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Creating the Qi of Architecture: Jean Nouvel and the New National Museum Of China

Creating the Qi of Architecture: Jean Nouvel and the New National Museum Of China

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Jean Nouvel is a French architect whose work has been praised worldwide. He has created architectural designs for, among others, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, The Torre Agbar in Barcelona, and the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been the recipient of the Wolf Prize in 2005, and the Pritzker Prize in 2008. And last year, he was confirmed as the lead architect for the National Art Museum of China, in Beijing. Nouvel’s architectural designs for this building are based on his vision involving Chinese calligraphy and the Qi (or source of all creative energy, oneness, and soul) behind it.

4.Jean Nouvel . National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) . Beijing (6)

In essential terms, Chinese calligraphy, Nouvel’s inspiration, starts with one brush stroke. The number of strokes from the one increases, and the possibilities expand, Qi being the force or energy behind the strokes created by the Calligrapher. It has been noted that the most comprehensive Chinese dictionaries contain about a million Chinese characters. And each character from each dynasty, are created by different calligraphers, with many derivatives. The possibilities are endless; nevertheless, they all start from the one brush stroke; and the whole vision of the National Museum of China, which will become a reality in 2016, starts with the single brush stroke of relevant location.

NAMOC (The National Museum Of China) will form the centerpiece of a new cultural district in Beijing. Its location is on a north-south axis, starting from the Forbidden City to the Olympic Park. This, according to Nouvel, links old and new, both in terms of art and of history. NAMOC will occupy the most important site facing the central axis of the Olympic Park.

3.Jean Nouvel . National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) . Beijing (3)

With this locale, Nouvel and his team looked for ways created designs to express movement with inert materials. A difficult thing to do, but they found the perfect thing: the façade of the building is clad with a new material developed by Gehry Partners – translucent stone – stone that allows light but not clear images to shine through.

According to further designs, there are four entries with escalators at each corner of the building, with a ceremonial entrance at the center of the west façade, facing the Olympic Park. The building has been designed to efficiently and comfortably accommodate 38,400 visitors per day and approximately 12 million visitors per year, enabling NAMOC to possibly have the highest attendance of any museum in the world.


In addition to providing access to galleries, the public spaces within the museum provide opportunities for large-scale art exhibit spaces and events. The museum includes a full complement of supporting functions: an art academy, an art research and conservation institute, five auditoriums, retail stores, restaurants and cafes, and large art storage areas have all been incorporated into the functional design of the museum.

But the overall design of the museum involves both transparency and lightness, given the cladding of the translucent stone. This material captures change: times of day, weather, seasons. North, the facade reflects abundant vegetation from a landscape garden, with red, reflected hues of the autumn Gingko Biloba tree and Red Maple. South, the façade looks towards the 153 planted red flags fluttering in the wind on a small hill. The facades capture all reflections within and outside the museum.

3.Jean Nouvel . National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) . Beijing (3)

The Qi of the museum underlies this reflective movement, the changes in time and season, and the human movement of those museum goers who reflect on the reflections both inside and outside. To be completed in 2016, this contrast should enliven both the past and present of China’s artistic and cultural history. The NAMOC symbolizes the spirit behind this movement, this constant evolution, just as the Qi symbolizes the energy behind the Calligraphy brush stroke.

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