The Eyes of Sanxingdui by MAD Architects
Location: Guanghan, Sichuan, China
Status: 2020 – 2021 (conceived)
MAD Architects, led by Ma Yansong, has unveiled the design of their latest project; “The Eyes of Sanxingdui” for the Sanxingdui Ancient Shu Cultural Heritage Museum. The project sees MAD place a cluster of scattered wooden structures above the dense greens and clear waters of the ancient landscape. The new buildings merge with the existing landscape to form a new environment, which simultaneously celebrates the ancient mysteries of the Sanxingdui civilization and connects with the area’s timeless natural environment through a restrained, humble volume. The result is a park that acts as an urban and cultural public space where humanity and nature, the past and the future, can converge. The project site is located in the western area of Guanghan City, Sichuan Province. Filled with unearthed cultural relics dating from approximately 4500-2800 years ago, the site’s archaeology is rooted in the echoes of ancient cities, ancient states, and the ancient Shu culture of southwest China. The Sanxingdui site has jointly applied with the nearby Jinsha site to be recognized as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO.
The global fascination with Sanxingdui lies in how little the wider world can comprehend the ancient city’s geographical location, and the ancient Shu culture it represents. One of the most understood facts about the site is that the Shu Kingdom was located at the intersection of the Yangtze and Yellow River basins in China. Therefore, the artifacts excavated at Sanxingdui offer clues to the mysterious local culture of the ancient Shu, entwined with traces of cultural influence from the Middle Kingdom which emerged when the Chinese population migrated into Shu. At present, the excavated artifacts from the site are displayed in the Sanxingdui Museum, comprising mainly of bronze, jade, gold, stone, pottery, ivory, and seashells.
The Sanxingdui Museum Park is located at the northeast corner of the site’s core protected region, covering a total area of 90,000 square meters. The design includes urban planning, a new museum and visitor reception service center, and an overall landscape strategy. Upon its completion, this world-class thematic museum will accommodate activities like collection, display, protection, and research for the excavated cultural relics from the Sanxingdui site. MAD’s design consists of a cluster of six wooden buildings scattered in an east-west direction. East of Xiangxin Road is the site’s first building; a Visitor Center covering a floor area of 5,830 square meters. Extending westwards, five buildings of various scales form the new museum. In total, the new museum covers an area of about 30,000 square meters, with a construction area of 28,650 square meters. The Sanxingdui site laid host to a number of cultural relics, including longitudinal bronze eye masks and large bronze standing figures, many of which adopt exaggerated, strange, ornate shapes. After sunset, the six buildings are enlivened by torch-like eyes behind the bronzeware and golden masks of Sanxingdui, uniting the spirits and forms, allowing people in the museum to wander between history and the future.
During the day, the building’s wooden facade echoes the park’s natural landscape. The timber structure’s large spans allow for open, rich column-free interior spaces inside the building, yielding maximum flexibility for exhibition layouts. Meanwhile, the rooftop skylight provides natural light for the museum. A journey through the museum begins at the main entrance of the visitors’ center, before proceeding to a viewing hall that offers an introduction to the culture of Sanxingdui. Visitors then progress towards an underground corridor to the museum’s first-floor entrance hall. From here, the exhibition halls are connected to each other through a south-facing glass corridor, through which visitors can enjoy the ever-changing landscape as they move through the complex.
MAD’s vision of the park is of a place where humanity meets nature. The new scheme was therefore not designed as a single large structure, but as a scheme that weaves through and interacts with its surrounding landscape. The scheme respects and preserves the site’s natural trees and water features where possible, weaving these natural features into a landscape strategy that remains in harmony with the new pavilion building. The result is an atmosphere of unity between the buildings and the landscape. The north-facing exhibition hall and other programmatic blocks connect to form an undulating landscape under a green roof.