Ordos Museum by MAD Architects 28.02.12


The Ordos Museum in Inner Mongolia, designed by MAD Architects, has reached completion. The structure, located in a desert city in the northern Chinese autonomous region, is surrounded by a softly moulded shell of aluminium panels.

"When we got to the site, it was like the middle of nowhere," says principal architect Ma Yansong, describing his first reaction to Ordos. The town is famous for being one of the most spectacular of the many new towns in China – it burst out of the steppe in little more than five years. "It was like an endless desert landscape," says Ma. "I knew I was going to design a building in the centre of this new masterplan, but I didn't know what buildings would be around us. Always in my mind was the thought, 'I am building this in the desert'."


MAD's response to this predicament was to take the main building and house it in two regularly shaped blocks, separated by a "canyon" of public circulation, which is articulated by a shapely internal skin that folds around the walkways and staircases. This ensemble was then wrapped in a lightweight Buckminster Fuller-esque space-frame – albeit an irregularly shaped one with an opaque skin. The skin also maintains the rounded aesthetic: the cladding follows waving paths around the exterior. The entire building is perched in the middle of an undulating stone landscape. You could read it as a rather full expression of the "blob" culture that took hold in architecture about a decade ago.

"I think that no matter what happens in the future, our building should be something without any cultural identity," Ma says. He's referring to the expectation that architecture for new Chinese cities should either sell a vision of Western modernity or pay homage to extant local cultures. Instead, the building is intended to be "a very abstract object that has landed on the desert", which, hopefully, can play a catalytic cultural role in the development of the area. "In our building we don't have any cultural references or symbols – not from the local area nor other parts of the world," Ma says. "Maybe our building could be part of their culture in the future."

As the building begins to fill with exhibitions of contemporary art, prehistoric artefacts and, yes, dinosaurs, Ma is quietly confident that the building will play its part in a town that has so often been viewed as a symbol of China's property bubble. "It always surprises me that on our desert-like landscape in front of the museum, every day before dark there are more than 100 people there, just lying on the ground, and a lot of kids running around. It was surprising because I was thinking about the desert, but in the end it will become a very successful public space."




Iwan Baan



Douglas Murphy

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No matter what happens in the future, our building should be something without any cultural identity

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