Shanghai is set to open the world’s largest astronomical museum


China has certainly made its growing power and influence felt in recent years, especially in space exploration and science. In the past decade alone, China has deployed the three space stations with their Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), unveiled the Long March 5 heavy launch rocket and sent robotic missions to the far side of the Moon and to the surface of Mars.

Here on Earth, installations like the Five Hundred Meter Aperture Space Telescope (FAST) illustrate China’s growing achievements in space and astronomy. And Friday (July 16e), the world’s largest museum dedicated to the study of space – the Shanghai Astronomical Museum – will open its doors. The purpose and design of this museum is to showcase China’s achievements in space and astronomy, as well as the country’s future ambitions in space.

The design was designed by Ennéad Architects, a company with offices in New York and Shanghai that won an international competition in 2014 for their inspired creation. Their previous work includes that of New York Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). At 39,000 m2 (420,000 sq. Ft.2), this new branch of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum (SSTM) will be the largest of its kind in the world.

Architect’s view of the museum at night. Credit: Ennead Architects

Inspired by the orbits of celestial bodies and the geometry of the cosmos, the layout of the SAM has neither straight lines nor right angles. According to Thomas J. Wong, Ennead’s partner and lead designer of the museum, he was also inspired by the “three body problem,” a still unresolved question in classical physics about how to calculate the motion of three celestial bodies. body.

It is also the title of the novel written by famous Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin, which was released in 2008 (translated into English in 2014) and is the first opus of his Remembering Earth’s Past series (which deals with aliens). Like Wong Explain in a video interview with CNN about the project:

“We really thought we could take advantage of the architecture to make an incredible impact on this whole experience. The building is supposed to be this embodiment of… astronomically inspired architecture. The reason we thought the three-body problem was interesting is that it’s a complex set of orbits. (These are) dynamic relationships, as opposed to just a circle around the center. And that was part of the intention (of the design) – to capture that complexity. “

According to Ennead’s website, the structure’s intricate curvilinear shape is formed by three overlapping arches, symbolizing how the museum is a celebration of the “continuum of time and space.” It also symbolizes a link to the past and the future, being a modern “forward-looking” structure representative of China’s future ambitions in space, and a link to China’s long history of astronomy.

The Oculus and the reflecting pool in the entrance to the museum. Credit: Ennead Architects

“By connecting the new museum to both a scientific objective and to the celestial references of buildings throughout history, mentionned Wong, “the exhibits and architecture will communicate more than scientific content: they will illuminate what it means to be human in a vast and largely unknown universe.”

In Wong’s design, the geometry of the cosmos is conveyed through three arched shapes: the Oculus, the Sphere, and the Inverted Dome. In addition to architectural features, they are also astronomical instruments that track the movements of the Sun, Moon, and stars (respectively). Each of them is also home to an important tourist attraction, starting with the Oculus located at the main entrance to the museum.

Suspended above the museum’s main entrance, the Oculus produces a circle of sunlight that travels along the ground, across the entrance plaza and a reflecting pool. At noon during the summer solstice, a complete circle of light lines up with a circular platform inside the museum’s entrance plaza. In this regard, the Oculus acts like a timepiece and illustrates how Earth’s relationship to the Sun depends on the time of day and season.

Next stop is the Planetarium Theater, which is submerged in the building with its belly emerging from the ceiling inside. With little visible support, it creates the illusion of weightlessness and alludes to the primordial forms of planets, stars and other celestial objects. Finally, the sphere gradually appears as visitors move around the building, resembling a moonrise over the Earth’s horizon.

The planetarium, which is housed inside a large sphere in the museum. Credit: Ennead Architects

Finally, there is the expansive inverted glass dome, a tensile structure that sits atop the central atrium that offers viewers a breathtaking view of the sky. This dome contains a 720-degree spiral ramp that focuses the eye upward towards the top of the dome and gives visitors a chance to experience breathtaking views of the sky. This represents the culmination of the Museum’s simulated cosmological journey.

“We want people to understand the special nature of Earth as a place that harbors life, unlike any other place we know in the universe,” like Wong Put the. This museum will feature temporary and permanent exhibitions, featuring immersive environments, artefacts and space exploration instruments, as well as educational activities. It will also house an approximately 24-meter (78-foot) solar telescope, an observatory, a youth observation camp, and a Digital Sky Theater.

The exhibition already houses a very impressive collection of specimens, with more than 70 meteorite samples, some of which come from Mars and the asteroid Vesta, and lunar rocks. The museum also has an impressive array of artifacts from over 120 collections, including original works by Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and other astronomers. The museum also has facilities that rely on augmented reality, virtual reality, biometrics and artificial intelligence to simulate different types of astronomical experiences.

Seen from the sky, one can also get the impression that the museum resembles an astrolabe – an ancient device was essentially a portable model of the universe. From Classical Antiquity and the Islamic Golden Age to the High Middle Ages and to the Age of Discovery, this instrument was used by astronomers to measure altitude above the horizon of celestial body, identify stars and planets, determine latitude or local time, and navigate at sea.

The main structure’s “wheel in wheels” configuration is also reminiscent of ancient and Renaissance cosmological maps that show the orbits of planets around the Sun. The elliptical shape of the main buildings is also strongly reminiscent of Kepler’s representation of elliptical orbits. Moreover, it is also reminiscent of a traditional timepiece, where its nested structures and concentric circles on the ground resemble gears and wheels.

And as for the planetarium, I challenge anyone to say without batting an eyelid that it doesn’t resemble the great sphere of Sphere (look, you’ll see). The museum will be open to the general public next Monday (July 19), but many have already attended the exhibits and exhibits of the Astronomy Museum on special tours. For those of us who can’t make the trip, the contest video posted above offers a nice presentation.

For more information, see Ennéad Architects‘ website.

Further reading: CNN, Ennéad Architects


About Johnnie Gross

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