Is China The World's Newest Architectural Playground?
“I think that any architect today has to be interested in China,” famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas recently declared at the Venice Architecture Biennale. And true to his words, Koolhaas’ own architecture studio, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) was recently in competition with firms Foster + Partners and Rocco Design Architects Ltd for a large commission designing a new performing arts complex called the West Kowloon Cultural District (Foster + Partners was awarded the project).
After Chinese economic reform started to take off in the late 70s, the nation experienced a boom in social and commercial development at an unprecedented (and some would argue, unsustainable) speed. Urban construction has been the core of the nation’s development for the last two decades—new cities rise up from empty land, and the existing cities are constantly changing, radically updating their skylines and expanding new districts in an effort to “become a more modernized nation.”
In the last decade, this massive urban development has attracted the attention of top talent from the West, who saw opportunity here to take advantage of China’s comparatively loose regulation of urban planning and interest in attracting international architects. After several famous landmarks were erected (to much fanfare) in the major cites, more and more proposals flooded in. And with all this cutting-edge design and engineering overtaking China’s urban centers, it seems as if the “but-how-does-it-stand-up?” skyscraper and the “giant shiny UFO” look are the new standards for modern architecture in China.
Nowadays, this trend is expanding to the smaller cities as well, which are similarly getting in line for their own urban metamorphosis, converting the Chinese territory as a whole into a giant laboratory for world class architectural experiments. In fact, such a high volume of world-class architects have their creations gracing the Chinese landscape that the 34th annual Pritzker Prize ceremony, architecture’s Oscars, is being held in China this year.
Below we’ve selected a series of some existing and in-progress architecture projects in China. We didn’t attempt to evaluate the actual functionality of these works, or how well they integrate themselves into the city and its surroundings. It’s quite a lengthy list that promises only to continue growing longer in the months to come.
Zaha Hadid — Guangzhou Opera House
Undoubtedly, Zaha Hadid is the most well-received architect in China with a number of high-profile projects already under her belt. Her UFO-like Guangzhou Opera House has just been completed and is now open to the public, resting in the center of Guangzhou like some spaceship awaiting take-off. With a total cost of 1.38 billion Yuan (approximately $200 million), this opera house consists of 1,800-seat theater, a spacious 4,000m² lobby, and a grandiose 25,000m² auditorium, as well as a 7,500m² parking lot.
Zaha Hadid — The Chengdu Contemporary Art Centre
This new design from Hadid will be the largest building dedicated to culture and arts in China. It includes three auditoriums, an art museum, an exhibition space and conference center.
Zaha Hadid — Wangjing Soho
A new rendering from Hadid of a 200-meter-high commercial complex for Beijing.
Rem Koolhaas — CCTV tower
This 5 billion Yuan tower designed by Pritzker laureate Rem Koolhaas was once called an impossible structure and is surely a building that will go down in architecture history. However, the Beijing residents have a different name for this architectural marvel, they cheekily call it “the big pants.” Unfortunately, the nearly finished building was damaged in a fire accident in 2009, and is likely to finally open its doors in 2012.
Paul Andreu — National Grand Theater of China
The National Grand Theater of China is a curved building with a total surface area of 149,500m² that rises up from the surrounding water like a “cultural island in the middle of a lake.” The building houses three performance auditoriums—a 2,416-seat opera house, a 2,017-seat concert hall and a 1,040-seat theatre—as well as an exhibition space. And it only cost 3.1 billion Yuan!
Herzog & de Meuron — Beijing National Stadium (The Bird Nest)
You may remember this beautiful “bird’s nest” as the Beijing Olympics stadium. During its moment of glory in 2008, the building was well-received by the international public and has since become the new landmark of Beijing.
MVRDV Studio — China Comic and Animation Museum
The largest Comic and Animation Museum in China (CCAM) will break ground in Hangzhou early next year. The museum’s design stays true to its subject matter, consisting of eight cartoon speech bubbles. Each of the eight bubbles will be interconnected, allowing for a circular tour of the entire space. The core attraction of the space will be a gigantic 3D zoetrope, but the museum will also accommodate three movie theaters and an enormous library.
Terry Farrell — KingKey Financial Center 100
The tallest building in the Chinese Southern industrial city Shenzhen was designed by UK-based architect Terry Ferrell. It’s 441.8 meters tall and contain 100 floors, making it the No. 8 tallest building in the world.