Álvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira developed the “MoAE - Huamao Museum of Art Education” as a small, black metal construction suspended above ground. Its undulating form provides a predetermined exterior route which visitors have to follow to reach the public entrance of the museum. Clad in metal, the façade reflects the ever-changing daylight that makes the form move and transform constantly.
Set on the banks of Dongqian Lake in Ningbo, the minimalist museum was designed by Pritzker Prize-laureate Alvaro Siza, who was protagonist at the 44th CIFF Shanghai 2019 where he created the Siza Pavilion for Camerich, with fellow Portuguese architect Carlos Castanheira to evoke an ambiguous floating object.
Its black metal shell, which is elevated on a concrete plinth, conceals unexpectedly bright and spacious interiors that include a maze of ramps and white-walled art galleries.
"It's is a small museum that is immense inside," said Castanheira. "Leaning against on the hillside, its undulating form hovers above the ground."
"It is intriguing in its elegance and in its mystery," he continued. "Nothing is obvious in this little building."
Humao Museum of Art and Education measures 5,300 square meters and has a loose triangular form, softened by several curved edges.
The only glimpses of activity inside are offered through slithers of glazing along the building's set-back concrete base that contains a foyer and basement.
MoAE's distinctive curved facade works in tandem with the external landscaping to guide visitors around the site to locate its small, discreet entrance.
The entrance opens into the heart of the museum, where there is a large white-walled void. This extends the full height of the building and is encircled by a maze of ramps.
According to Castanheira, the stark contrast between the museum's exterior and interior is intended to give visitors a feeling of being "released into a vast space" upon entering.
"The public entrance is reached after passing around the form of the building and experiencing an imposed, absorbing compression, to then be released into a vast space, the full height of the building, where a snaking ramp links all the floor levels," he explained.
"This diversity in routes and the interconnection of spaces makes this small building vast inside."
The ramps that wrap around the void form the museum's main circulation route and provide access to the art galleries, which contain a range of old and contemporary Chinese paintings and sculptures.
A large oculus at roof level illuminates the void. With the help of the white surfaces, it filters natural light into the windowless exhibition spaces through geometric openings in their walls.
The museum is complete with a secluded rooftop area, set-back from the edge of the museum to create a hidden roof terrace overlooking the lake.
Photo: Bowen Hou