OPEN Architecture, ‘UCCA Dune Art Museum’, Qinhuangdao, China

On a quiet beach along the coast of northern China’s Bohai Bay, countless years of wind have pushed the sand into a dune along the shore, several metres high, stabilised by low-rising shrubs and other ground cover. Carved into the sand, the Dune Art Museum lies beneath this dune, where it gently disappears.

The decision to create the museum underneath the dune surrounding it was born of the architects’ respect for the local coastal environment, and their desire to protect and preserve the beauty and ecology of one of its most unique features. The existence of the museum ensures that its namesake dune will be
permanently spared from being levelled by encroaching oceanview real estate developments, as has already happened to many other dunes along the same shoreline.

Seamlessly merging architecture, art and nature, the museum explores new and fresh possibilities for the experience of viewing art. Its design is simple, pure and touching, seeking a return to primal and timeless forms of space such as natural caves and grottos – early shelters, for both humans and for their first works of art. Its design is not only aesthetic but also rigorous in its response to local site conditions, taking into consideration everything from the physical form of the surrounding dune to more intangible features such as patterns of natural light.

Sensitivity toward nature is also displayed practically in the building’s commitment to sustainability – its sand-covered roof greatly reduces the building’s heat load, and a low-energy, zero emission ground source heat pump system replaces traditional air-conditioning. With construction complete, the plant life on the dune is also being restored; over time, the extensive root systems of native amorphas, locust, and beach grasses will restabilise the dune’s sands.

Formally and conceptually innovative, and deeply committed to the natural ecology and environment of its site, the Dune Art Museum’s design creates an engaging and non-traditional encounter with art, the benefits of which impact both visitors and the environment. The building’s relationship to the dune and deliberate ‘framing’ of the sea and sky beyond allow it to elevate the surrounding natural landscape to the level of art. The blurring of traditional boundaries between building and landscape, and between art and nature, provoke visitors to reflect more thoughtfully on the value of the natural environment, and on the fundamental relationships between site, visitors and artwork.