The Science and Technology Museum in Shanghai opened its astronomy branch to the world this week. Housed in 420,000 square feet (390,000 square meters) of space, it is equipped with an observatory, a planetarium, plenty of space for exhibitions, and a 78-foot (24-meter) solar telescope.
It also holds the record for being the largest museum dedicated to astronomy in the world, according to Ennead Architects.
Aside from being the world's largest, the museum is also unlike any other. For starters, you will not see straight lines or sharp corners anywhere on the site. From its inception, the museum wanted to assert its scale and ambition, which is also reflective of the country's ambitions in many ways. Back in 2014, the museum authorities sought designs globally from designers and architects and finally selected U.S.-based Ennead Architects for their landmark design.
"The building is meant to be this embodiment of ... astronomically inspired architecture," said Thomas Wong, the lead designer of the project. The firm calls the design a celebration of the time and space continuum, providing a link between the country's rich past and futuristic ambitions in the field of science.
The building design has three principal forms, an oculus, an inverted dome, and the sphere, representing orbital motion, while also serving as instruments for astronomical observations inside the museum.
The Oculus is suspended over the main entrance of the museum and allows sunlight to fall on the central plaza. This works like a sundial, telling visitors the time of the day. Astronomy enthusiasts would also be able to guess the season and solstice using the sunlight patterns.
The Sphere, a representation of the celestial bodies in space, sits with minimal support, suggesting weightless suspension. Visitors can walk along the lower half of the sphere which also houses the museum's planetarium.
The inverted dome is a massive structure made of glass offering the visitors an impending view of the sky, while carefully masking the Shanghai skyline. The dome encourages visitors to immerse themselves in the actual experience of viewing the night sky, after spending quality time looking at the exhibits and simulated displays inside the museum.
At its heart, the world's largest museum has only one purpose, to go beyond communicating scientific content. As Wong told CNN, "We want people to understand the special nature of the Earth as a place that hosts life, unlike any other place that we know of in the universe."