Jean Nouvel Said To Edge Gehry, Hadid For Beijing Museum Job

Pritzker Prize–Winning French Architect Said To Be Selected For New NAMOC Design

Jean Nouvel (Image: Art Tribune)

Rumor has it that Pritzker Prize–winning French architect Jean Nouvel has been selected to design a mammoth new building for the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC), renowned for its exhibitions of 20th-century and contemporary Chinese art, in Beijing. If reports prove to be true, Nouvel will not only have the distinguished honor of executing this highly coveted commission, but also to win bragging rights for outgunning his blockbuster contemporaries, L.A.-based Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, themselves both Pritzker Prize winners who have done work in mainland China as well as Hong Kong. While the official announcement is not due until November (after China’s decennial change in leadership), an anonymous, well-placed source reported that all three architects were informed of the decision on July 18. Unfortunately, renderings of Nouvel’s design have yet to be released to the public.

At 1.3 million square feet, the new structure will be an imposing structure in a city now filled with them. Planned to be one of a trio of buildings — the others being a museum dedicated to the arts and crafts and a Sinology center — the new NAMOC will occupy a site next to the landmark National Stadium, popularly known as the “Bird’s Nest.” Part of a broader effort to draw more people to visit the area, post-2008-Olympics, many contenders were inspired “to make a building so iconic that one day people will say that the Bird’s Nest is next to it.”

Zaha Hadid's design for the new NAMOC

The intense selection process began in 2010 with more than 150 architects around the world in contention. Over time, that figure was narrowed down to 20 offices, among them OMA, UNStudio, and Chinese architects Yung Ho Chang, Zhu Pei, and Ma Yansong of MAD, who were invited to submit designs. From these 20, only five finalists, which included Herzog & de Meuron (who withdrew from consideration) and Moshe Safdie, were asked to make revisions. However, according to Architectural Record, it was Nouvel’s “somewhat softer-edged proposal offering a pastiche of envelope treatments: steel cut in decorative patterns, stenciled glass recalling Chinese ink brushstrokes, and a splash of parametricism, all explained via references to ancient Chinese poetry and philosophy” which ultimately won over the clients.

The architectural race seen in China particularly over the last half-decade has led many to consider China “one of the most exciting places to be an architect right now.” While the NAMOC commission has been surrounded with speculation on political opacity and China’s “soft power” ambitions, this competition also reflects China’s continued attraction as a site for new, progressive architectural ventures — not only in major cities like Beijing, but also lower-tier cities.

With a projected completion date of 2015, we look forward to seeing how Nouvel’s design adds to Beijing’s urban fiber as well as its contribution to the architectural scene in China.


Art & Design, Market Analysis