French Architect Designs National Art Museum of China

National Art Museum of China designed by French architect Jean Nouvel
National Art Museum of China designed by French architect Jean Nouvel


Internationally known French architect, Jean Nouvel, was selected to design the new National Art Museum of China (NAMOC). He submitted the winning design in a competition that included architects Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. Hadid’s swooping silver building and Gehry’s glass paneled building were in the running, but Nouvel’s design depicted a single brush stroke.

The architect told the Financial Times that his structure was influenced by a quote from the Chinese artist Shi Tao that begins, “A single line is the source of everything in existence.”

This fits with the overall exhibition focus of the NAMOC which will showcase calligraphy from China and around the world. The museum will also include national and international 20th-century artwork.

The location for this new museum is in Beijing’s Olympic Park, the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Now that the Olympics are over, the area is being turned into a cultural district with the art museum as the focus.

Nouvel uses the analogy of calligraphy to describe his design. He said that when pupils start learning it, they can easily spend half a year just making the first line with a brush. All of Chinese culture is included in one line–“painting, writing, and the energy of Chi.” His building, like a brush stroke, rises or lifts in the center where visitors could congregate and wander around.

The building will represent all the traditional culture and arts of China from the lacquer box to roof gardens, red flags to a dragon-shaped garden, and watercolor landscapes to calligraphy-inspired forms. It is meant to be part of the landscape, to work with the surroundings.

The present NAMOC was opened to the public in 1963. It has over 100,000 pieces in its collections, mostly by Chinese artists, but it also has an extensive collection of work by foreign artists. Included among the foreign works are four oil paintings by Picasso. The museum has held a wide range of international exhibits that have included French Impressionism, American art, Russian, Italian, and Spanish masters.

The main building was renovated in 2002-2003 with updated lighting, temperature and humidity control, and security systems. The new building by Nouvel will meet national cultural development requirements.

Written by: Cynthia Collins, Senior Museum Correspondent

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National Art Museum of China