REPORT FROM BEIJING 4: Big and Empty (3)

Big and Empty – Part 3 – China National Film Museum

“The China National Film Museum is the biggest of its kind in the world.”

I have no clue what that is supposed to mean.

“Featuring the biggest IMAX theater of Asia”

Maybe “biggest” is already an attraction by itself, but that is completely missing the point here.

A history of film-making—the history of Chinese film-making—is itself something worthy of in-depth documentation, serious exhibition and passionate studies.

I feel that the bigness here seems somewhat redundant.

Is bigness the only way to achieve monumentality? I doubt it.

Is bigness the most efficient way to achieve monumentality? Perhaps.

Should bigness be the first category on the checklist for making a monument?

If that’s the case, then there must be something wrong. Scale is only one out of many things in a designer’s toolbox. I felt that if one is to prioritize SCALE when it comes to designing a monument, then it is almost like giving up design.

The “Big room” in the Film Museum did not really move me beyond that initial “wow.”

Of course, the most important things in a museum should be its exhibitions and collections. The great hall as a prologue should not take over the stage. But I am still not quite able to fully understand why I would think the space here to be too big and empty. By sharing my observations, there might be someone who would be able to help me make some sense out of things.

“Big and empty” might turn out to be the wrong words to describe what I felt…

So here we have the third museum of this series, the grand hall of the Film Museum…..

All museums need a ceremonial axis, even though most visitors would enter through a smaller side entrance with security checks.

The ceremonial entrance is still more important for there are more architectural gestures to be made over there. More story to be told, more intentions to be read, more attention to be captured.

Here we have a red star inserted into the ground, suggesting that this is not a Film Museum of the world but a Museum of Chinese film, and likely has to do with some revolutionary history. And in fact, “red films” with political agendas seemed to be a major aspect of early Chinese films.

Chinese films now are probably less politically based. I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that the box office area is rather pink behind that red star. Entertainment business is probably taking over that revolutionary spirit as the new major agenda. After all, a large portion of this museum is really just movie theaters. Many people are here to enjoy the latest film in the biggest IMAX. There is probably no need to paint red all over the new “Transformer” movie.

Yet one is reminded of the revolution aspect of the museum upon entering the second grand hall that serves as a central circulation space to the museum. In plan, it is simply a gigantic red dot.

Strangely, it is almost like taking New York’s Guggenheim and then cutting across all the ramps at one side to make a grand opening. What you are left with is a series of disconnected rings. To further make this circulation space redundant, the access to the ramps is blocked. I suspect, the designers probably had a Guggenheim in mind right from the start, but later realized the massing of this museum is simply too large to fully take advantage of the circular central circulation, and had to introduce a secondary means of circulation, or multiple systems of circulations as a result. By the time secondary systems are introduced, the ramps at the red dot have already become something that is completely redundant, which makes this grand hall something of a joke.

What should one do if this space is not fully functional? Well, you introduce a few more functions.

So the designers put in the seats, the side galleries, and a huge LED screen. Now that the space is functional, and looks beautiful under the red light, and capable of serving as a gathering/ceremonial space, everyone is happy. (again, my guess)

There seemed to be a jump in logic somewhere? Or am I thinking too much?

Somehow I do not feel quite right. Something is a little strange here. As if all the elements present are simply floating around and not really integrated. Perhaps it is simply because the room is too big?

Cheng Feng Lau





All photos by Cheng Feng Lau.

This is the last of  the Big and Empty series.


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