Architecture In Context Building Analysis Cultural Studies Essay

Architecture In Context

Building Analysis:

Suzhou Museum

Prepared by: Zhang Ying Ju


Group / Semester: School of Art & Design

IAD Year 1

August 2012 Intake

Prepared for: Mrs. Marsitee Endut

Date of submission: 21st January 2013


Introduction ………………………...…. Page

Background ……………………………. Page

Analysis …..……………………………. Page

Conclusion ……………………………... Page

Bibliography/Reference ……………………… Page


In architectural world, as human beings, we met various periods and created so many distinctive styles that can distinguish where the buildings come from and what kind of specific culture it belongs to. However, when the modernism born, it spread to the whole world and flourished everywhere. From then on, we separate building styles into traditional and modern. Every region has its traditional style, but modern belongs to the whole world. And then, some people questioned about this situation, it is a good direction for architecture and human culture or it is a disaster for us. Although the question is tough to answer, some architects still have been trying to challenge and looking for a solution.

Recently, in Suzhou China, a new Museum was built near Humble Administrator Garden which is one of World Cultural Heritage Sites in Suzhou. This museum is designed by a Chinese American architect, I .M. Pei, who is widely seen as one of the most distinguished architects in the world.

Figure 1.0.1 Suzhou Museum

Suzhou Museum has been recognized as a collision of classical and modern, and combined quite well with each other. This called "Designed for China" Museum conveyed a good architectural style combination between Chinese historic and contemporary fashion.

As a modernism master in architectural world, I. M. Pei has always been doing innovative works. He likes to walk a way between tradition and modern world. Contribute to Pei's original design concept of "Chinese style with innovation; Suzhou style with creativity", the Suzhou Museum not only became an architectural landmark in Suzhou, but also a significant building bridging traditional Chinese architectural design with modern concepts.

The aims and objectives of the writing are as followed:

To study the form and style of the Suzhou Museum from exterior, interior and the layout.

To investigate the cultural and social relationship between Suzhou Museum and the Suzhou City. And see how it affects this building.

To analyze what influences the design of Suzhou Museum. And how architect’s style affects the form of this building.


About Suzhou City

Originally founded in 514 BCE, as a major city located in the southeast of Jiangsu Province in Eastern China, located adjacent to Shanghai, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of rich history, and relics of the past are abundant to this day. The city's canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it has also been an important centre for China's silk industry. The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. Suzhou is often dubbed the "Venice of the East" or "Venice of China".

Figure 2.0.1 Old Suzhou City

Today, Suzhou has become a core city of China's Yangtze River Delta economic zone, given its high GDP contribution to China. More recently, it has been a center of the silk trade and a place of gardens and canals. Suzhou has long been a heaven for scholars, artists, and skilled craftsmen, and this is still the case today.

About Suzhou Museum

Suzhou Museum was founded in 1960 and originally located in the national historic landmark, ZhongWangFu palace complex, Suzhou Museum has been a highly-regarded regional museum with a number of significant Chinese cultural relics. In October 2006, A new museum designed by world famous architect I.M.Pei was completed which covering over 10700 square meter and located at the cross of Dongbei Street and Qimen Road. The design of this new museum visually complements the traditional architecture of ZhongWangFu. The Suzhou Museum has collected more than 30,000 cultural relics; among them, approximately 250 are classified as national grade-one treasures. It enjoys a high reputation for its unearthed relics, paintings and calligraphy from the Ming and Qing dynasties (between mid 14th century and early 20th century), as well as seals and ancient arts and crafts, etc. The total exhibition area is 3,600 square meters and houses some 1,160 cultural relics, spanning from prehistoric times to recent years.

Figure 2.0.2 Suzhou Museum

About the Architect Mr. I. M. Pei

I.M. Pei is a world renowned architect from the United States. However, he was born in Guangdong Province of China in 1917, raised in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and immigrated to the United States in 1935.

