Ruins Museum and Observatory, Majiayao, Gansu, China


Majiayao ruins are located at Loess Plateau, Lintao County, Gansu Province of China, at the intersection of Taohe River and its tributary Bamayu canyon. It belongs to the ancient settlement site from Neolithic Age to Bronze Age. In 1924, Swedish archaeologist Johan Andersen discovered the Majiayao site on the west bank of Taohe River in Lintao County. Along with the excavation of a large number of painted pottery vessels, it has been proved to be the most important prehistoric civilization in the upper reaches of the Yellow River in the late Neolithic period, and is known as Majiayao Culture.


The studio will undertake the challenge of designing a Ruins Museum of approximately 40,000 square feet and an Observatory of approximately 30,000 square feet adjacent prehistoric pottery ruins site of Majiayao in Lintao. Students will also be asked to design outdoor spaces and consider the relationship to the existing historical sites and surrounding landscape. The project aims at being a catalyst and social bridge connecting the Majiayao Ruins with local communities and tourist.

Studio Philosophy

Studio will focus on tectonic culture in architectural noumenon. Students have the opportunity to rediscover the roots of local culture, climate, geography, and to create new experience with the inventions of museum programs and structural form, spaces, materiality, natural light and natural ventilation etc. Root and Innovation are integral to a new architecture and central to the studio problem.

Studio travel:

Arizona / Nevada:
The studio will travel to Arizona and Nevada to visit and study architectural projects embedded within the landscape (Taliesin West, Arcosanti, desert architecture around Tucson, Hoover Dam, and other). Students will investigate architectural form, materiality, climatic conditions, and cultural aspects of each project. The studio will also visit land art projects of the architectural scale (Roden Crater by James Turell, Double Negative, and Land Art City by Michael Hizer) and landscape features (Lake Mead, Valley of the Fire, Grand Canyon).

New York City:
The studio will also travel to New York City to visit museums and galleries and discover how ancient artifacts and contemporary works, maybe those from China in particular, are exhibited in western museums. Students will visit contemporary architectural works and meet with local architects.

New Haven:
The studio will make use of the Yale University resources by attending visits and talks at the Beinecke Library and Yale Art Gallery focused around Chinese art and pottery. Students will also participate in the pottery workshop to understand craft of pottery and learn to work with clay.


Part 1:
The studio will begin with a few brief, overlapping exercises and research to discover the roots of local culture and nature, then explore a new way to create the Ruins Museum and the Observatory.

Preliminary Study:
1. The site study and analysis
Students will research on the local nature, culture and history, study historical settlement of the villages to understand the building culture and tectonic tradition of Majiayao.
2. Study on precedent
Teams of two will be responsible for an analysis successful ruins museums and observatory. A few lectures will also be given during first and second week.
3. Making a common site model
Students will work together to construct a common site model. Students will start to work on the initial conceptual ideas for the design after they have done the preliminary study.

Following the studio travel, students will further develop their concepts and focus on tectonic ideas in terms of structure forms, spaces, natural light, materials and so on. Studio has strongly encouraged students to consider using different scales of handmade studied models and hand sketched drawings as a major design method instead of 3d printed models and computing renderings. Studio also encourage to make video reflecting the ideas of spaces, materials and light studies.

The final presentation will include sketches, drawings, handmade models and a two-minute video focused on spaces, materials and light studies.

Architecture is teamwork. Students will work in teams of two to develop site strategy and architectural language. Each student will work on the design independently, either the Ruins Museums, or the Observatory separately.

All Semesters

Spring 2024
Advanced Design Studio: Spaces of Care
Sara Caples, Everardo Jefferson, Jordan H. Carver
Spring 2022
Advanced Design Studio
Frida Escobedo, Karolina Czeczek
Spring 2021
Advanced Design Studio: Lost Commons
Tatiana Bilbao, Karolina Czeczek