Friday, January 29, 2010

Modern Architecture in Beijing

Last year, I was honoured to show around a professional architect, Paul, from USA, and he is my guest blogger today. What better person to describe some of the highlights of Beijing's new skyline! I would be happy to arrange an architectural tour to show them to you also.

Beijing National Stadium (Bird's Nest)

A 'must-see' during anyone's lifetime.  Designed by Swiss firm
Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with Ai Weiwei, the tangled
web of steel mesh was inspired by pottery to form a container
for 91,000 spectators.  Sure, the stadium went way beyond budget, but this is a once-
in-a-lifetime project that could never again be replicated, just like the other
world wonder to the north, The Great Wall, or the Great Pyramids
in Giza.  The reflective steel finish bounces the Beijing atmosphere,
be it smoggy gray or dusky blue.  At night, the stadium turns into
a sculptural lantern that sits well against the plaza that bustles with locals
flying kites, mingling, or simply promenading around what surely hands-down
is the most spectacular building of the 21st century.
CCTV Headquarters

This 'Extra-Large' project by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas/OMA
is a Post-Constructivist take on the skyscraper.  It has become
an iconic fixture in the Beijing skyline even while it was under construction
that it has been dubbed "underpants" due to the shape, by the locals.  The
engineering was made intricate in that two separate buildings had to be
weld together to form one structure at a particular temperature, and hence time, to minimize
the effects of differential expansions of steel.  The future of the burned annex remains to be seen, however.
Go to the Park Hyatt next door for the best view of the CCTV, and the
Central Business District for that matter.
Beijing National Aquatics Center

Otherwise known as the 'Water Cube', the other prominent sports complex erected
for the Beijing Olympics.  Designed by PTW Architects from Australia, the slice of
oversized water bubbles glows within and without.
Linked Hybrid

A mannered study of form, links, and the public spaces that they create.  Designed
by New York architect Steven Holl, the multi-use project features apartment
units, a hotel, retail spaces, offices, a movie theatre, and floating pools. 
The 20-storey-plus 8 towers are reminiscent of the Corbusian idealized urbanism,
but humanized to foster people interaction.  A pleasant surprise indeed when one
walks around the public plazas to notice how the elements of water and earth are
incorporated into what could have turned into a sterile conglomeration of apartment
National Theatre for the Performing Arts

Yet another iconic architecture constructed just in time for the 2008 Olympics. 
The titanium and glass structure sits above a man-made lake, thus giving the
appearance of 'an egg' when viewed with the reflection.  Designed by Frenchman
Paul Andreu, the theatre was subsequently re-evaluated for safety upon completion
after the collapse of an airport terminal building in Charles de Gaulle Airport, also
designed by Andreu.  Visitors enter a submerged entry hall that is dappled by
water reflection from the pond above.  The three main performance spaces are the
Opera, Theatre, and Music Halls, that are distinct from the other.  The stairs and
escalators that connect the tiered halls create a complex set of circulation of a
Piranesian scale.
Capital Museum

The volumes, one sheathed in wood, the other in bronze, are encapsulated in this
modern glass box under a breathtaking roof cantilever.  The focus of the collection
are cultural relics, specifically those found in Beijing.  The interior has a restraint
feel to it that allows the visitor to unearth, at their own pace, through the different
collections of chinaware, calligraphy, jade, bronze, and sculpture.  From the upper
floors, one can get a great view of the modernized old town.
The Village at Sanlitun

A collection of vibrantly colored low-story structures to form a retail village.  While
the graphic appeal may be more Tokyo than Beijing (Kengo Kuma was, after all,
the architect), the open-air layout recalls the Beijing night-markets.  International
retail brand names and eateries can be found here including Adidas, Uniqlo, Puma,
Nike, and Starbucks.
The Opposite House

Yet another Beijing project by Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma.  Every city has to
have its own minimalist boutique hotel so Beijing has The Opposite House.  The interiors
are spacious, lofty, and wallpaper*-worthy.  The hotel mixes and matches modern
materials such as glass and steel with traditional wood and tile to great effect.
LAN Club/Beijing

Uber-glam restaurant and lounge by baroque-interior meister Philippe Starck.
There is no mistaking who or what the center of attention will be in this
6000 square meter venue.  It has all the signature Starck elements such
as elongated tables, gazing artworks, mismatched chairs, etched glass countertops,
and furniture styled from many '-isms'.  The decor may be a bit hyper to match
the hyper-inflated prices of the menu, but nothing that a few drinks won't
fix to tone everything down.
Commune by The Great Wall

Modern boxes, and lots of them, are littered next to the Badaling section of The
Great Wall.  12 Asian architects were each given a villa to design in this sprawling
complex, and the result is a clash of restrained design egos.  While each villa maintains
some relationship with the surrounding mountains and the Great Wall, the collection
of buildings seen as a whole, reinforces the notion of architects designing on a whim.
The repertoire of building materials is exhausted when one sees a bamboo house here,
and a rammed earth structure there.  Granted, the interior spaces are beautiful, and
worthy of consideration for weekend getaways.  The Peacock Room and the bathrooms
at the Club House alone are worth a visit.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Melting Snow and Freezing Temperatures

What a week we've had! Everyone's been talking about the cold temperatures and when was the last time it was so cold - 40 or 50 or 60 years ago? The heavy snowfall did cause much disruption, car drivers kept off the streets and so it was great to be able to drive without much traffic, though speed was still slow in the icy conditions. Taxis are doing great business, as are hotpot restaurants.
I thought I could have a quiet time in January. However, I have had quite a few brave and lucky, or perhaps unlucky guests, who could see the Great Wall and Forbidden City with a new white coat of snow. There was not much outdoor walking and more time spent in coffee shops recovering from the cold! Actually it's not too bad if there is sun and no wind.
I treated myself to a new padded coat, Chinese style, which I designed myself and got made up in a few days at a local tailor - highly recommended! Guess how much, or rather how little, it cost? Well, actually, just about the same as you would pay me for one day's work as a tour guide. Now that's really a bargain price!
The temperatures are creeping slowly back up to zero. The Embassy area has been cleaned up with neat piles of snow under the trees and pavements clear. Perhaps it's to allow the guards to be able to march from one posting to another. You may think they have smart uniforms, but I still prefer my coat, and I hope you agree!
Tomorrow the first ever Mr Gay China pageant, organised by will be held in Beijing. Now there's an exciting event that is sure to warm everyone up and melt many hearts.