Indeed, the stone itself is by no means monochrome or homogenous: the dark colour of each slate fades across it to a lighter hue, its smoothness alternates with the marble-like pattern of the veining; there are no two ‘scales’ alike on the entire building. This natural, innate variety underscores the organic nature of the form of the building: its dynamic outline is makes it reminiscent of the body of some gigantic sea creature which has become beached on the land.
This is not the first time that Isozaki has clad a façade entirely in slate: his best known work with a similarly designed exterior is the Domus Museum of Mankind in the Spanish town of La Coruña (1995). But there is an important feature of the Beijing project that sets it apart from the architect’s previous experiments in this vein: its three external walls (which turn smoothly inwards towards the top to span the space between them) have a highly complex, curved outline. Overlapping like the scales of a fish, the slates look very natural on the resulting uneven, shimmering surface. They follow the powerful movement of the mass of the building, stopping it from turning into a brutal monolith.
The unusually lively character of the exterior is also partly down to the construction method: the limitations of local construction practice meant that the slates could not be hung in one single go, but instead had to be first trial fitted and then manoeuvred into the necessary position by hand.
View from the north © iwan baan
Detail of the faсade with the main entrance © iwan baan
Permanent exhibition halls © iwan baan
Main image: © iwan baan