Wang Shu’s Ningbo Museum: a critical view

Ningbo Outside

by Han Jiaxin –

Ningbo Museum is known as one of the most representative projects of Wang Shu, architect and 2012 Pritzker Prize winner. Ningbo Museum is located on the west side of Jinzhou central plaza, Ningbo in Zhejiang Province.

Constructed in 2008, this 30,000m2 building has already become a symbol of controversy and contradiction in the architecture of the area. Located in Ningbo CBD – amongst a series of other new contemporary buildings – the first impression is given by the façade which is made of traditional Chinese building material use a typical technique called “WaPan” (building with material fragments, which developed as a construction technique when buildings needed to be reconstructed quickly after being demolished by high winds).Ningbo_internal stair

Here, Wang Shu has tried to create a feeling of landscaping through the use of materials; creating a symbolic mountain of rubble materials. As well as being highly praised in the Western media, this building is also famous, in some ways, for the amount of criticism it has received. Such criticism tends to focus on the “anti-modernization” thought in his design, although Wang Shu has fought back by saying that such criticism uses a “constricting definition of modernity”. But it suggests that it is not enough for the Pritzker Jury to say that it is “an urban icon”.


If the external appearance suffers from a questionable aesthetic but by comparison, the interior space is certainly less exciting. One criticism is about the inefficient interior layout

As a Chinese architect, Wang Shu is trying to explore new ideas and experiments to reserve and maintain the tradition of Chinese architecture in his designs. Admittedly, his design autonomy (he does not just imitates foreign architects with Western versions of contemporary buildings) is inspiring for many young architects, but Wang Shu is also a scholar. His design maintains the traditional artistic concept of Mountain and Water which so often appears in Chinese paintings and poems. Indeed, the intentional conceptual tension in his work is about tradition versus modern. So even though Wang Shu may not be accepted by everyone, his design shows an interesting exploration of what it means to be a Chinese architect.

The Ningbo Museum is a decent project in which outer appearance is more like an exhibit – a showcase – to present to visitors. Whether it is traditional or non-traditional; modern or “anti-modern” it sparks debate, which means that the more criticism it gains, the more attention and influence it has. Wang Shu has, at least, experimented with this building and its concepts. In this way it will live for a long time in our memory.