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Reach for the stars

Reach for the stars

Reach for the stars

The new 38,000m2 Shanghai Astronomy Museum (SAM) in Pudong New Area has become the world’s largest museum dedicated to the study of astronomy. Caroline Moss reports on China’s new attraction

At the heart of US-based Ennead Architects’ design for the newly opened Shanghai Astronomy Museum was a desire to create a structure whose scale and context would remind visitors of where humans sit in relation to the cosmos, inspiring them to look around and upwards to appreciate our unique planet. SAM presents a great deal of scientific theory, planetary history and artistic endeavour. It also embodies the architect’s ecological values: the museum has attained a three-star rating in China’s Green Building System framework, the highest level awarded.

Ennead designed the building’s exterior to have no straight lines or right angles, a concept inspired by the orbits of celestial bodies and the geometry of the cosmos. The building’s material palette is simple: concrete, glass fibre-reinforced concrete and anodised aluminium façade panels. Drawing inspiration from planetary form and motion, the building’s three main architectural components – Oculus, Inverted Dome and Sphere – function as astronomical instruments that track the sun, the moon and the stars. At the entrance to SAM, the gold-panelled Oculus functions as a giant sundial, reflecting and projecting sunlight to indicate time and season. Inside, pathways connect all three spaces, allowing visitors to orbit the Inverted Dome, a glass tension structure hovering above the central atrium that provides visitors with a clear view of the sky above, and to access the planetarium, which is housed in the Sphere.

This impressive layout also features numerous other exhibits powered by advanced AV technologies to provide an engaging and immersive experience for visitors throughout the three main exhibition zones: Home, Cosmos and Odyssey. Meyer Sound’s Chinese distributor Shanghai Broad Future has provided systems for two of the zones: the Sphere’s 8K ultra­high definition theatre and the Optical Planetarium housed within the Home exhibition zone.

The independent 8K dome theatre inside the Sphere is half-submerged in the building, emerging from the top of the external roof like a moonrise, with little visible support below and space to walk underneath. The dome has a diameter of 20m and seating within for an audience of 250, who are shown a 20-minute film covering 4.6 billion years of evolutionary history. A total of 32 UPJ-1P full-range speakers and four 900-LFC subwoofers are used to create a multichannel system which was designed using Meyer Sound’s MAPP 3D simulation software to provide an optimum immersive listening experience. In this venue, Meyer Sound’s D-Mitri digital audio platform is being used to control the multichannel system, using a 64-channel hard-disc music player and eight audio input channels to create 72 tracks of sound sources. These are distributed to the 36-channel speaker system by Spacemap technology, providing accurate sound images for each track and moving the sound images around to follow the content of the programme.

In the Home zone, the Optical Planetarium is a sphere-shaped structure representing the earth, with an outer diameter of 30m and inner diameter of 23m. A film about nature and the universe is shown as the audience below learns about the cosmos and planetary movements and constellations. Here, Shanghai Broad Future’s acoustic design uses 36 Meyer Sound UPJunior speakers over four levels to reproduce the sound image of the entire sphere, with four 900-LFC subwoofers used as an independent channel at the top centre of the sphere to extend the low frequency. All the speakers are controlled by Meyer Sound’s Galaxy digital audio platform, which also provided a convenient alignment method.

The Cosmos exhibition zone houses the What If theatre, featuring a 360° circular screen with 7.1.4 3D immersive sound to create an enveloping universe, with AV design and production handled by Shanghai Motion Magic Digital Creative Technology. The project was led by Zhu Jie, technical director of Beijing Dream Formula Digital Technology and support centre of Merging Asia Pacific, with a Merging Technologies audio production system brought in to solve a particular challenge.

The 7.1.4 speaker layout for What If was custom-made for the architectural structure and soundfield of the theatre, and didn’t meet existing audio production standards such as Dolby Atmos or Auro 3D. This presented a challenge for Motion Magic: whenever sound effects producers played audio files mixed in a standard surround sound recording studio back, they were “very different” to what they heard during production due to the different placement of the speakers. Yet the project site only had a replay environment, with no production equipment. After studying onsite sound reinforcement and immersive audio production systems, sound designer Chen Baizhou moved a Merging Pyramix audio production system to the site, turning the theatre into a mix studio.

The theatre’s audio network is based on the Dante protocol. Magic Digital used the Pyramix MassCore audio workstation running on Ravenna as the core of audio production with a Merging+Hapi handling the outputs. Through the AES67 protocol, the two connect in Dante Controller, converting the theatre speakers into monitors for sound effects production. The sound effects producer relies on the user-defined bus function in Pyramix to input the position coordinates of the live speakers into the software one by one, giving a 3D immersion in the Pyramix workstation that is exactly the same as the live speaker layout and position. By processing more than 100 audio tracks and dozens of effects plugins, a 12-channel 7.1.4 3D immersive sound file was finally completed for the What If theatre, fitting the live acoustic conditions and speaker layout to achieve a satisfactory 3D experience.

Across the site, more than 40 Christie HS Series and GS Series 1DLP laser projectors of varying brightness and image resolutions convey celestial projections, with real-time video playback and processing provided by Christie’s Pandoras Box V8 and Christie Widget Designer. Christie partner Wincomn Technology, together with Zhongqing Yingye Group, was responsible for the installation and commissioning of all projection solutions across the museum, while the Christie Pandoras Box products were installed by Marvel Vision, one of Christie’s distributors for content management and image processing solutions in China.

The HS and GS Series laser projectors are deployed across 12 galleries in the three main Home, Cosmos and Odyssey exhibition zones, leading visitors on a tour around the solar system, faraway galaxies and black holes. The exhibits are designed to provide a greater understanding of the history of astronomy and inspire visitors to think about the future of the planet and cosmos. Highlights include projections onto a 20m-diameter rotating globe using seven Christie D20WU-HS laser projectors, as well as interactive projections on a 60m wall from 10 Christie DWU1075-GS laser projectors. In another gallery, detailed images of celestial bodies are realised by three Christie 4K7-HS laser projectors with 4K UHD resolution and built-in Christie Twist for creating multi-projector setups. In the Odyssey exhibition zone, visuals are displayed onto the 50m, ribbon-like “cosmic thread” using 10 Christie DWU630-GS laser projectors and Christie Pandoras Box V8 Software License.

“The Shanghai Astronomy Museum marks a new milestone in the integration of science, nature and modern technology to provide an ‘out-of-this-world’ experience for astronomy fans and the general public,” says April Qin, sales director for China, Enterprise, Christie. “We are thrilled that a wide range of Christie laser projection and content management solutions have been installed by our partners to deliver awe and wonder, enabling visitors of all ages to explore the universe with greater detail and realism.”

Presenting the history of the universe while simultaneously looking ahead to space exploration programmes to come, the new Shanghai Astronomy Museum links past, present and future in an educational, highly engaging experience, drawing on the latest in AV technology to realise its stratospheric goals.



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