Suzhou Museum: an I.M. Pei Masterwork

I.M. Pei's inspired re-imagining of a former prince's palace.

By Suzhou Museum

Suzhou Museum

Zhong Wang FuSuzhou Museum

Founded in 1960 and originally located in the national historic landmark, Zhong Wang Fu palace complex, Suzhou Museum has been a highly-regarded regional museum. A new museum designed by world famous architect I.M.Pei was completed in October 2006. The design of this new museum visually complements the traditional architecture of Zhong Wang Fu.

Suzhou Museum View -28Suzhou Museum

Entrance gateway to the new Suzhou Museum designed by I.M. Pei.

Suzhou Museum View -8Suzhou Museum

 Suzhou Museum and I.M. Pei

At the age of 85 in 2004, the world renowned architect Mr. I. M. Pei took on the project to build a new museum for the city of Suzhou. The new museum is adjacent to the famed Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Lion Forest Garden, two of Suzhou's traditional garden homes and among the city's most famous landmarks.  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. 

Suzhou Museum View -20Suzhou Museum

Mr. I. M. Pei is a world renowned architect from the United States. However, he was born in Guangdong, Province of China in 1917, and immigrated to the States in 1935. His Pei Partnership Architect Firm was established in 1955 and his designs can be found all over the world. Just to name a few representative ones, there are the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, and the Grand Pyramid of the Louvre, Paris.

Suzhou Museum View -17Suzhou Museum

Traditional Chinese architecture has a substantial influence on I.M. Pei's architectural designs. This is fully evident in his design for the Suzhou Museum. Indeed, he has long admired the layout of traditional Suzhou gardens, which feature long corridors, a zigzag bridge, piled rockery resembling miniature mountains, and water pavilions. He is undoubtedly a master in blending the traditional design style with the contemporary. For example, the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing is a masterpiece combining the Chinese traditional architecture and the modern art.

Suzhou Museum View -37Suzhou Museum

Suzhou Museum

Flowers and trees are important elements of the garden, and they were the subject of special attention in I. M. Pei’s design. He himself selected and determined every detail of the planting including the types, style and age of the specimens.

Suzhou Museum View -35Suzhou Museum

There are pine,sweet-scented osmanthus (cassia), and ginkgo trees in the garden and a bamboo grove on the west side of the garden.

Suzhou Museum View -31Suzhou Museum

Suzhou Museum View -40Suzhou Museum

Although there are not many plants in the garden, all of them were chosen by him. His specific request was that the shape of the trees should be elegant, with gentle and harmonious lines, to complement the hard-edged character of the architecture with the softness of the plants, to achieve an enhanced beauty.

Suzhou Museum View -32Suzhou Museum

The long curving branches of a willow trees create a screen for the white walls and angles of the timber frame of the building behind.

Suzhou Museum View -39Suzhou Museum

The Lotus Pool

The water of the Lotus Pool falls through an artificial waterfall,whose beautiful shape runs smoothly into the pool. It circulates continuously, controlling the humidity as well as purifying the air indoors.

Suzhou Museum View -38Suzhou Museum

You are now standing on the two-storey high steel structure of staircases. One layer is skillfully hidden inside the Lotus Pool while the second layer hangs in the air, creating a modern work of art with a light, elegant structure and a feeling of transparency.

Suzhou Museum View -43Suzhou Museum

Suzhou Museum View -15Suzhou Museum

Whitewashed walls and grayish-black tiled roofs are the traditional style of people’s houses in Jiangnan, the southeastern region of China. The new museum also keeps this tradition, with some innovations of its own.

Suzhou Museum View -30Suzhou Museum

The black pottery tiles have been replaced by granite slates. This granite is known as Chinese Black, quarried from the borders of Inner Mongolia and the Shanxi Provinces. It is dense and hard, and never splits, qualities that make it a suitable replacement for the traditional small black pottery tiles. Arranged in a diamond pattern on the roofs, the granite slates appear dark gray on bright days and deep black when it rains.

Suzhou Museum View -37Suzhou Museum

Suzhou Museum View -36Suzhou Museum

Visitors can admire the elegant pavilion set against the water and a bamboo grove. The walkway leading to the open structure can be admired by visitors from many different vantage points on the low bridge.

Suzhou Museum View -41Suzhou Museum

The Great Hall connects with the other areas of the Museum. When you stand here you will certainly have a sense of brightness and happiness. If you look up at the ceiling of the great hall, you will see that its framing elements consist of squares and triangles, as in a geometric painting. The traditional wooden beams have been replaced by glass and steel, resolving the lighting constraints characteristic of traditional Chinese architecture.This is the essence of I.M Pei's concept of “allowing the light to make the design.”

Light can be filtered in through louvered windows at the apex of the reception hall. The lofty, angled windows bring the changing skies into the interior space.

Suzhou Museum View -42Suzhou Museum

For I.M. Pei, a fundamental principle is to allow the light to form the design. His use of natural light is brilliant therefore he is called ' the magician of light '. When you walk around the museum,you will be able to observe how sunlight and reflected light come together to create all kinds of light and shade. Soft light and shade cover the floor surfaces as well as the walls, changing according to the movement of the sun. The sudden changes of light and shade will give you different visual and emotional sensations. Because of the introduction of natural light, there is a relationship between the interior and exterior spaces, which are woven together in light and shade, and we too become an integral part of this process.

What you see at first are the metallic rays of light from the yellow panels, which soften the light and create different tones of light and dark. If you stand on the upper floor to see the roof of the corridor, you will see three layers of roofs with different heights rising from east to west, in a fluent organization of space.

The site of the Taiping Heavenly KingdomSuzhou Museum

View of one of the galleries which combines traditional Suzhou gray bricks, wood beamed ceilings and traditional latticework doors and silk lanterns.

Credits: Story

Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, China

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of China
From ancient monuments to contemporary art, be inspired by the wonders of China
View theme
Google apps