Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier

Stillness and Motion. Through the perpetual interaction between glaciers and seawater, the glacial ice, which boasts an average age exceeding 5,000 years, will ultimately drift toward the ocean and transform into icebergs that undergo continuous displacement by the flux of ocean currents. In our opinion, the fascination of icebergs lies not only in the thousands of years of unchanging ice, and the unpredictable location due to drifting. It also stems from the mysterious seven-eighths concealed beneath the sea’s surface, as the writer Ernest Hemingway mentioned.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography, Cityscape
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography, Cityscape

In 2021, amidst the picturesque lakes and islands of Chengdu’s LUXELAKES, we embarked on a mission to construct an ‘iceberg’ for children, encouraging them to delve into the deeper and more intricate enigmas of the world. The original design and construction process was prolonged from a hasty ten months to a final two years. The stillness and motion progressed simultaneously during this period – static architecture and unwavering beliefs, changing construction conditions, and continuous exploration. As a result, Dotsss Children’s Museum finally opened in October 2023. This iceberg finally floated on the ocean of children’s hearts.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography, Facade
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Image 10 of 32

The Site in Flux. The project is situated northwest of Luxelakes, just across the vibrant Luxezone. It is enveloped by sports and leisure facilities such as a sports center, a camping experience area, and commercial blocks, showcasing the area’s energy and liveliness. Indeed, this project site is a more ‘dynamic’ environment than we initially anticipated. From the inception of the design phase to the execution stage, the project’s surroundings have been consistently changing. Even post-completion, the project’s surroundings remain in a state of flux. Is it necessary for a building to always conform to its surroundings? In the face of an ever-evolving environment, it may be more suitable to construct a building that appears to remain steadfast amidst the changes.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Image 11 of 32
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography

Unknown Needs. Is this truly a building that has remained unchanged? Material dialectics tells us that static is relative. The building remains fixed to its location, yet this museum deviates from the traditional concept of museums. In the initial stages of the design process, we recognized that this children’s museum, unlike traditional museums, was intended not to simply look back at history, but to instead propel towards the future – catering to children, showcasing the world’s diversity through its various spaces and exhibits, and engaging young viewers to actively explore and contemplate it in their own manner. Based on previous design experience with exhibition buildings, the dimensions of the exhibition hall, space form, and other related design elements are typically decided based on the specific content of the exhibits and the form of the exhibition. Nevertheless, in this project, similar to the unpredictable site conditions, the contents of the exhibition were also temporarily unknown due to the brief construction timeframe.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Image 19 of 32
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography, Facade, Windows, Cityscape

This implies that within an extremely short design and construction timeline, the project must not only meet child-friendly requirements but also be equipped with auxiliary rooms and facilities suitable for a museum. Most importantly, the exhibition space also needs to be flexible enough to adapt to various exhibition needs. To reduce the influence of the exhibition props on the building shape, in the architectural design stage, the selection of more adaptable square box space can reserve space for the future growth of the building – under the premise of ensuring that the architectural effect does not have a big change, the simple form of square box space can be changed promptly on demand for the space volume, while also maximizing the retention of space capacity, bringing more richness and freedom.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography, Garden
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Image 30 of 32
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography

Streamline in the Flow. We aim to create a flexible and unrestricted visiting experience for children, that is, we strive not to confine the visit to a set route. Each square box space is not a standalone amusement park. The boxes are open to each other, linked by atriums and outdoor courtyards, and encircled by activity areas of varying sizes. In this way, the visiting path becomes highly flexible, and the courtyard is like a limited version of the museum’s “Doraemon Anywhere Door”, enabling visitors to select their desired exhibition hall freely after crossing the courtyard. This gentle spatial guidance is more in line with children’s natural tendencies, enabling them to run freely without any obstacles or reprimands within the exhibition hall. They can fully appreciate the sights rushing by and the breeze touching their ears.

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Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Facade

Besides the unrestricted visit routes between exhibition halls, there are also several large windows connecting the interior and exterior of the building. It makes the landscapes inside and outside the building serve as ‘exhibits’ that can be explored by visitors. For the passersby on the square outside the building, the exhibitions and activities in the exhibition halls visible through the glass windows serve as an attraction and presentation. On the other hand, for the audience inside the exhibition halls, the passersby outside the building are also a kind of scenery of exploration and observation.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Interior Photography
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Image 31 of 32
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Interior Photography

Transformed Cubes. The cubes are simply laid out following the contours of the site. Standing on the high-rise buildings surrounding the site, perhaps the planned relationship of the cubes would be more intuitive, so the fifth elevation of the building becomes the key to how the buildings break through the blandness. Also, a change to watch is the construction schedule after the speed increase. To comply with the fast-build construction requirements, we attempted a different approach by relocating most of the equipment to the outdoor rooftop. In this manner, it is possible to avoid cross-construction between the construction of interiors and architecture even when they are being designed and constructed simultaneously. The subsequent issue is that as more air conditioning units, fire water tanks, and other equipment are added to the rooftop, the architecture loses its original lightweight.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography

The variability and complexity of construction conditions require us to consider how to wrap up various issues most simply and directly. This appears to resonate with the form of “concealment and draped” in the land art creations of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. As a result, we covered the cubes with a fabric. The originally intended large-scale aluminum mesh was too soft and easy to wrinkle, so we ended up replacing it with a tensioned membrane. The geometric aesthetics of the iceberg are fully expressed as the semi-transparent tensile membrane brings cascading geometric changes to the building under different viewing angles and lighting conditions. This immense, soft fabric, with tension between its pulls, connects multiple cubes in succession, hiding the equipment that has been moved to the roof,  and softens the sharp, rigid clarity of the box’s boundaries into an indistinct, enigmatic blur. The interlayer formed between the tensile membrane roof and the cube serves as a semi-open space on the roof, specially prepared for children, which we plan to fulfill the childhood wish of every child who tries to climb up to the roof. Regrettably, the plan did not come to fruition as more equipment was installed on the roof.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography, Facade
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Image 32 of 32
Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography

Consistent Approach. The everyday communicates messages to society, while the perverse can captivate attention, a method of probing that we have always been fascinated by. The regular box form is the most common style of expression for architecture. A cube with dimensions exceeding several meters in length, width, and height, by simply opening an entrance on it, easily evokes the association of a building. It uses its everydayness to signal to people that this is a space. A number of boxes scattered in placement together will become the most common style of exhibition-type architecture. When these dispersed boxes are wrapped in a tensioned membrane to form a whole, the distinct yet gentle architectural edges beneath the membrane will take on perversely attractive. The pristine white appearance of the building resembles an iceberg that has appeared suddenly in this location, providing the public with a familiar yet unfamiliar architectural experience.

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Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Image 13 of 32

The iceberg reveals only a small portion of its mass above the water’s surface, and people use their imagination to depict the true outline of the iceberg below the surface. Just like Dotsss Children’s Museum, this bounded space captivates children, enabling them to perceive the world, guiding them to uncover their interests, and encouraging them to explore the myriad mysteries of the world. In this “iceberg,” various forms of stillness and motion abound: such as the buildings that are limited to their physical forms, and the constantly changing design and construction experiences. The one consistent aspect has been our desire to convey a message about education to the public through our project, from the Lyceum School to the Dotsss Children’s Museum. We believe that a children’s building is more than just a stationary place for learning; it is a dynamic and changing educational platform. Perhaps the saying “To look at something as it looks, to look at something as it means, to look at something as it is.” finds a new interpretation in this children’s museum.

Dotsss Children’s Museum / DL atelier - Exterior Photography

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