Figure 2.0.3 I.M.Pei

His designs can be found all over the world. Just to name a few representative ones, there are the Bank of China Tower (Hong Kong), the East Wing of the National Gallery (Washington), and the Grand Pyramid in Louvre (Paris).

The traditional Chinese architecture has a substantial influence on Pei and he is undoubtedly a master in blending the traditional design style with the contemporary.  At the age of 85 in 2004, M r. I. M. Pei took upon the project to build a new museum for the city of Suzhou. The project undoubtedly presented a big challenge to Mr. Pei in terms of designing a modern museum to be in perfect harmony with all the old, classical buildings around it.



As be mentioned before, I.M.Pei was influenced by traditional Chinese architecture and he had always been good at blending the traditional design style with modern. Hence, the original design concept of this Suzhou Museum is about "Chinese style with innovation; Suzhou style with creativity", and the idea is "not too high, not too large and not too abrupt."

Figure 3.1.1 Façade of Suzhou Museum

The whitewashed plaster wall with dark gray clay tile is the troditioal construction characteristic of Old Suzhou. The new Suzhou Museum adopts it as the primary colours. Instead of using traditional clay tiles, the roof is made of gray granites with uniformed colour. Modern steel structure is applied to the new museum to replace traditional roof beam structure. The style of roof was inspired by traditional roof of Old Suzhou architecture and redesigned into geometric shapes. The interior is decorated with wooden frames and white ceiling. In addition, metal sunscreens with wooden panels instead of traditional carved windows lattice are introduced to allow more lights and make the new museum more sophisticated. This design makes the natural lighting shapes more complicated and fascinating when it shining in. Let lighting to design, which is a famous saying by I.M.Pei.

Figure 3.1.2 Interior of Suzhou Museum

According to the layout of function, Suzhou Museum consists of ground and underground. The height of main buildings is lower than 6m, and the central hall and west exhibition area have two floors and its high 16m. The ground part of Suzhou Museum has been divided into three sections. The centre includes the entrance, the hall and the main garden, the West Wing covers exhibition area and the East Wing houses administration offices, shops and rest area. The underground part has video rooms, galleries, function rooms and parking lot.

Figure 3.1.3 Exhibition Area

Several halls were designed like eight-angle shapes and roofs were cut into geometrics that solved the lighting problems. Architect use the triangle shape repeatedly as the main design element. Wall windows, wall structures or roof windows all partly were applied by this design. Using square and triangle shapes to construct the roof’s structure, like an abstract painting, gives people a strong attraction.

Figure 3.1.4 Eight-angle-shape Roof

The garden is one of the most beautiful architectural wonders here. Almost all of the Chinese elements, such as bridges, pavilions, ponds, bamboo, whitewashed plaster walls and fake mountains are present. It looks like a painting rather than a garden. Apparently, architect has fully considered the cultural identity of garden and landscape design of Suzhou, and adopted the style of classical garden in Suzhou. Various exquisite courtyards were designed on the layout of this museum, which made the inner and outer space connected, as well as the natural and architecture.

Figure 3.1.5 Suzhou Museum Garden


From the point of culture and society, Suzhou Museum can be seen as a continuance of Suzhou Culture, especially it is adjacent to the Zhuozhengyuan (the Humble Administrator's Garden), one of the World Cultural Heritage sites. As we know, Suzhou Museum was designed by I.M.Pei who is a world renowned architect. Why the government invited him to design Suzhou Museum, and how important it is. The answer will be found while looking at it from a broader view, like from the aspects of culture or society.

For many year, Beijing, Shanghai or Xian as the most famous international city had been known to the world. However, for almost every Chinese, Jiangnan Area is always the best place that dream to travel, which has a rich and magnificent history and as a significant part located in Southeast China. The Suzhou City is one of most renowned for its exquisite culture.

