Visiting the National Maritime Museum of China site in Tianjin
At the end of 2017, while giving a public talk entitled ‘Australia: Living on the Edge’ in Beijing for the Australian Embassy, Michael Rayner had the opportunity to visit a project in Tianjin that he and Jayson Blight were integrally involved in at their former practice, Cox Rayner (now Cox Architecture).
The National Maritime Museum of China project’s competition took some 9 months, with Michael travelling regularly to Beijing to attend interim feedback sessions, some with the other competitors present! The competition was whittled from 64 registrants to 8 semi-finalists and 3 finalists, each phase requiring a new submission. Cox Rayner was finally successful, with one of the other finalists being EMBT from Spain. Jayson Blight became the project director for the design and documentation through to construction from 2012 to 2016, also involving many trips, with multiple client and directional changes. Weathering all this, the design remains true to its original conception (Philip Cox also being engaged as well as Anya Meng).
The design is based upon a land art concept of linking a new urban park to its waterfront through physical form and connections. For this reason, the 80,000m2 museum is articulated into a series of linear pavilions corresponding to different exhibition themes (e.g. Chinese maritime culture, world maritime past, nature and oceans). A large multi-level end pavilion is dedicated to public education and to research. A key functional aspect is the strategy of radiating the pavilions out from a central gathering hall which acts as an overview/introductory space. Directly below it, a central collection and conservation store enables artefacts to be transferred to the appropriate pavilion through the radial geometry.
The pavilions curve three-dimensionally to facilitate different exhibition volume demands. Together with the radial plan, the resultant form gave rise to a wide range of maritime and marine metaphors – starfish, sea anemone, jumping carp, ships in port, an open hand, for example. While these are not literally intended, they invite an intrigue. The jumping carp connotation arises from the 30 metre cantilevers at the water interface of the pavilions, designed to shelter floating pontoons lined with historic vessels stretching into the bay. A significant aspect of this and other initiatives were to relate maritime history to maritime present and future. TADI (Tianjin Architectural Design Institute) was the local partner firm and despite inevitable communication difficulties, the museum has been very well executed, especially the triple-layered triangulated roof panel system designed with Grasshopper technology. The finish date looks to be around October this year.
Tianjin’s National Maritime Museum of China under construction in December 2017