The museum sits on an urban site, adjacent to a proposed sculpture park. The shape and internal organization of the building are inspired by the form of the nautilus shell. A spiraling grass-covered plane rises out of the sculpture park and wraps around an oval pond. The pond is the central visual focus of the exhibition route through the building, which begins at the upper level and spirals downward.
The three main façades of the building also express the message of the exhibits. The structural network and sunscreen that lines the curved inner face of the building is both an abstraction of patterns found in traditional pavilions and a suggestion of human cell organization.
The north wall, which is the group-entry façade along the bus drop-off, suggests the shifting of tectonic plates. The south wall is a living wall plane composed of a metal trellis covered with vines. It brings the horizontal plane of the park onto the vertical surface of the structure forming an arcade and representing the vegetation of the earth's surface. With the natural landscape groupings, these features focus our awareness on the fundamental elements of the natural world: plants, earth, water.
The Cell Wall is the iconic feature of the Shanghai Nature Museum and the main design feature from the initial competition phase. It is composed of three layers, each with its own unique geometrical pattern and organic form, organized in an elliptical cone shape envelope of the atrium. At the core is the main layer, the structural cell layer, which emphasizes the organic cells as structural building blocks of nature. It is part of the building structure and carries the weight of the museum roof, as well as supporting the 33.5 meter (109 foot) vertical span of the curtain-wall. An inner layer, which is the waterproof envelope of the building, is formed by the glass and aluminum mullion curtain-wall. The outer layer is a solar screen that emulates the cellular building block of all life forms and the traditional Chinese window screens.
While there is a wealth of theoretical research on the subject of mesh structures and complex organic geometries, there are very few built examples where these mesh geometries fully function as structural building elements and are built to architectural scale. To that extent, a historical approach to problem-solving was of little use and an innovative, original approach was sought.
The Cell Wall system is unique in terms of its complex geometry, design process and construction details. The geometric solutions for the wall, researched by trial and error, seek to achieve a seemingly random organic patterns within the constraints of readily-available rectilinear building materials, the structural realities of designing to full architectural scale and the limitations of fabrication methods.
Finally, the building includes a rainwater catchment system, photovoltaics as well as geothermal heating and cooling. More on these systems to follow.
Source: Perkins + Will
Image: Perkins + Will