Modern Architecture? See It in Beijing, China

Dramatic Modern Buildings Give Ancient Beijing, China a Bold New Look

modern oval structure at dusk, reflected in a pool of water
National Centre for the Performing Arts, The Egg, Beijing, China. Tom Bonaventure/Getty Images (2x)

A capital of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the city of Beijing is steeped in tradition and located atop land prone to earthquakes. These two factors alone make architectural design conservative. Nevertheless, PRC took a leap into the 21st century with some of the most modern structures designed by an international who's who of architects. Much of the impetus for Beijing's modernity was its hosting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Join us for a photo tour of the modern architecture that has changed the face of Beijing, China. We can only imagine what is in store for Beijing when it hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics.

CCTV Headquarters

vertical and horizontal sections form a modern arch, two towers joined by a cantilever bridge, clad in diamond shapes
CCTV Headquarters iDesigned by Rem Koolhaas. James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

The building that most epitomizes modern Beijing architecture is arguably the CCTV Headquarters building — a twisty, robotic structure that some have called a masterpiece of pure genius.

Designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the totally unique CCTV building is one of the largest office buildings in the world. Only the Pentagon has more office space. The angular 49-story towers appear about to topple, yet the structure is carefully designed to withstand earthquakes and high winds. Jagged cross-sections made with some 10,000 tons of steel form the sloping towers.

Home to China's only broadcaster, China Central Television, the CCTV building has studios, production facilities, theaters, and offices. The CCTV building was one of several bold designs constructed for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

National Stadium

side view of asymmetrical structure with asymmetrical bands seemingly holding it together, all reflected in water
The National Stadium, Opening Ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Clive Rose/Getty Images

A mesh of steel bands forms the sides of the National Stadium in Beijing, the Olympic Stadium built for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China. It quickly got the nickname of "the bird's nest," as the banded exterior seen from above seems to replicate the avian architecture.

The National Stadium was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.

 

National Centre for the Performing Arts

modern oval structure at dusk, reflected in a pool of water
The National Theatre of Beijing. Chen Jie/Getty Images (cropped)

The titanium and glass National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing is informally called The Egg. In every beautiful image of the exterior, the architecture seems to rise like a being or bob like an ovum in the surrounding waters.

Constructed between 2001 and 2007, the National Grand Theater is an oval dome surrounded by a man-made lake. Designed by French architect Paul Andreu, the stunning building is 212 meters long, 144 meters wide, and 46 meters high. A hallway beneath the lake leads into the building. It is located just west of Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People.

The performing arts building is one of several bold designs constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Interestingly, while this modern building was being constructed in China, a futuristic, elliptical tube that architect Andreu designed for the Charles de Gaulle airport collapsed, killing several people.

Inside Beijing's Egg

interior curved hallway, curved wall of glass panels, curved entrance to an interior theater space
The National Grand Theater by French Architect Paul Andreu. Guang Niu/Getty Images

French architect Paul Andreu designed the National Centre for the Performing Arts to be a symbol for Beijing. The performing arts center is one of several bold new designs constructed to entertain patrons of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.

Inside the elliptical dome are four performance spaces: an Opera House, at the center of the building, seats 2,398; the Concert Hall, located in the eastern part of the building, seats 2,017; the Drama Theater, located in the western part of the building, seats 1,035; and a small, multi-functional theatre, seating 556 patrons, is used for chamber music, solo performances, and many modern works of theatre and dance.

T3 Terminal at the Beijing Capital International Airport

An airport employee cleans the floor at the new terminal building T3 (Terminal Three) at the Beijing Capital International Airport February 29, 2008 in Beijing, China.
Inside Terminal 3. Feng Li/Getty Images (cropped)

Terminal building T3 (Terminal Three) at the Beijing Capital International Airport is one of the largest and most advanced airport terminals in the world. Completed in 2008 in time for the Summer Olympic games, British architect Norman Foster built on the airport designs his team had accomplished in 1991 at Stansted in the United Kingdom and the airport at Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong in 1998. The aerodynamic look, like some deep sea creature on the bottom of an ocean, is a design Foster + Partners continues to use even in 2014 at New Mexico's Spaceport America. Natural light and economy of space made the T3 Terminal building a major modern accomplishment for Beijing.

