Beijing Culture: China Architecture
The Great Architectural Leap Forward: Beijing to benefit from some brave new buildings in 2008
While China's current construction boom may be consuming most of the world's steel, it's also creating an urban stage for some of today's boldest building designers to showcase their creativity.
Overlooking monuments to China's dynastic past are a growing crop of modern architectural wonders that embody the Middle Kingdom's rising fortunes.
Innovative architecture has been sprouting up all across China, but Beijing and Shanghai are the twin epicenters of the construction revolution.
The roster of talent hired to complete projects in these two megacities reads like a Who's Who of star architects: Holland's Rem Koolhaas, America's Steven Holl and Britain's Foster & Partners have all worked on buildings scheduled to debut by the time the Olympic torch ignites the Games in August 2008.
Although Beijing's massive cosmetic construction effort has received mixed reviews, it's hard not to get swept up in the new building fever sweeping the city.
As Guomao's new CCTV Tower inches ever closer to completion, the sense of dynamism is almost palpable. Here's a sneak preview of some key buildings that once complete, will contribute to the Chinese capital's brave new face.
Undoubtedly one of China's most spectacular new building projects to date, costing a whopping US$750 million. Designed by Rem Koolhaas of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the 230-meter tall twin-tower is connected on both the ground and at the top as a twisted loop. The irregular grid on the building surface is supposed to represent unseen forces traveling throughout the structure.
In addition to office space, the CCTV building will also house an upmarket hotel - the luxury 241-room Mandarin Oriental is slated to open in mid-2008 and will offer panoramic vistas of the Beijing CBD. The interior of the hotel is described as "strikingly contemporary," - 203 guestrooms and 38 suites will feature high ceilings and the latest in in-room entertainment.
There will be six dining and cocktail venues at the hotel, including the Chinese and signature restaurant on the top two floors, which will be linked by a champagne bar suspended over a connecting staircase. The property will also cater to the conference and events market, with a circular ballroom surrounded by a ring of water.
"Faster, Higher, Stronger" runs the Olympic motto, and China's latest oversized attraction is certainly taking the words to heart. Chaoyang Park's Great Beijing Wheel, due to start rotating in 2008 or early 2009, will be more than 50 percent taller than its 135m-high cousin in London.
Although the Beijing Wheel's earliest precursor has been dubbed the "London Eyesore" by many traditionalists, it was almost inevitable that China would have to get in on the Ferris wheel craze sweeping the globe. On completion the "Iconic Viewing Platform" will stand 208 meters tall - 208 is a lucky number in Chinese, 2008 is the date of the Beijing Olympics and, of course, the authorities want it to be bigger and better than any other country's big wheel.
Unlike the London Eye, joyriders will be able to board the Beijing Wheel from both sides. To avoid unnecessary stops and starts passengers will board via special cars on a separate track. These cars will travel alongside the wheel at the bottom of its rotation so passengers can transfer in and out of the observation capsules. At a leisurely speed of three rotations per hour, there shouldn't be any problem with making the transfer.
Each of the Beijing Wheel's 48 capsules will accommodate 40 passengers, meaning it can turn nearly 5,800 passengers per hour. Each capsule will be equipped with a state-of-the-art audio and visual information system that will describe Beijing and the surrounding area. There's no information on ticket cost yet the London Eye currently draws 3.5 million visitors a year who each pay about US$30 for a round trip.
More info: www.greatwheel.com
American-born Chinese Handel Lee was the inspiration behind Shanghai's renowned Three on the Bund complex of upscale restaurants, clubs, boutiques and galleries. Now bon vivant Lee has switched his attention to Beijing, Shanghai's dowdier twin sister, in an attempt to raise the city's luxury quotient. His latest brainchild is the 15,000 square-meter Legation Quarter project, located close to Tiananmen Square.
Once the site of the US legation to the Qing Dynasty in the early 1900s, the redeveloped site promises to be Beijing's hippest new hotspot, and a milestone in the capital's rags-to-riches transformation. Scheduled to open in March 2008, it will host six haute cuisine eateries, a gaggle of exclusive bars, cafes and shops, an art gallery, and an underground theater that will "present experimental plays, art-house and classic movies."
More info: www.chienmen23.com
Designed by Sir Norman Foster, Terminal 3 at Beijing International Airport will become the world's largest flight hub after it opens in February 2008. The terminal covers more than 1 million square meters, making it bigger than the Pentagon, and it will be capable of handling 55 million passengers a year by 2015. To help passengers distinguish between different sections of the vast space, skylights cast different shades of yellow and red light across walls - a subtle but innovative navigational aid. An environmental-control system reduces carbon emissions, and skylights situated on a south-east axis lessen solar heat, keeping the building cool.
Although the shimmering edifice of glass, steel and aluminium is decidedly high-tech, there are obvious nods to China's vaunted cultural heritage. Airport authorities asked Sir Norman to incorporate the bright tones of the Forbidden City in his design, and these are evident in the tapering red pillars and golden roof evoking a dragon's back. Altogether the three buildings of terminal three house 445 lifts, 1,800 miles of cables and a car park for 7,000 vehicles.
View more images of China by Daniel Allen