MAD Architects' Hainan Science Museum under construction

A Fluid Form in FRP

John Hill
30. May 2024
All images are courtesy of MAD Architects.

The Hainan Science Museum is the second project in Haikou designed by MAD Architects, coming a few years after the relatively diminutive Cloudscape of Haikou, a library and reading room on the city's waterfront. That project, completed in 2021, covers an area of approximately 4,400 m2 — a tenth the size of the science museum that is now taking shape there. Like most of MAD's formally fluid designs, Cloudscape has a flowing, sculptural form, one that was rendered in fair-faced concrete, inside and out. So, instead of clipping a facade onto the building's structure, as is being done with the Hainan Science Museum, the library's small size made a monolithic form more desirable and feasible.

Rendering of the museum at sunset.
The central atrium under construction; when complete it will be capped by a skylight.

MAD conceptualized the form of the Hainan Science Museum as an updraft — the upward movement of warm air from the Earth’s surface — with functional and circulation spaces positioned around a central, circular atrium. Elevators bring visitors to the top of the building, and from there they descend down the “vortex circulation” to the galleries. It is a bit like an outboard-version of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim, with level floor plates adjacent to the atrium and the sloping ramp moved to the facade, situated behind ribbon windows set into the flowing FRP facade.

Rendering of the Vortex circulation.
View of the museum under construction.

The primary structure for the building consists of concrete cores with buckling restrained braced frame, steel truss slabs, and steel suspension trusses. A secondary structure in steel is mounted to, and projects from, the primary structure. The FRP panels (backed with insulation, waterproofing, and vapor barrier) are then mounted to a tertiary structure, also in steel, that is attached to the secondary structure and follows the geometry of the panels. Each step basically sees the structure getting smaller and more fine-tuned to the undulating forms of the cladding. To develop the FRP panels, MAD worked with RFR Shanghai, a facade consultant they have partnered with on numerous other projects.

L: The secondary structure in steel is attached to the primary structure. R: The FRP panels are attached to the tertiary structure.
Much like the renderings, the FRP has a smooth finish that reflects sunlight.

The reasons to opt for FRP over other materials are numerous, including the ability to shape the panels as desired, the longevity of the fiberglass in even harsh climates, and the lightweight nature of the material, which makes the billowing cantilever of the “updraft” possible. Hainan is a tropical climate, so the 843 panels wrapping the facade should hold up for decades, though they are also integrated with open seams and water-guiding grooves for effective drainage. 

A dramatic night view of the science museum under construction.

The Hainan Science Museum is not the only MAD project underway that uses FRP. Twelve thousand kilometers away, in Los Angeles, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is taking shape and is also covered with FRP — 1,500 panels, to be precise. Although that high-profile museum for Star Wars creator George Lucas broke ground in 2018, it is not anticipated to open until 2025, the same year MAD's Hainan Science Museum is also slated to be done. Looks like next year will be the year of FRP for MAD.

Project: Hainan Science Museum, 2020–2025
Location: Haikou, China
Client: Haikou Association for Science and Technology
Architectural Design: MAD Architects
  • Principal Partners: Ma Yansong, Dang Qun, Yosuke Hayano
  • Associate Partners: Fu Changrui, Kin Li, Tiffany Dahlen
  • Design Team: Wang Yiding, Dayie Wu, Yin Jianfeng, Sun Feifei, Reem Mosleh, Pan Siyi, Alan Rodríguez Carrillo, Anri Gyuloyan, Chen Yi Wen, Rozita Kashirtseva, Wu Qiaoling, Zheng Chengwen, Feng Yingying, Zhu Yuhao, Edgar Navarrete, Yang Xuebing
Project Management: Haikou Construction Engineering Group Co., Ltd.
Executive Architect: CCDI
Facade Consultant: RFR Shanghai
Landscape Consultant: EADG
Interior Design: MAD Architects, CCDI
Lighting Consultant: Ning Field Lighting Design Corp., Ltd.
Signage Consultant: CCDI
Exhibition Consultant: Tongji Architectural Design (Group) Co., Ltd.
Construction: China Construction Eighth Engineering Division Corp., Ltd
Total Building Area: 46,528 m2 (27,782 m2 above ground, 18,746 m2 underground)
Function Diagram
Circulation Diagram
Structure Overview
Structure Model
Structure Section
Facade Geometry
Facade Detail

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