Opening on Friday, the 420,000-square-foot Shanghai Astronomy Museum — a branch of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum — will house exhibitions, a planetarium, an observatory and a 78-foot-tall solar telescope. It is designed by US firm Ennead Architects, which won an international competition to design the building back in 2014.
Its complex curvilinear shape has been designed to reflect the geometry of the cosmos. With no straight lines or right angles used throughout, the structure is instead formed from three overlapping arcs that allude to the orbits of celestial bodies.
“We really thought that we could leverage the architecture to bring incredible impact to this whole experience. The building is meant to be this embodiment of … astronomically inspired architecture,” Thomas J. Wong, lead designer and partner said in a video interview.
Abandoning the traditional straight wall in traditional designs with arcing lines, Wong and his team hoped to show that everything in the universe is in constant motion and are operating by array of forces.
According to CNN, Wong said that they were also influenced by the “three-body problem,” the as-yet-unsolved question of how to mathematically calculate the motion of three celestial entities — like planets, moons or stars — based on their gravitational relationships to one another. While this calculation can be carried out with two celestial bodies, the pathways become chaotic and unpredictable with three.
“The reason why we thought the three-body problem was interesting is because it’s a complex set of orbits. (These are) relationships that are dynamic, as opposed to a simple circle around the centre. And that was part of the (design’s) intent — to capture that complexity,” Wong explained.
The cosmic riddle translates into three arcing shapes: an oculus, sphere and inverted dome, referencing the sun, moon and stars, respectively. Each houses an important visitor attraction or design function.
Visitors will first encounter the oculus, which opens up above the museum’s main entrance. It acts as a timepiece, producing a circle of sunlight that travels across the floor throughout the day, indicating the time and season.
Stepping into the interior, comes the planetarium theatre, which is enclosed in a sphere and. emerges from the building’s roof like a moonrise. The underbelly of the massive structure appears to float, with room to walk underneath.
Lastly, a vast inverted glass dome on the roof’s apex gives visitors the chance to view the open night sky, in what a press release described as “a real encounter with the universe to conclude the simulated experience within.”
“We want people to understand the special nature of the Earth as a place that hosts life, unlike any other place that we know of in the universe,” Wong said.