When Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) was working on the Chengdu Science Fiction Museum, it was time—a concept often manipulated and reconfigured by masters of sci-fi and futuristic storytelling—that the designers didn’t have. Tasked with crafting and building a structure that would normally take five years to complete, the team had just one.
Located in Chengdu, China, the building was commissioned in 2022 for a very specific objective: to host the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention, also known as Worldcon. It was a tight deadline by most construction standards, but practically unheard of for a 635,070-square-foot museum. Nonetheless, it was done. This past weekend, hundreds of attendees gathered for five days of talks, awards, and interactive events in the ZHA-designed space. But it wasn’t something out of the mind of a fictional writer that made it possible.
“[This] could not have been done without these new tools,” Satoshi Ohashi, a project director at Zaha Hadid Architects told CNN. The firm, which is known to work with innovative technologies, relied on a collection of high-tech softwares—including digital modeling analysis—in order to design and build the museum simultaneously. In fact, construction started just two weeks after ZHA won the project.
Still, it wasn’t just the quick deadline that the software helped with. It also impacted the overall look of the building—which, like many ZHA designs, appears like it could easily be the setting for a sci-fi novel or movie. This is no coincidence. “Science fiction has always been a very important source of inspiration for our designs,” Paulo Flores, another project director, told CNN. Appearing like an asymmetrical seven-point star, the building blazes not with gaseous light but a shimmering metallic façade. From the air, the Chengdu Science Fiction Museum gives the impression that it’s floating on water.
“We can only create these types of geometries using polygonal modeling software,” Flores explained, which supports the design team’s vision through three-dimensional simulations of the building. The software also informed decisions, such as the building’s roof size and slope, by analyzing weather and environmental data to ensure the structure was optimized for Chengdu’s climate.