2.6-billion-yuan revamp will triple existing floor area to make it the biggest facility of its kind in the world The doors will shut tomorrow at Beijing's landmark National Museum of China, but when they reopen in three years it will be the biggest facility of its kind in the world. The museum, on the east side of Tiananmen Square, will expand further eastwards as part of an upgrade costing 2.61 billion yuan that will almost triple its existing floor area to 192,000 square metres. Formerly called the Chinese History Museum and the Chinese Revolution Museum, the National Museum was one of 10 structures built in 1959 to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Although its humble collection of 620,000 artefacts is only about half that of the neighbouring Palace Museum, the building looms large as an architectural monument to socialist aesthetics. Museum curators have pushed for the upgrade because they feel the existing facilities are too old to meet protection and exhibition standards. 'It's an old building. Its facilities and equipment need to be upgraded to be in line with its status,' museum spokesman Huang Chen said. The expansion will mean tearing down the museum's east wing, but the facade of the other three wings, which face Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People, will remain intact. The new incarnation will also be slightly taller than its predecessor and have 28 more exhibition halls. Sources working with the museum said the building would be gutted internally during the upgrade. But Mr Huang refused to confirm this, saying that details of the design would not be officially announced until Lunar New Year. But some museum experts do not agree with the renovation and expansion project. Su Donghai , a 79-year-old expert in museum history, said an expansion was unnecessary because the building had not reached the halfway mark of its designed life expectancy and had enough floor space for its collection. 'The museum is big while its collection is not that great in scale. I think the building could be retained, but now it seems everything is decided,' he said. Mr Su also said it was unfortunate the 17-metre-high main hall, the biggest of the country's museums, would go in the redesign. 'It's a great hall in terms of both its exhibition space and building materials. [People] cannot build another one like it nowadays,' he said. The renovation plan has been approved by the State Council and National Development and Reform Commission. Work is expected to start in April in time for it to be re-opened in 2010. While the renovation work is under way, items in the museum's collection will be moved to a temporary centre for protection. It is expected to take two months to pack up and move the 620,000 items, including the museum's four most treasured artefacts - the 3,000-year-old bronze Simuwu Rectangle Ding vessel, a Shang dynasty square bronze wine vessel, a Han dynasty jade burial suit sewn with gold thread and a tri-coloured Tang dynasty glazed pot. In an interview with the People's Daily, deputy curator Ma Yingming said these items would not be hidden from the public but lent to other museums for display over the next three years. During the approaching Beijing Olympic Games, part of the national collection will be shown at the Capital Museum. But National Museum staff said the dates and venues for the temporary exhibitions had not been decided yet. In the meantime, for regular visitors to the museum, the most important thing is to make full use of its few remaining opening hours. Viewing an exhibition of selected treasures from the museum yesterday, Xian primary school teacher Wang Fan said he wished he had more time to visit. 'It's a pity that the museum is going to be closed soon,' he said. 'We have to wait for about another four years to see these again.'