To stand out in contemporary China takes scale. To get noticed alongside the Bird’s Nest Stadium built for the 2008 Olympics demands a gesture.
And to anchor a new museum district in a city where the monumental has become commonplace is going to need something remarkable.
Jean Nouvel is about to start building something that should do the job. The French architect behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Fondation Cartier and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris has designed the breathtakingly bold new National Art Museum of China (Namoc) for Beijing, a vast structure which combines internal complexity with apparent external simplicity.
Such simplicity, in fact, that it is all based on a single line. Nouvel quotes to me the Chinese artist Shi Tao (1642-1707): “A single line is the source of everything in existence,” and this new museum is to be based on a single brush stroke. “We started with calligraphy,” he says. “Pupils used to spend half a year just on that first line with a brush. That first line contains all of Chinese culture – painting, writing and the energy of Chi.”
Nouvel has taken that stroke and translated it into a three-dimensional structure. The brush stroke, Nouvel writes in an essay, “starts off sharp in the south; its end, in the north, is round and smooth. Its whole body is taut with the energy-breath that runs through it and lifts it in a single movement.”