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Sat, 21st Mar 2015
Taiwan National Palace Museum builds southern branch. (March 2015)

A majestic structure in the shape of a ballet dancer is rising up next to a lake in southwest Taiwan on what used to be a sugar cane field.

This is the southern branch of the National Palace Museum (NPM), the world-famous collection of Chinese art treasures that attracted 4.5 million visitors in 2013, ranking seventh among museums in the world.

The southern branch is due to open at the end of December 2015. Its title is Museum of Asian Art and Culture – it will show art not only from China but also from Korea, Japan and other countries in Asia. Items from the Taipei museum will be on display there.

The new museum involves an investment of NT$ 7.933 billion and will include a five-star hotel and tourism facilities under the ‘build, operate and transfer’ model.

Delayed construction

The project was first proposed in 2003 and officially approved the next year as a museum of Asian art and culture, with a focus on archiving, research, preservation, education and the display of relics and artefacts from Asia.

The first contract for architectural design, with an American firm, and supervision of construction was signed in April 2007. The design called for a man-made lake, which was built. Due to contractual disputes, the work stopped.

The museum held a second round of competition. Kris Yao, the renowned Taiwan architect, won the contract with a new concept of using Chinese calligraphy as the inspiration in design to create the form of the museum.

Taiwan is an area subject to heavy rainfall and typhoons in the summer and vulnerable to earthquakes; therefore, several important design elements focus on high-standard flood control, structural seismic design and sustainability. The building has attained a Taiwan Green Building (EEWH) diamond certificate. Together with its unique architectural form, it is base-isolated with the Friction Pendulum System (FSP) to reduce tremors in the event of an earthquake, in order to protect the priceless national treasures.

The museum covers 20 hectares, with an area of 38,413 square metres on four floors, out of the total site area of 70 hectares.

It will have six permanent galleries, one special exhibition hall and one loan exhibition hall. The permanent galleries will show Asian Buddhist art, Asian woven products, Asian tea culture, Asian ceramics, digital arts and the history of the development of Chiayi.

There will also be special exhibitions of the treasures from the NPM in Taipei. The first will be “Exquisite Beauty Islamic Jades”, then one of blue and white porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties, one of jewellery and accessories from the Qing palace and jades from the Qing dynasty.

The NPM is also in discussions with the Musee Guimet in Paris for loans of an exhibition of Cambodian arts and relics and with the Museum of Oriental Ceramics in Osaka and the National Museum of Korea for an exhibition of Korean blue porcelain.

Chinese calligraphy

The ground-breaking ceremony took place on 6 February 2013.

The museum will be a steel frame structure, of reinforced concrete walls with stone cladding, cast aluminium plates and IGU (insulated glass unit) single low-e glass.

Most visitors will arrive by crossing a bridge 140 metres long over the lake. “When we won the contract, the lake was already built, so we took the opportunity to use it as an advantage for this project,” said Kuo-Chien Shen, a partner of KRIS YAO|ARTECH and principal of the design team for the project. “The water of the lake creates a reflection of the building and adds to the visual effect. It also brings ecological diversity in terms of green landscape design.”

The walk will give the visitors a spectacular view of the structure.

Shen explained that Asia was home to three great civilisations – China, India and Persia, represented by the dragon, elephant and horse respectively – and that each has its own distinctive features. These images are incorporated into various architectural detail designs.

“Yao’s inspiration for the building is Chinese calligraphy,” he said. “This includes three elements – thick ink, half-dry strokes and smearing. The thick ink forms the dark solid mass which hosts the exhibition rooms, where natural lighting needs to be eliminated. The half-dry stroke is the more transparent building mass, hosting the café, library and offices. Finally, the smearing stroke is the courtyard bamboo garden in between, creating an outdoor promenade plaza for the visitors.”

The building orientation takes sun exposure and wind direction into consideration. Chiayi has strong sunshine; so the west wing is designed as a solid mass and the east side structure frames act as vertical sunshades.

“It is a very complicated structure with more than 36,000 aluminum plates as its exterior skin,” said Shen, in explaining the exterior wall pattern of the building. The design is a pixilation of a dragon pattern selected from Ch’in dynasty bronze ware. The idea is to excerpt part of the ancient design, transform it into modern architectural language and elaborate with Chinese culture’s fondness for decoration.

