 

Odile Decq was prompted by a Chinese friend to enter a competition to design the Fangshan Tangshan Museum on a mountaintop, but she persuaded the organizers to let her choose a more spacious and accessible site. The location is one of great natural beauty, an hour’s drive from the provincial capital of Nanjing. Mountains conceal a nearby town and the hotels that are clustered around hot springs. It is also near the cave where the bones of homo erectus nankinensis were found, and a scattering of bright stones that (according to local legend) cascaded from the sky.

The program called for an archeological and historical museum, with twin theaters, research facilities and a playground for children, but the details weren’t spelled out. Decq created a five-level building that seems to grow organically from the slope, its sweeping curves extending the natural topography of the site and the mountains beyond. The façade was to have been clad in locally quarried stone, but this was deemed too expensive, and fiberglass reinforced concrete panels were used to achieve a similar look. 

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