IN: Inspiration

Concrete cave art

An art museum on the coast of China follows the design of a cave


The UCCA Dune Art Museum’s cavern-like concrete structure has been moulded into a sand dune on a beach in the coastal city of Qinhuangdao, China. The museum took three years in total to complete and was designed by Beijing-based firm OPEN Architecture.

OPEN Architecture co-founder Li Hu calls the design experimental in style and emblematic of the country’s current mood:

"I feel like this whole country is the experiment," Hu says, "Many things are changing, and life has changed super-fast, yet we still live in the cities that we inherited. The architecture, the very concept of architecture, the city, it's all changing," he continued.

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The progressively designed museum is made up of 10 galleries and a café, all interlinking beneath the sand. OPEN Architecture’s design solution helped save the natural ecology of the site. The original plans for the museum intended to destroy the existing dune to clear space, even though the dune had taken thousands of years to form. OPEN Architecture deviated from the plan. By instead integrating the museum into the dune, the landscape has been preserved.

Local construction workers from Qinhangdao hand-shaped the concrete shell using strips of wood. The architects purposefully left an irregular texture to the formwork, so that traces of the manual construction may be read across the walls.Openings throughout the building frame the sea and the sky from different views - these apertures also allow natural light to enter the museum’s interior spaces.

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Sustainability was key to the project. Instead of air conditioning, the building has a sand-covered roof that keeps the interior cool in summer as well as a low-energy, zero-emissions ground-source heat pump system for colder weather.

Like the structure itself, the interior design of the museum also looked to history for inspiration, with each room an organically shaped space that echoes the form of a cave. As mentioned earlier, this earliest form of human refuge served as inspiration for the narrative behind the museum. Hu explains: “The walls of ancient caves were where art was first practiced.” Think Lascaux updated for the 21st century art lover.

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With a nod to the historical practice of art, as well as a steady gaze on experimental designs to come, the UCCA Dune Art Museum may be the perfect balance between past and future…

Photography by Wu Qingshan

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