Jianfu Palace Museum
The project resurrects and reconfigures three long-gone buildings destroyed by fire in the Forbidden City. Before beginning the design process, we proposed new uses for the site and developed its program: a multipurpose reception center and flexible exhibition space set within a larger museum compound. The spaces, circulation, lighting, and furnishings are designed to accommodate these uses.
Although the exteriors are faithful to archival images of the original buildings, the interiors presented opportunities to purposefully contrast contemporary and historical interventions. Present-day needs necessitated new uses and more flexible spatial planning. A key design intervention was the addition of a grand public staircase to the main pavilion’s upper levels, historically used for storage but now affording expansive views over the Forbidden City.
We celebrated the few remaining traces of the original complex in various ways such as creating a floating floor that preserves the ruined stonework below and reveals this historic layer through a series of reveals around columns and along the perimeters.
Neither mimicry nor differentiation is an appropriate methodology for interventions in this historical context. To produce a synergistic coexistence between old and new, traditional construction techniques are paired with material finishes that subtly contrast contemporary and historical elements. Woods chosen for the new floor and stairs are the same species as those of the hand-hewn traditional structure, but are planed smooth and given a light sheen. Unfamiliar colors complement the Chinese polychrome. Even ephemeral phenomena, such as shadows cast onto new surfaces by traditional fretworks, are engaged to weave the past and present into a comprehensive experience. Celebrating the structural ingenuity preserved in the Forbidden City – the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world – we intentionally exposed the complexes’ wooden beams, a design decision that also allows for an open and flexible floor plan in the public spaces.
China Heritage Fund
Architecture, Interior Architecture, Interior Design
Physical ContextGoogle Earth View
Physical ContextForbidden City
HistoryThe Seat of Power
Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang
Seat of supreme power for over five centuries (1416-1911), the Forbidden City in Beijing, with its landscaped gardens and many buildings (whose nearly 10,000 rooms contain furniture and works of art), constitutes a priceless testimony to Chinese civilization during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Jianfu Palace Museum: Drawings
Jianfu Palace Museum: Tradition and contemporary intervention peacefully coexist in an icon of Chinese culture and memory.
The project involved adaptive reuse of four historic buildings at the Forbidden City’s Jianfu Palace Garden of Established Happiness Museum and Visitor’s Center in Beijing.
Preservation of the past was achieved through resurrection of historic buildings and furniture-making techniques.
Jianfu palace now serves as both a reception center for visiting dignitaries and as a museum of Chinese architecture with flexible exhibit space for artifacts, photos, and drawings. Central to the permanent exhibit are the ‘bones’ of the main pavilion which were purposefully left exposed to reveal the beauty of traditional engineering and techniques of craft.
Construction of the Forbidden City
Construction of the Jianfu Palace Garden
Jianfu Palace Garden destroyed by fire.
China Heritage Fund begins reconstruction of the Jianfu Palace Garden.
Tsao and McKown Architects in collaboration with Pei Partnership Architects begin designing the architectural interiors of the reconstructed Jianfu Palace Garden.
Opening of the reconstructed Jianfu Palace Garden.
ArticleArchitectural Record: Dialogue in Time
ArticleMetropolis Magazine: A Forbidden Garden Restored
ArticleArchitectural Record: Historic Preservation
ArticleInterior Design: Best of Year, Government
ArticleInternational Herald Tribune: New Life for a Famous Garden
ArticleForbidden City: Destruction and Rebuilding
PublicationThe Palace of Established Happiness: Restoring a Garden in the Forbidden City
The Palace Museum is housed in the former palace of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Popularly called The Forbidden City, the museum covers an area of 720,000 square meters. The collections comprise nearly a million art treasures spanning five thousand years of Chinese history with a rich concentration of art and artifacts from the Qing imperial court.
Director, Historical Architecture Conservation Center
Director, Historical Architecture Department
Founder, China Heritage Fund
Project Director, China Heritage Fund
Architect of Record