Olympic Forest Park South Gate Station

white interior with tree-like posts throughout an otherwise open space
Olympic Forest Park South Gate Subway Station. China Photos/Getty Images (cropped)

Beijing Olympic Forest Park was built not only as a natural venue for some of the summer olympic competitions (e.g., tennis), but it was the hope of the city that athletes and visitors would use the space to release tensions that arise from competing. After the games, it became the largest landscaped park in Beijing — twice as large as New York City's Central Park.

Beijing opened the Olympic Branch subway line for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. What better design for Forest Park than to transform the underground columns into trees and bend the ceiling into branches or palms. This subway station forest is similar to the cathedral forest inside La Sagrada Familia — at least the intent seems to be like Gaudi's vision.

2012, Galaxy SOHO

roundish buildings connected by horiztonal bands that are typical floors
Galaxy SOHO Complex by Zaha Hadid. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

After the Beijing Olympics, modern architecture in the city did not stop being built. Pritzker Laureate Zaha Hadid brought her space age parametric designs to Beijing between 2009 and 2012 with the mixed-use Galaxy SOHO complex. Zaha Hadid Architects constructed four towers without corners and without transitions to create a modern Chinese courtyard. It is an architecture not of blocks but of volumes — fluid, multi-level, and horizontally vertical. SOHO China Ltd. is one of the largest real estate developers in China.

2010, China World Trade Center Tower

low angle view looking up a skyscraper, seeing only length and width
China World Trade Center Tower. James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

In New York City, One World Trade Center opened in 2014. Although at a height of 1,083 feet the World Trade Center in Beijing is about 700 feet shorter than its NY rival, it got built a lot faster. Maybe that's becauseSkidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP designed both skyscrapers. The China World Trade Center is the second highest building in Beijing, second only to the 2018 China Zun Tower.

2006, Capital Museum

modern flat-roofed rectangular building that looks like a reviewing stand
Capital Museum. Cancan Chu/Getty Images (cropped)

The Capital Museum may have been Beijing's trial balloon into modern architectural design by outsiders. The French-born Jean-Marie Duthilleul and AREP put together a modern Chinese palace to house and exhibit some of China's most prized and ancient treasures. Success.

Modern Beijing

A general view shows the headquarter of China Central Television amid the Beijing skyline at central business district on August 3, 2013 in Beijing, China
CCTV and Other Tall Buildings in Beijing. Feng Li/Getty Images

The monolithic headquarters for China Central Television gave Beijing a bold new look for the 2008 Olympics.Then the China World Trade Center was built nearby. What will be next for Beijing as the 2022 Winter Olympic games approach?

Sources

  • Aerial view of Bird's Nest by Beijing Tourism Administration via Getty Images (cropped)
  • Beijing National Grand Theatre, China Art International Travel Service, http://theatrebeijing.com/theatres/national_grand_theatre/ [accessed February 18, 2018]
  • The National Theatre by Ryan Pyle/Corbis via Getty Images (cropped)
  • Projects, Foster + Partners, https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/beijing-capital-international-airport/ [accessed February 18, 2018]
  • Projects, Zaha Hadid Architects, http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/galaxy-soho/ [accessed February 18, 2018]
  • China World Tower, The Skyscraper Center, http://www.skyscrapercenter.com/building/china-world-tower/379 [accessed February 18, 2018]
  • Beijing Capital Museum Press Kit, PDF at http://www.arepgroup.com/eng/file/pages_contents/projects/projects_classification/public_facility/file/pekinmusee_va_bd.pdf