New York studio Ennead Architects has completed the world's largest museum dedicated to astronomy in Shanghai, China. The new 39,000 square meters museum creates an immersive experience that places visitors in direct engagement with real astronomical phenomena. Whatever their age or education level, people can observe and hopefully understand more about some very basic underpinnings of astronomy through a series of direct, physical experiences.
Ennead delivered an architecturally ambitious design – without straight lines or right angles, echoing the geometry of the universe and the dynamic energy of celestial movement. They designed the building around three distinct architectural forms that were each derived from the movement of bodies within the universe. There are three primary design elements that define the building parts and also provide an architectural lens for observing the earth's own orbital motion: the inverted dome, the planetarium sphere, and the Oculus.
The Inverted Dome is a large inverted glass structure that sits on top of the central atrium around which all galleries are organized and through which all visitors pass. The Oculus, suspended above the main entrance to the Museum, demonstrates the passage of time by tracking a circle of sunlight on the ground across the entry plaza and reflecting pool. At midday on the summer solstice, a full circle is projected on a black platform built within the plaza. The Sphere houses the planetarium theater, which is half-submerged in the building. With minimally visible support, it evokes an illusion of weightlessness or anti-gravity.
Set within an expansive green zone, the Museum grounds include a host of buildings and programming including temporary and permanent exhibits, a 78-foot solar telescope, an observatory, an optical Planetarium, an Education and Research Center, and a Digital Sky Theater. Programming at the Museum will feature immersive environments, artifacts and instruments of space exploration, and educational exhibitory.