Figure 3.2.1 Old Suzhou City

Roughly being introduced on the Suzhou City in previous chapter, people may acknowledge a little bit that the reason of building a museum here and it was seen as a important project of expanding the local culture via a modern approach. As we already know that, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of rich history, and relics of the past are abundant to this day. The city's canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. In addition, since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Old Suzhou has also been an important centre for China's silk industry. Until the Ming period – 15th to 16th centuries, it became the artistic center of China in and most of the famous artists of the time were natives of Suzhou. Thousands of various precious cultural relics belong to this city needed to exhibit to people and tourists. Due to that reason, local government considered to build an unparalleled museum for showing these precious treasures to people from all over the world. Hence, they gave it a try to invite such a famous architect to design this building. However, this is a great choice and decision, because nobody would be more appropriate than I.M.Pei.

Figure 3.2.2 Chinese Artwork by Tang Yin (1470—1523)

The cities which have a rich history and attracting places for tourists, government usually built a fabulous museum for exhibiting their treasures and attracting more people to get there. Some of these museums were old architectures that was built long time ago, so it also can be seen as a part of treasures in the city. Examples like The Forbidden City in Beijing or the British Museum in UK, which all use the old famous buildings as the body of the museum. However, in some cities, they do not have an outstanding or appropriate one to be as a museum, and the same, they really need one for reasons. Hence, new museums were built by renowned architects, like Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. And the city was remembered for the museums. Sometimes they already have a great museum in their city, for some reason, they were brave to put a new one beside, some of examples are very successful and amazing like the Glass Pyramid near the Lurve Museum. The Suzhou Museum belongs to this type, new modern style museum built to be together with the previous one.

The reason of building a new museum besides the old one may be that the old one is not sufficient to support a perfect show for tourists. Considering the function and visual purpose, the government did a try to refine the situation. This contribution not only increase more attractions to tourists for improve the tour industry of the city, but it would also make the architecture a different in the history.


When we think about the design of the Suzhou Museum, some Chinese traditional elements has to be mentioned about. Although this museum is a modern style building, it bridges traditional Chinese architectural design with modern concepts.

According to Pei's original design concept of "Chinese style with innovation; Suzhou style with creativity"; and the idea of "not too high, not too large and not too abrupt," the museum has adopted the typical architecture style in Suzhou -- the whitewashed plaster walls and the dark gray clay tiles. As can be seen that architect took the cultural elements from the old local buildings then put them into a modern style.

Figure 3.3.1 Suzhou Museum Roof Compare to Traditional Suzhou Architecture

Suzhou city had always been called city of garden, which has many famous gardens attracting people from everywhere. Architect was trying to take this characteristic into the layout design of Suzhou museum. One of the examples is artificial lake and hill, which are two important elements of Suzhou garden style. The garden in Suzhou Museum is one of the most stunning architectural wonders here. Almost all of the Chinese elements, such as bridges, pavilions, ponds, bamboo, fake mountains, whitewashed plaster walls, etc, are present. It looks like a painting rather than a garden. Another Chinese traditional element is the Pavilion. Designer has fully applied these characteristic. North of the first floor stands a thatched Song Pavilion also a special exhibit. It is a duplication of a scholar's study during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), depicting a wooden construction style.

Figure 3.3.2 Suzhou Museum Garden compare to Traditional Suzhou Garden

Besides the objective elements, the background of an architect also has affected the design progress. Mr. Pei is a American Chinese and grown up in China until 18 years old. The more important thing is that Suzhou City was his original hometown where he has a huge family lived for years. Hence, he knew the culture and specifics about the land he belongs to, and substantially influenced by traditional culture and architecture. He applied the talent and ability of mixing the design with his knowledge of Chinese tradition and modern.


This is case study of Suzhou Museum designed by famous architect I.M.Pei and located in China, Jiangnan Area. Throughout the background and analysis, we can have a well knowledge on this Museum, its detailing information, style and form, relationship with culture and society and what influenced the design.

At the very beginning, the location of Suzhou Museum made some controversy, because many people worried that it would affect the entire ancient architectural heritages and lead to disastrous things if something wrong during construction. Fortunately, there is a happy ending. The museum not only became an architectural landmark in Suzhou, but also a significant architecture bridging Chinese traditional architectural design with modern concepts.


Picture Credit

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