“We have a very tight schedule to complete the building by the end of 2015. Everything must go well,” said Shen.

The site is in Taibao city in Chiayi County and just minutes from the Chiayi station on the island’s High Speed Railway between Taipei and Kaohsiung. This will make it easily accessible to the majority of the island’s population and the millions of tourists who come every year.

The site will include a visitor service area and thematic landscaped gardens, with miniature gardens of Asia. There will be commercial facilities and performance space. There will be two lakes and two ecological islands, with a part of the site maintained as a wetland, to help with flood prevention.

Since October 2009, the NPM has been conducting educational promotion programmes in Chiyai, to train volunteers as tour guides and for other services for the visitors. It has invited renowned scholars from local and overseas universities to teach Asian art programmes. It has trained more than 200 volunteers who will be able to work as guides as soon as the museum opens.

It aims to bring economic benefits to the southwest districts of Yunlin, Chiayi and Tainan and be integrated with tours of Alishan, Dongshi fishing port and the Aogu wetland and forest park. The government of Chiayi County is aiming for four million visitors a year for the museum and the other tourist attractions of the area.


KRIS YAO|ARTECH was founded by Kris Yao in 1985. A native of Taipei, he received degrees in architecture from Tunghai University and the University of California at Berkeley. His firm now has 160 staff, of whom 100 work in the Taipei main office and 50 in the Shanghai office.

Most of its projects are in Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region. They include commercial/office buildings, hotels, transportation facilities and institutional buildings. His well-known projects include the Hsinchu station of the High-Speed Train, Shih Chien University, the Water Moon Monastery in Taipei, the Langyang Museum in Yilan, a Museum of Prehistoric Art in a science park in Tainan that is scheduled to be completed in 2016, and the corporate headquarters of the China Steel Corporation, a new landmark of Kaohsiung City.

In the mainland, it has designed the Wuzhen Theater at Wuzhen, a water village near Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, the Huangshan Urban Planning Exhibition Center as the gateway landmark to Huangshang city and other commercial residential complexes, such as Huashan Square in Shanghai.

In 2013, the design for the southern branch of the NPM was displayed at the International Architecture Showcase in London. In 2014, Yao received an honorary fellowship of the American Institute of Architects.

He is collaborating with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in the design of the Taipei Performing Arts Centre, due for completion in 2015. Koolhaas designed the giant headquarters of China Central Television in Beijing and the new building of the Shenzhen stock exchange.

National Palace Museum

According to The Art Newspaper of London, the National Palace Museum is the seventh most popular museum in the world and the most popular tourist attraction in Taiwan. The number of visitors has skyrocketed since the island was open to mass tourism from the mainland in 2008.

By the end of 2013, it had 696,295 pieces, the vast majority brought from the mainland in 1949; they also include 705 acquired and 3,297 donated during 2013.

In July 2012, the government approved a plan involving investment of about NT$ 30 billion to construct a new hall and a cultural and creative park on more than 20 hectares at the present site of the museum and at a site nearby. The park is due to open in 2016 and the new museum in 2024.

The expansion is to meet the increase in the number of staff, pieces and tourists and educational activities.

The park will include a Research Centre for Scientific Preservation, an Research and Development Centre for Digital Arts Performance and a Creative Industry Park.

The plan forecasts that this will increase the number of visitors to seven million a year in 2041 from 4.5 million in 2013 and 2.57 million in 2009, with a record of 17,000 in a single day, and bring economic benefits over 30 years of NT$ 151 billion. By 2024, it will provide 2,200 jobs.

The NPM has 21 databases, nine different languages on its website and newsletters in Chinese and English. These provide access to its treasures for people around the world. In 2013, there were 3.1 million visitors to its website in the nine languages.

In 2013, it sold 256,000 of its publications, raising NT$ 125 million in revenue. In 2013, it also earned NT$ 563 million from the sales of licences, images and others; the biggest item was NT$ 465 million from sales of 2,118 cultural and creative merchandise.


By Ou Nian-le in Taipei

Photos by Kris Yao|Artech

(Issue N. 27, March 2015)