Located at the intersection of Dongbei Street and Qimen Road, the New Suzhou Museum sits adjacent to Zhuozhengyuan (the Humble Administrator's Garden), one of the World Cultural Heritage sites, and Prince Zhong's Mansion, one of the national relics protection sites. With a budget of 339 million yuan (approximately $42 million), the construction of the museum began in 2002; it was opened to the public on October 7, 2006.
This is the only museum in China's mainland designed by I.M. Pei, a Chinese American who is widely considered as one of the most distinguished architects in the world.
Echoing Pei's original design concept of "Chinese style with innovation; Suzhou style with creativity"; and the idea of "not too high, not too large and not too abrupt," the museum has adopted the typical architecture style in Suzhou -- the whitewashed plaster walls and the dark gray clay tiles. However, Pei has replaced the traditional clay tiles of the roof with gray granites. A modern steel structure is in place of the traditional roof beams. The interior is constructed with wooden frames and white ceiling; metal sunscreens with wooden panels have been introduced to allow more lights. Moreover, the main building and the two-storied parts are lower than the surrounding ancient architectures.
Covering over 10,750 square meters, the museum is divided into three main areas -- the Center Area comprises the entrance, the hall and the garden; the West Wing covers the main exhibition area; and the East Wing houses the administration offices and exhibition galleries.
The garden is one of the most stunning architectural wonders here. Almost all of the Chinese elements, such as pavilions, bridges, bamboo, ponds, whitewashed plaster walls, fake mountains, etc, are present. It looks like a painting rather than a garden.
The museum has collected more than 30,000 cultural relics; among them, approximately 250 are classified as national grade-one treasures. It enjoys a high reputation for its unearthed relics, paintings and calligraphy from the Ming and Qing dynasties (between mid 14th century and early 20th century), as well as seals and ancient arts and crafts, etc. The total exhibition area is 3,600 square meters and houses some 1,160 cultural relics, spanning from prehistoric times to recent years.
The Song Pavilion
North of the first floor stands a thatched Song Pavilion, also a special exhibit. It is a duplication of a scholar's study during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), depicting a wooden construction style.
The audio/video rooms, function rooms, galleries and parking lot are located underground.
The museum, 90-year-old Pei's "sweetest daughter", is said to be the final design of his career. Interestingly, the location of the museum created some controversy in the very beginning, for many people worried that it would affect the entire ancient architectural complex and lead to disastrous consequences if something went wrong during construction.
Fortunately, a happy ending ensued. The museum not only became an architectural landmark in Suzhou, but also a significant construction bridging traditional Chinese architectural design with modern concepts.