The Story Behind the Oriental Light Sculpture by the Science & Tech Museum

By Ned Kelly, February 26, 2022

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Anybody who has driven past the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum will have seen the massive ‘Oriental Light’ sculpture. A fully functioning sundial, the needle running through the center of the object has been aligned by astronomers from the Shanghai Observatory to point north, so the fall of the shadow tells the time of day.

Erected at the top of Century Avenue, it was completed in 2000 and meant to represent the city entering into a new century. Zhong Song, perhaps best known for his design of the sunken plaza and traffic hub in the Wujiaochang area in northern Shanghai, submitted the winning bid while still a student at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Overseen by renowned Chinese oil painter Chen Yifei, the idea for the sundial was first suggested by J. M. Charpentier, the French architect behind Century Avenue, Nanjing Lu Pedestrian Street and the Shanghai Grand Theatre.

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Assembled from more than 6,000 meters of stainless steel tube, the ‘Oriental Light’ weighs more than 55 tons and cost RMB6 million to realize. One hundred workers, 12 engineers and three cranes were utilized to put together the 20-meter-high disc, which has a diameter of 24 meters.

During its construction, four different teams were sacked from the project by Zhong, who refused to compromise the purity of the shape with any additional supporting devices. Using computer software, the China Steel Construction Society was eventually able to come up with a practical solution that didn’t impinge on the sculpture’s design.


For more on Shanghai's statues and sculptures, click here.

For more history stories, click here.

[Image by Nicky Almasy]

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