Sun Tower forms a lookout for natural phenomena | Chinese city landmark

A bird’s eye view shows the Sun Tower positioned inside a gently sloping plaza, facing the Yantai coastline

Beijing-based studio OPEN has revealed the first look of its under-construction Sun Tower on the coast of Yantai, an ambitious curvilinear structure that embraces the Yellow Sea. 

The fast-developing coastal district called for a landmark that would provide essential cultural facilities in the urbanised area, and OPEN responded with a purposeful building that is closely tied to its surroundings. The Sun Tower, reaching 50-metres in height, comprises a semi-outdoor theatre at ground level, an encircling exhibition space, and a library in the sky. 

The building appears as a sectional cut, sliced open to reveal the interior spaces to the majestic sea

At its peak, the composite-shell structure also has an impressive semi-outdoor area, referred to as the “phenomena space”, where visitors can observe not only nature’s daily beauty in its sunrises and sunsets but also witness natural phenomena throughout the year. 

OPEN designed the structure’s shape according to considered studies of the sunlight, working in close collaboration with engineering firm Arup. The building’s form has a serene yet standout quality, shaped by two layers of slanted white concrete shells which are connected and braced by horizontal slabs and ramps. 

A close-up view of the library and lookouts in the upper levels

The design team recalls the history of Yantai, which means ‘beacon tower’ and its Ming dynasty-era watchtowers that were built to warn against coastline attacks. The Sun Tower’s façade “appears sliced open by beams of light”, as the design studio describe, thus leaving the interior spaces exposed and facing out towards the horizon, offering stunning views across the sea and beyond.

“Today it’s so important to find ways to connect and embrace nature. Immediately when we conceived the design we wanted to reference ancient human rituals, honouring the sun, moon, and stars, and offering a space for reflection and contemplation,” explain Li Hu and Huang Wenjing, founding partners of OPEN. 

At night the moonlight shines onto the composite shell structure, and lights emits from the openings

“On the other hand, we also wanted to ensure the building had an authentic purpose and function, something that would be of benefit to the citizens of Yantai rather than just a folly on the beach. Creating spaces that juxtapose the incredible ocean views with the forward-thinking digital exhibitions that explore nature.”

The concave inner shell of the tower acts as a sound collector, impressively absorbing and amplifying the sounds from the sea. Whilst this occurs on the outside, inside the building a smaller upside-down upper shell forms the crescent-shaped, light-filled library and the ‘phenomena space’.

The concave-shaped library has a reflective ceiling that reflects the colours of the surrounding nature

Aric Chen, the current General and Artistic Director of Rotterdam’s cultural centre Het Nieuwe Instituut who, in his previous role as Director of the D&I Curatorial Lab at Tongji University in Shanghai, consulted on the project from a curatorial perspective. Through this collaborative effort with OPEN architecture, the idea of a digital museum was developed with the library in the sky and exhibition spaces providing public areas for learning and exploration.

A ramped exhibition space encircles the building with points of interest for the public to enjoy along the way

A central oculus in the ceiling of the phenomena space allows rainwater enter to fill a small pool in the summer. Over the winter months, the pool will dry up and be used as a fireplace. The shallow pool at the ground floor plaza completes the circular footprint of the Sun Tower.

Along with misting devices and spouting fountains, the “specially-designed water channel cuts across the plaza. The architects describe it as “a ruler of time – this is the straight line that the shadow of the Sun Tower will follow on the day of the equinox.” 

The Phenomena space offers a breathtaking view of the ocean and the sky above

Images courtesy of OPEN.

Recipient of the Jeu d’Esprit Special Prize of AR Future Project Awards 2021, the Sun Tower by OPEN is expected to be open to the public in 2024.

See more landmark architecture on enki, from the House of Music by Sou Fujimoto in Budapest and the Narbo Via Museum in France by Foster + Partners.

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