Tadao Ando’s He Art Museum draws on local Chinese vernacular

Tadao Ando’s He Art Museum draws on local Chinese vernacular

The famed Japanese architect draws on traditional, local architecture in his latest cultural project, the He Art Museum (HEM), which prepares to open its doors in Shunde, Southern China

Southern China’s traditional distinctive round buildings reflect the ancient belief that the sky is round and divine and the earth is square. Now Pritzker prize-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando has reinterpreted this vernacular and the region’s famed waterside architecture for the new contemporary He Art Museum (HEM) in Shunde.

The founder, He Jianfeng who owns industrial investment Infore Group, one of the region’s most successful businesses, hopes the museum’s striking architecture and Western works of art – by masters such as Pablo Picasso, Olafur Eliasson and Damien Hirst – together with a focus on southern China’s Lingnan culture, including a fine collection of Lingnan-style ink art and Cantonese opera, will spark serious interest in culture and the arts. 

HEM tadao ando exterior
Photography: HEM

The entrance to the 16,000 sq m spiral-shaped pavilion situated adjacent to Infore’s headquarters and plaza in the central business district, is by a path that crosses the pond encircling the museum. Inside, a monumental central skywell and floor to ceiling windows with aluminium alloy louvers flood the interiors with daylight. An imposing double-helix pair of staircases in Ando’s signature smooth silvery-grey concrete create a dramatic Guggenheimesque feel emphasized by the slightly cantilevered ascending four-storeys. There is a square ground floor gallery, bookstore and café, and circular exhibition spaces above. 

According to HEM Director Shao Shu (previously a curator at Shanghai’s Long Museum), the curvilinear interiors deliberately step away from the contemporary Western ‘white box’ style gallery and embrace Chinese culture: ‘In the circular architectural form, it sets out a new form of art space, embedding the culture of the museum with more individuality. At HEM, the space has seamlessly integrated with the experience of art.’

The inaugural exhibition ‘From the Mundane World’, by eminent art curator and critic Feng Boyi, perceptively highlights Shunde’s famed cuisine with a metaphorical canteen. However, the star of the show is a site-specific permanent stainless steel tree sculpture by American artist Roxy Paine, a piece titled Ballast from his Dendroids series. Its location in the Crescent Garden was cleverly planned in collaboration with Ando to link the unusual architecture and surrounding outdoors. §

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