Beijing’s ever-changing skyline makes it appear as though a new building is being built every day, yet the Chinese capital isn’t full of ordinary skyscrapers. Many of the city’s strange and amazing structures are shaped like everyday objects, such as a pair of trousers, a mountain range, or a big egg.
These ornate structures constitute a significant departure from the city’s conventional imperial architecture. Traditional shéyuàn (courtyard-style residences) that filled the city were pulled down and replaced by drab workers’ housing, concrete Soviet-style apartment buildings, and large boulevards when Mao Zedong ascended to power in the mid-20th century. A few intact things (alleyways) survive steps from great avenues previously clogged with bicycles, now in the shadows of buildings that defy gravity, gravitation, and earthquake resistance.
As China geared up for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the emergence of bizarre and amazing architecture exploded not only in the city but throughout the country. In the run-up to the Games, some of the world’s most renowned architects descended on China to push the boundaries of design. The result became a mark of China’s modernization and power.
1. Wangjing SOHO
Wangjing SOHO is a triple of interwoven office and retail buildings and a trio of pavilions that resembles a futuristic mountain range halfway between Beijing Capital Airport and the city center. The three buildings, which stand 387, 416, and 656 (200m) feet tall and are surrounded by a 196,850-square-foot public park in Wangjing, a digital industry district in northeast Beijing, were designed by the late British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher. Three below-ground parking levels, one below-ground retail floor, two above-ground retail floors, and 37 office floors make up the 43-story architectural marvel. The buildings appear to be separate at times and joined at others, depending on the vantage position. SOHO China, China’s largest office property developer, commissioned Wangjing SOHO, which is easily accessible for a shopping spree through the train.
2. China Central Television Headquarters
The towering silver-gray headquarters of China Central Television, dubbed “big pants” because it resembles a pair of pants, is impossible to miss. The $900 million building, designed by OMA’s Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, is 51 floors tall and rises 767 feet over Beijing’s core business center. The building’s two leaning towers connect at a perpendicular cantilever “loop” 246 feet above the ground, mimicking the activity within, giving it its distinctive “pants” shape. All of CCTV’s previously dispersed offices, television studios, transmission, and production facilities are now housed in one location.
Per the OMA, one tower includes offices and editing rooms, while the other houses news broadcasting with administration, which oversees the television production process. Visitors are not permitted to enter the building, but admirers can get up-close and personal outside views by departing the Jintaixizhao metro station and enjoying the sight of the interior by watching the evening news.
3. National Centre for the Performing Arts
The National Centre for the Performing Arts is shaped like a huge egg and was designed by the late French architect Paul Andreu. The titanium and glass ellipsoid, which is 698 feet long, 472 feet wide, and 150 feet high and features a 2,017-seat music hall, a 2,416-seat opera house, and a 1,040-seat theater, is located next to Tiananmen Square. The interior of the building is lighted during the day by a 328-foot wide canopy. Many have entered the underwater gateway (the building is suspended above a shallow pool) to see celebrities like Chinese pianist Lang Lang perform since the magnificent $400 million arts complex opened in 2007.
4. Linda Haiyu Plaza
Linda Haiyu Plaza is a cluster of buildings that, when linked together, resemble a fish. It is located along the East Fourth Ring Road in the Chaoyang area. One 19-story office building fashioned like a fish head, three 15-story residential buildings, a 20-story hotel, and two five-story commercial buildings make up the 259,186 square-foot complexes. Linda Haiyu Plaza, also known as Linda Fishing Plaza, is a shopping center with a supermarket, a restaurant row, and a large marine fishing area.
5. Galaxy Soho
Galaxy SOHO, a mixed-use futuristic commercial building in central Beijing, took 30 months to complete. The one-million-square-foot office, retail, and entertainment complex, designed by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, is built with striking bands of white metal and glass, and bridges connect its four continuous structures. Interiors with vast courtyards, a homage to ancient Chinese architecture, are featured in the fluid design, which is devoid of corners. The first three levels are retail and leisure spaces, with bars, restaurants, and cafes at the top of the building, and offices on the middle floors.