Deep Time Palace by Wutopia Lab

Deep Time Palace

The concrete palace designed by Wutopia Lab, namely The Eye of The Museum of the Palace Museum of the Manchurian Regime (Changchun), which is the first decorative fair-faced concrete building in Jilin Province, the largest thin-shell large-span earth-sheltered swept surface underground building in China, was officially completed and inaugurated on May 18, 2023, International Museum Day, after six years of design and construction.

Fragments: symbols, metaphors, parallels and others
The palace of the Manchurian Regime doesn’t occupy much area, so much so that it gives me an impression of a transitional palace. However, its construction exhibits meticulous attention to detail, as the grand roofs harmoniously merge Western classical elements with restrained yet exquisite ornamentations.

Standing at the northeastern corner of the palace, the white Museum of the History of Northeast China Under Japanese Occupation, designed by Master Qi Kang, features a gently sloping roof that bows beneath the palace’s principal ridge. To maintain the stable landscape of the museum, I believe the art museum should adopt a more modest approach. With this in mind, I have concealed the art museum, avoiding any alteration to the established ambiance above.

Considering both the palace and exhibition hall follow conventional structures, I have decided to introduce the large-span structure commonly found in industrial buildings. The art museum serves as a contemporary expressionist sanctuary that liberates our souls from the constant grip of time in our daily lives, allowing us to reexamine history and memory, and thereby grasp the meaning of our existences.

A continuously postponed timetable
The art museum is situated on a razor-shaped site between the Manchurian Regime palace complex and Museum of the History of Northeast China Under Japanese Occupation. There is a vertical differential of 7.2 meters from north to south. The gross building area is 16,650 square meters. A new underground passage must be constructed to establish connectivity with the basement of the exhibition hall.

The roof of the art museum consists of a 2,000-square-meter plaza for social activities, a parking lot, and a green space. We designed a single-layer steel mesh shell with curved glass inserted into the ground in front of the main entrance of the exhibition hall. Going down the steps leads to the art museum’s main hall, and turning around presents the exhibition hall framed by an elegant arch-shape.

The continuous roof extends uninterrupted until it abruptly terminates at the southern plaza, where its cross-section forms the imposing facade. The vista in front of the exhibition hall’s entrance remains unobstructed, while the southern plaza imparts a sense of the earth being delicately lifted. Nonetheless, visitors would never suspect the existence of a profound underland palace within the crevices of the earth, captivating their hearts and minds.

The Deep time
When envisioning the space, I aimed to utilize the underground structure as a starting point to convey the sense of “depth”. I also wanted to challenge our conventional mindset of a linear timeline by introducing an immense scale that would disorient viewers. Ultimately, I established central focal points in the form of a wing-shaped swept surface dome as spatial nodes, 27.5m in length, 18m in width, with a peak height of 16.5m. The entire museum consists of three of these spatial nodes connected together, through which I sought to guide visitors in understanding the intricate connections between, life, history, environment, and society in the theme of Deep Time.

I associate the word “introspection” with eyes. Consequently, I made the decision to integrate skylights resembling eyes into thin-shell swept surface domes that gracefully emerge from the ground, guiding the natural light into the underground space. Eyes bear a conspicuous symbolic significance and amplify the role of natural light in shaping the viewers’ encounters and interpretations. They serve as a means of guiding viewers towards a contemplation of temporal perspectives within the ephemeral span of their lives.

The sun beats on me
Undoubtedly, the essence of the art museum is shaped by the presence of natural light. While underground structures typically serve as refuges, the interplay of natural light uncovers the profound “depth” concealed behind the grandeur of the museum, imbuing it with a sense of spirituality and sanctity. Ultimately, you come to appreciate the captivating beauty of the light—strange yet familiar, intangible yet enveloped within its ethereal projection. It calls to mind a verse: “Que há noite antes e após. O pouco que duramos.” (“There is night before and after. The brief time that we live.”) In this moment, you may encounter both anguish and solitude, while also marveling at the wondrous nature of life.

From the Underland to the Celestial
I conceal the intricate functions of the museum on either side of the main space, emphasizing the purity of the main space, which early evokes the most common perception of time – eternity. Within the subterranean natural light, in that fleeting moment of time, amidst the pursuit of the ever-shifting and distant illumination that binds the three spatial nodes, individuals may momentarily experience a semblance of eternity, though in truth it amounts to mere minutes. The Deep Palace captures this fleeting eternity within its seemingly immobile material expanse.

Everything causes scintillation
Prior to the inaugural ceremony, I traversed through the exhibition hall, making my way to the profound depths of the museum, where I concealed myself within the obscurity, witnessing the descent of the morning sunlight through the eyes’ skylight. After a while, I discerned an almost imperceptible breath, as if the curved dome had metamorphosed into colossal wings, gently undulating. The art museum awakened, as if poised to emerge triumphantly from the earth’s embrace. Source by Wutopia Lab.

Location: No. 5 Guangfu North Road, Kuancheng District, Changchun City, China
Architect: Wutopia Lab
Chief Architect: Yu Ting
Project Architect: Huang He
Project Manager: Pu Shengrui
Design Team: Pu Shengrui, Pan Dali, Sun Liran (Conceptual Design Phase) Xie Jialin (Drawing Compilation Phase)
Installation Design: Kuang Zhou, Huang He, Xie Jialin
Owner: Palace Museum of the Manchurian Regime
Owner Construction Committee: Wang Zhiqiang, Hu Hailong, Zhou Bo, Ai Xuesong, Su Zhenda, Liu Yongwei, Wei Wei
Construction Proxy: Changchun Municipal Government Investment Construction Project Management Center
Construction Drawing: Tianjin Architectural Design Institute Co.,Ltd.
Construction Side: China Construction Eighth Engineering Division Co.,Ltd.(North China)
Design Consultants: Wei Minfei, Miao Binhai, Zhang Zhun, Qian Yanmin, Lin Xingchun, Zhang Kejie
Lighting Consultant: Gradient Lighting Design Chloe Zhang, Zang Yanting, Deng Xiaodan
Interior Design (Non-fair-faced Concrete Area): Jilin Wuyi Construction Co., Shanghai Hip-pop Architectural Decoration Design Co.,Ltd. (Concept)
Low-voltage System Design: Jilin Beihua Electric Power Technology Design & Research Institute Jilin Yongji Branch
Landscape Design: Changchun Garden Planning Research Institute Co.,Ltd.
Total Area: 16,650 square meters
Completion Date: May 2023
Photographs: CreatAR Images, Courtesy of Wutopia Lab