Built Among Ruins, the Zhang Yan Cultural Museum Is a Modern Masterpiece 

Courtesy Shenzhen Horizontal Design

The design team wanted to show how rural architecture could function in a modern build.

When you think about modern design, it's clean lines, neutral tones, and plenty of glass that come to mind. But a museum in China turns that notion on its head by incorporating ancient ruins to achieve that similar aesthetic. 


Courtesy Shenzhen Horizontal Design

Designed by Shenzhen Horizontal Design, the Zhang Yan Cultural Museum in China was built to incorporate the ruins of a brick home into its contemporary galleries. The team had dilapidated structures where there was no possibility of saving the interior space. So, they cleaned up any broken pieces and focused on keeping the more functional ones to incorporate into the overall design. 

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These incredible relics come from the late Qing dynasty—1644 to 1912—which was the last imperial dynasty in the country. This natural history of the decrepit home inspired the general concept of the museum: honoring past, present, and future. To do that, three galleries were built. The main gallery was slotted into the old home's ruins, while the more salvageable original history museum was restored to become the second gallery. The third gallery is the new build made from the white-concrete found in the other modern portions of the other galleries.


Courtesy Shenzhen Horizontal Design

Incorporating the ancient dwelling into the modern museum took a great deal of skill and planning. To ensure it was preserved and safe, the design team set the new building back from the ruin walls by about a foot. Then they included select openings along the sides to create a view of the old building from the interior. It is the striking white concrete contrasted with the preserved stone and the skylights and sloped roof that makes the building a modern marvel. Additionally, they lined the floor and ceiling with anodized aluminum to make the contrast pop.


Courtesy Shenzhen Horizontal Design

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This new-old build was an attempt to bring life back to the village of Zhang Yan and show how these ancient structures can become something new and noteworthy. In fact, it's this type of preservation that meets innovation that's popping up across China. Shanghai studio Roarc Renew recently turned two old granaries into a new art center.