As a result of the massive economic boom – and to assert its new super-central position on the world stage – China has built a number of museums in its big cities, showcasing the high achievements of Chinese culture to national and international visitors.
These museums are heavy with symbolic value. They are the nodal point of ideology turned aesthtics – power talking directly to the heart of people. They are deliberate symbols of the new China. As such, they could not be just a square shape with a few paintings and calligraphies hanging on the walls.
Designing a museum must be one of the most exciting assignments for an architect: shaping a building for pure display. The new Tianjin museum is built in the shape of a giant swan, winds open, taking off.
The front part is a futuristic atrium – flooded with light from the windows; at the back are the display rooms, with artificial light exclusively; a controlled environment for better preserving the fragile artifacts.
Even in a playful environment, architects have to think of everyone. In a corner of the Tianjin atrium, they had to carve in a little side room for the curators and Museum workers.
The new Capital Museum in Beijing is not such an obvious feast of architectural playfulness. From the outside, it is a large quadrangle with overhead roof and a bronze tube sticking out on the left.
But inside, the space is interestingly arranged around a large, building high atrium in two distinct areas: a wooden cube on the right has history, a metal cylinder, aslant on the left, has art.
These new Chinese museums are free, but you’re supposed to book a ticket on the internet. As a foreigner (read, ‘white person’), you can easily get away with a ‘Bu Dong, Bu dong’, and simply get in. But there are remarkably few white people in these Museums. In Tianjin, I was one of eleven; in Tianjin, I was alone. But then, the Tianjin Museum is part of a new ‘cultural precinct’, still under construction.
The swan museum has a certain appeal – but you wouldn’t stumble upon it by accident – or spend some time in the area, after your visit, for the pleasure of discovering a Chinese neighbourhood.