What If a Museum Tied Itself in Knots?
Taiyuan Museum of Art / Preston Scott Cohen

Site A riverside site in the cultural district of Taiyuan, in northern China.

Program This government-sponsored art museum has gallery, education, café, and administration spaces.

Solution At the core of the museum’s design is a desire to harness and respond to modern technologies for the control of both artificial and natural light. The building’s curving, interwoven, and overlapping form creates ample opportunities for exploring the relationship of light and shade, and the architects employ multiple strategies—skylights, overhangs, and enclosed spaces—to choreograph the interplay. In so doing, they generate a form that flies in the face of the conventions of museum design and promises to redefine the visitor experience. “I think it’s going to engage a larger audience with architecture,” said juror Stan Allen.

Preston Scott Cohen—principal of his eponymous 10-person Cambridge, Mass., firm—created five wings for the project that are intermingled like the strands of a knot, allowing visitors to either follow a curated path or move seamlessly back and forth between the galleries. The building’s dynamic footprint creates vignettes so that a visitor in one gallery can look into another and into a small exterior green space simultaneously, without detracting from the experience of the art. “It’s trying to create new audiences, and new possibilities for new types of space,” said juror Sarah Dunn. “It has a certain publicness to it that makes it more interesting.”

The knotlike plan drew widespread praise from the judges. “The museum is clearly a wonderful piece of architecture,” Diane Hoskins said. “‘Can it be done?’ is the question. But I think it’s a fantastic project.”

Project Credits

Project Taiyuan Museum of Art, Taiyuan, China
Client Taiyuan City Government
Architect Preston Scott Cohen, Cambridge, Mass.—Preston Scott Cohen (architectural design); Amit Nemlich (project architect); Collin Gardner, Ruan Hao, Kanda Song (project assistants); Yair Keshet (1:500 model)
Model Fabricator Iconic Model (1:100 model)
Architect of Record Architecture Design and Research Institute of Southeast University
Size 435,940 square feet
Cost $29.3 million (200 million RMB)