Shanghai Planetarium is one of the biggest and most advanced planetariums in the world. Credit: Ennead Architects.
Shanghai Planetarium was designed by Ennead Architects. Credit: Ennead Architects.
Construction on the planetarium began in November 2016. Credit: Ennead Architects.
The planetarium was inaugurated in July 2021. Credit: Ennead Architects.

Shanghai Planetarium, also known as Shanghai Astronomy Museum, is an astronomy and planetary science museum, which is part of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. The planetarium is located in Shanghai’s Lingang district, close to the central business district.

Ennead Architects won an international competition to design the iconic structure to highlight the scientific and technological prowess of the Shanghai museum, as well as provide the city with a distinct building.

The planetarium is the second in China and is one of the biggest and most advanced planetariums in the world.

Construction of the planetarium began in November 2016, and it was inaugurated in July 2021.

Shanghai Planetarium received a moon soil sample at the opening ceremony, which was brought back by China National Space Administration’s Chang’e 5 lunar mission. The sample is on display in the exhibition area.

Shanghai Planetarium design details

The planetarium’s design is an ode to China’s history of autonomy and its plans for future space explorations, as well as a testament to the continuity of time and space. The design draws inspiration from the past while simultaneously presenting a modern building.

Astronomical principles, such as orbital motion, are evident in the museum design and its related infrastructure. The overall design includes three structural features taking the form of heavenly bodies, namely the oculus, the inverted dome, and the sphere.

The elements of the museum track the sun, moon, and stars through their distinct design, which imitates astronomical instruments and acts as a reminder of the relation between time and celestial movement.

The planetarium’s layout, programme, and circulation are all centred on the theme of orbital movement. The visitors’ movement through the expansive galleries and the three main features are designed to echo the same theme to enhance the experience in the planetarium.

Multiple long stretches formed by the extensive curving lines and the large interiors of the museum are a visible feature in the proposed design.

The oculus feature at the Shanghai Planetarium

The oculus is a prominent feature located above the museum’s main entry area. It appears to be hanging from the cantilevered galleries and acts as a sundial for the building. Sunlight on the ground opposite the entrance and the reflecting pool is tracked by the oculus to represent the passage of time.

The feature was designed to reflect the changes occurring in the sun’s altitude over a period of time through the guiding circle of sunlight on the ground, which adjusts to changes in both time and year. The moon’s movements are also studied during important Chinese festivals and holidays occurring in a lunar calendar.

The large cantilever structure consists of a two-storey, two-way truss, with a span of 61m (200ft) and a horizontal cantilever distance of 36m (118ft). More than 2,000t of steel was used in the construction of the cantilever structure.

The inverted dome at the Shanghai Planetarium

The inverted dome is located at the top of the central atrium, where all the galleries are arranged.

Visitors to the planetarium have to pass through the multi-storey atrium, which controls the circulation and is also designed with a spiralling ramp extending below the dome.

The dome offers a spectacular and continuous view of the day and night sky. The view from the dome is focused up towards the celestial bodies and increases the effect of the planetarium’s virtual star show. The horizon is not visible from the dome to restrict the visitors’ view of the sky.

A glass entry walk forms the passage into the dome and is positioned towards the north. At noon every day, the sunlight illuminates the walkway, making it visible to the museum below.

The sphere at the Shanghai Planetarium

The sphere was designed as the sun of the planetarium and is suspended from the roof. It is viewed as a weightless mass by the visitors from below. The planetarium’s theatre is contained in the sphere.

The sphere is surrounded by an uninterrupted skyline, allowing the sunlight to shine through to monitor the passage of time. As an indicator of the summer solstice, a complete circular ring appears during the noon at the sphere.

Facilities at the Shanghai Planetarium

The planetarium is spread across 38,000m² (409,000ft²) on a large stretch of the green zone. An exterior exhibitory, a 24m (78.7ft)-high solar telescope, and an IMAX theatre, are parts of the structure.

The visitors can enjoy activities at a youth observation camp and observatory, permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, a 21m (68.8ft)-diameter digital sky theatre, an 18m (59ft)-diameter optical planetarium, and an education and research centre.

Key players involved

The Shanghai Institute of Architectural Design and Research provided services related to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP), life safety and landscape. LERA was selected to work on the structural aspects of the building.

Lighting was provided by Brandston Partnership while museum exhibits were designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.

Xenario, an exhibition design firm, was selected for the design of the planetarium’s exhibitions.