The city of Shanghai is renowned for the way in which it mingles modernity and traditional culture. The results are often unique, always fascinating and sometimes quite eclectic. The Shanghai Museum of Glass is all these things. Located in a former glass-making workshop in the remote industrial Boashan district, the Museum tells the story of how glass making has evolved throughout history and how it might continue to evolve into Shanghai’s dynamic future.
A regular glass museum in the outskirts of Shanghai simply was not going to cut it. They needed to do something exceptional. That exceptional something has now taken on a life of its own. The museum is Phase One in the completion of the G+ Glass Theme Park – a monumental project set to breathe new life into the once tired Boashan district. Phases two, three and four? A sculpture yard, science park and business park. For now, though, only the museum is built. But it is not just any old Museum.
The Shanghai Museum of Glass is intended to turn the traditional concept of a museum on its head. Known as a ‘Type Two’ museum, the 3500 sqm building is intended to be engaging, interactive and hands-on. Leading an international team of architects, designers, artists, filmmakers and multimedia specialists, COORDINATION Asia – responsible for the design and concept of the museum interior – were determined to use the museum space to engage with people spatially and temporally. The museum is designed to be an experience that plays with our sense of the past, the present and the future. It is a space where all three converge.
This happens on a number of different levels. Firstly, the architects were careful to incorporate the original architecture into the design of the new building. The old structures – open workshop ceiling, rough floor and walls – are protected. In one sense, then, the old glass factory still stands, but it has been utterly transformed. The façade is dramatic, dazzling and designed to be noticed.
Externally, the building is mostly formed of dark U-shaped glass imported from Germany and coated in black enamel. The visitor to the museum will first be greeted by the cacophony of multi-lingual words about glass that are blasted into the U shaped glass, which is lit up by LED backlighting. The interior of the museum is similarly vivid and, like the exterior, betrays the museum’s obsession with glass and light.
Upon entering the museum, the first thing the visitor encounters is the Kaleidoscope Entrance. Polished steel facets reflect five multimedia screens showing images that artistically explore various aspects of humanity and its relationship with glass through time and space. Past this historical kaleidoscope is a blown-up picture of a glass sphinx, which marks the beginning of the ‘Journey through Time’ trail.
The second level of the Shanghai Museum of Glass is a creative gallery that showcases glass works from Chinese and international glass artists. The centerpiece of the room is a twenty-five metre neon artwork which showcases the words of Anton Chekov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Tilman Thürmer, the brains behind COORDINATION Asia, had the intention of designing the building to be like a piece of black crystal glass. Visually, he certainly succeeded. The building is brimming with black lacquered glass and LED lighting. There are mirrors everywhere – mirrors reflecting the walls, the artwork, the glass, the other mirrors, and the people who visit – merging all of these things together into a living, moving, dynamic picture. For a project that is so preoccupied with history (it is, after all, a museum), the message is clear: history is a dynamic, active process that is formed in a large part by our interaction with it, and by how we use it to understand the present and the future.
And this is just the beginning. The future Shanghai Museum of Glass is set to be an entire park dedicated to glass, with workshops, studios, labs and shops. The Museum itself will eventually host galleries, temporary exhibition halls, a library, shop and café. In the mean time, the museum has succeeded in drawing our attention to the incredible place that glass making holds in the cultural fabric of human kind. It is hard to imagine a better city for such a building, which asks us to engage with the sometimes fragile interface between tradition and modernity. Shanghai is very familiar with this tension, and its Museum of Glass has contributed masterfully to our understanding of how art can help us to comprehend the relationship of history to the present.+
read more »