This enormous institution was to encompass every aspect of Yunnan’s art, culture, and natural science, from prehistory to the present. We, on the other hand, had no clue about Yunnan, and soon found out that it resists easy summary: the province has over 20 distinct cultures, varied landscapes, and exceptional biodiversity. With little sense of Yunnan’s ambient qualities and no clear-cut aesthetic tradition to appeal to, we decided we might as well work from the most generic (even stereotypical) references.
We were especially interested in China’s embrace of a bombastic, crushing abstraction for recent cultural buildings. In an attempt to emphasize the sublime potential in this trend over the sinister, we blew the design up past monumental to geological scale, yielding an improbable stack of stone plateaux. The corners of each level are turned up in a super-scale manifestation of unabashed Chinoiserie, and the undersides thus revealed are covered in prodigious fields of vividly glazed, scale-shaped roof tile. The tile soffits extend into the public spaces, which are arranged around a double central atrium. The ground level is given over to social and commercial uses, allowing it to function independently of the galleries above.
While the building gets “naturalized”, the landscape is formalized to meet it halfway. The Museum sits on a marble volume that presents as both architectural plinth and fourth plateau; the canalized river to the north is brought into the site across the face of this volume, which becomes a water cascade. The outdoor spaces are a graphic fan of vast programmatic segments that connect the reconstructed wetlands river edge with the Museum geometry.