Yuhang, Zhejiang Province, China

David Chipperfield Architects; ZTUDI The Architectural Design and Research Institute Zhejiang University of Technology

Set on a formerly contaminated industrial site once isolated from the town of Yuhang in Zhejiang Province, the stone-clad Liangzhu Culture Museum provides a contemporary home for an ancient civilization. The site, which is now a park with rolling hills and streams, is an artificial topography that provides an evocative setting for the sculptural forms of the new museum. Plans call for generating an inviting landscape with a densely wooded area west of the museum to complement the manmade streams winding through the regenerated property. The museum will display some of the archeological objects and valuable relics of the Liangzhu Culture, dating from 3000 BC, that were found in the area. Although the building is finished, the museum will not open until the end of the year, when visitors will be able to see remnants of the Neolithic Yangtze River Delta people—handiwork artifacts of jade, silk, ivory, lacquer, and black-burnished pottery.
Just as the Yangtze River was essential to the prosperous Liangzhu people who developed aquaculture and irrigation systems, the manmade waterways in the new landscape play an integral role to the museum design. Visitors enter the building, which is surrounded on three sides by a pond, via a bridge, and can see the modern structure reflected in the water,.
The London-based architect David Chipperfield designed the 9,500-square-meter museum as a series of  four long rectangles, each 18 meters wide, but of varied lengths and heights.
Within these long boxes, Chipperfield inserted a set of five courtyards which act as joints connecting indoor galleries to outdoor rooms. The courtyards enliven exhibition spaces inside the building with daylight and soften rectilinear stone passageways. Wooden balustrades frame the internal courtyards and serve as perimeter benches, creating spaces for visitors to linger and relax.
“We felt that abstract geometry and linear spaces were quite sensible for this project,” says Chipperfield. “Since it is a museum, and is an exploratory environment, we wanted to create a sequence of indoor and outdoor spaces that would take visitors on a journey through an ancient culture. The reference to Chinese courtyards relieves the linear route while referring to architectural traditions,” explains the architect. Chipperfield clad  the building in cream and tan-colored Iranian travertine, which recalls the milky-white jade cylinders that the Liangzhu people were renowned for.
On crossing the bridge to the entrance courtyard, visitors can choose to begin their exploration of either the permanent collection or the temporary exhibitions, both of which are accessed separately from the entrance hall. A rear courtyard leads visitors to a second bridge that connects to a small island where outdoor exhibitions will be mounted. Here visitors will be able to gaze at the hilly landscape that stands atop the buried treasures of past cultures.