With the recent full moon, lunar eclipse and the upcoming rocket launch scheduled for this week, MMM takes a look at the world’s largest astronomy museum that opened its doors earlier this year in Shanghai. Architectural Digest says, “Any museum can get a telescope and point it to the stars, but few can bring the wonders of the galaxy down to Earth. The new Shanghai Astronomy Museum is potentially the world’s most majestic museum devoted to the skies.” The museum’s designer, Thomas J. Wong, a design partner at Ennead Architects, explains how the elliptical, silvery structure “embodies some of the fundamental laws of astrophysics.” READ MORE to learn how metal played a integral role in achieving the design goals.

ArchExists, courtesy Ennead Architects; credit: ARCHITECT

This 420,000-square-foot masterpiece is a new branch of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and is largest museum devoted to the art of astronomy. Drawing inspiration from planetary form and motion, the architects divided the museum into three main architectural spaces — Oculus, Inverted Dome, and Sphere — inspired by the sun, the moon, and the stars. Wong says. “The building itself is conceived as an ‘astronomical instrument’ that coordinates with the path of the Sun across a day, and the changing solar altitude in our sky through the seasons.” The Oculus is suspended above the main entrance and tracks time by sunlight throughout the day, reminiscent of the 14th century sundials and the Sphere is a silver metallic sphere, punctured with circles, and home to a planetarium theater that tracks the Sun, Moon, and the stars.

ARCHITECT Magazine reports, Wong wanted to “create a building that would further the educational mission of the institution and seamlessly integrate with the subject matter itself. From start to finish, the entire experience is meant to place visitors in a purposeful and direct engagement with real astronomical phenomena, emphasizing the relationship between human and sky, with the hope it will inspire an interest in protecting and preserving this thin layer of atmosphere that allows life to happen on this planet.”

The Oculus with mirrored gold, stainless panels; ArchExists, courtesy Ennead Architects. Credit: ARCHITECT

Material Used to Accomplish Design Goals

According to ARCHITECT, “The building’s material palette is a combination of concrete, glass fiber reinforced concrete, and anodized aluminum façade panels to highlight the raw and muscular with the machined and refined. For the museum exterior, a key design idea was to render the building as simultaneously grounded and earthbound while espousing a dynamic momentum that defies gravity and projects uplift. To support this idea, reinforced concrete and GFRC panels clad one of the ribbons of the façade connecting the building to our planet as if rising out of the earth. This sits in direct contrast to the anodized aluminum cladding of the other façade ribbon — precisely crafted and abstractly shimmery through the faceted faces that resolve the curving geometry—and deliver the upward reach of the building’s cantilever.” The Oculus is finished with mirrored gold, stainless panels, which (according to Wong) creates a magnificent ethereal light that reflects and wafts through the plaza from within, visible in some of the photos and time-lapses.

Inspired by one of Carl Sagan’s expressions, “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves, ” Wong’s primary goal with the building’s design was the need to expand the modern human perspective, to encourage a view beyond our fabricated construct and to create an experience that strengthens our awareness of the realm beyond our planet.

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