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The World’s Largest Astronomy Museum Opens in Shanghai

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The three main architectural components of the building include the Oculus, the Inverted Dome, and the Sphere.

Courtesy of Ennead Architects, photo by Arch-Exist

The three main architectural components of the building include the Oculus, the Inverted Dome, and the Sphere.

The new museum is also one of China’s latest architectural wonders.

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After an opening ceremony on July 17, the Shanghai Astronomy Museum officially opened to the public on July 18. Located in the Lingang area of Shanghai, the new museum is a branch of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, which also operates the Shanghai Natural History Museum and the Shanghai Planetarium.

At 420,000 square feet, it is the largest museum in the world dedicated to astronomy. But its size isn’t the only impressive thing about this new museum. Thomas J. Wong of Ennead Architects intentionally designed the building without straight lines or right angles—similar to the geometry of the universe. Previously known as Polshek Partnership, Ennead was also behind the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

“The big idea of the Shanghai Astronomy Museum was to infuse a visceral experience of the subject matter into the design,” said Wong in a press release.

That means the three main architectural components of the building—the Oculus, Inverted Dome, and Sphere—not only act as functional elements of the design (the Sphere houses the planetarium theater, for example), but also are working astronomical instruments that track the sun, moon, and stars.

The Oculus is above the museum’s main entrance.

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The Oculus is located directly above the museum’s main entrance. As the sun passes through the opening, a circle of light tracks across the entry plaza marking the passage of time. The Oculus was specially designed so that at noon on the summer solstice, a perfect circle of light aligns with a circular platform directly underneath it.

The Sphere as seen from inside the museum

The Sphere is embedded in the roof of the museum’s lower wing so half of it is submerged inside the building and appears to float weightlessly above the floor. Inside the sphere, you’ll find the planetarium theater.

The Inverted Dome is an atrium that guests can walk on top of.

The Inverted Dome is a “large inverted glass tension structure” aka a large glass dish that acts as the atrium of the upper wing of the museum. After following a spiraling ramp underneath the Inverted Dome through the museum’s exhibits, visitors can walk out on top of it to take in the surrounding views.

Inside the exhibition space within the museum

Though China remains off-limits to leisure travelers from many countries in 2021, visitors can look forward to visiting the museum in the future to see a variety of permanent and special exhibits featuring various space exploration artifacts and instruments.

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