This Otherworldly Museum in China Is Buried Beneath the Earth
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This Otherworldly Museum in China Is Buried Beneath the Earth

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By Kathryn M.
Hidden between the sea and the sand, the UCCA Dune Art Museum is a sanctuary for nature and art.

Simple, pure, and touching, the UCCA Dune Art Museum is a fascinating network of subterranean concrete galleries carved into the sand of a quiet beach along the coast of northern China’s Bohai Bay in Qinhuangdao. Designed by Beijing–based OPEN Architecture, the 10,000-square-foot space is programed and operated by the country's leading independent institution of contemporary art, the UCCA Foundation.

An aerial view of the UCCA Dune Art Museum in Qinhuangdao, China.

Inspired by the way sand dunes are organically created by countless years of wind, the architects proposed to create a museum underneath the sand that would protect both the land and the vulnerable coastal ecosystem.

Spanning 10,000 square feet, the subterranean museum is comprised of 10 galleries (seven indoor and three outdoor), a cafe, and a reading room.

"Because of the museum, these sand dunes will be preserved instead of leveled to make space for ocean-view real estate developments, as has happened to many other dunes along the shore," explains the firm. 

After passing through a long, dark tunnel and a small reception area, guests are welcomed into the largest gallery, which leads to other cave-like spaces.

Gently carved into the sand, the structure contains a series of cavernous rooms, including 10 galleries of different shapes and sizes, a cafe, and a space for reading. Skylights above silently yet powerfully fill the museum with natural light.

Skylights allow natural light to pour into the space. Intriguing openings invite guests to observe the ever-changing expressions of nature above.

The cafe's tables, which were designed by the architect, match the floor plans of the different gallery spaces.

Openings of various sizes allow museumgoers to intimately connect with nature, while also observing and contemplating the ever-changing expressions of the sky and sea throughout the day.

A cement staircase spirals upward to a viewing platform on top of the sand dune, providing visitors with an idyllic setting to take in the vast seaside scenery.

"Hidden between the sea and the sand, the museum emerges as a shelter, intimate to the body and soul—a place to thoughtfully contemplate both nature and art," explains the firm.

Sustainability was another key aspect in the design. "The building’s many skylights, each with a different orientation and size, provide natural lighting for the museum’s spaces at all times of the year; its sand-covered roof greatly reduces the building’s summer heat load; and a low-energy, zero-emission ground-source heat pump system replaces traditional air conditioning," states the firm.

"The complex three-dimensional geometry of the Dune Art Museum’s concrete shell was shaped by hand by local workers in Qinhuangdao, using formwork made from small linear strips of wood and other materials," note the architects.

Along with the museum's doors and windows, the reception desk, bar counter, and bathroom sinks have also been custom-designed and created by hand.

Recently recognized as the best building under 1,000 square meters by the 2019 AZ Awards, the UCCA Dune Art Museum will soon be expanded to include a long walkway that extends into the ocean. This path will allow guests to visit another smaller art gallery, also to be designed by OPEN, which will be partially submerged by water and only accessible during low tide.

Blending into its surroundings, the museum is a stunning, secluded refuge for nature and art.

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