May 24, 2013

Memo from Beijing: New Builds

Imposing and impressive, most of Beijing’s new complexes display as much showmanship as architecture, while evincing a quiet, monumental grandeur. OMA’s and Büro Ole Scheeren’s CCTV Tower kick-started the frenzy for new buildings in 2008. In 2010, Sanlitun Soho further fueled the hype. Designed by Kengo Kuma and Asociates, the structure is a sophisticated urban development that creates a sense of enclosure by clustering its buildings along a curving, central passageway. It mixes retail, offices, hotels, and residences, and, although largely still empty, creates the sense of a compact neighborhood with its own architectural identity.

A new commercial complex called Indigo, a $654-million project, opened last year near Beijing’s 798 Art District just a short drive from the artistic cluster of Caochangdi. The 20-million-square-foot structure spans three levels to offer a shopping mall, a multi-complex cinema and an adjoining hotel, EAST Beijing, which mixes minimal décor with state-of-the-art business amenities. The property—a younger sibling of cult hotel The Opposite House in Sanlitun—boasts a three-level bar, two international and seasonal restaurants, 369 well-conceived, high-tech rooms, and alcoves filled with curated Chinese art. It has quickly become one of the places to see and be seen in the city.

A gargantuan structure of white curved orbs connected by sky-bridges, Galaxy Soho was completed last October by Zaha Hadid Architects to serve as another new retail, office and entertainment complex. The 3.5-million-square-foot space comprises four domed structures around a series of public courtyards and a large central “canyon.” Towering over the squat, Soviet-style buildings of the Chaoyang District, it seems to hover like a spaceship.

Developed by engineering firm Arup, Parkview Green FangCaoDi mixed-use complex was unveiled in November in the same district as Galaxy Soho. One of the city’s—and China’s—top ranked green buildings, it is encapsulated by a large glass pyramid to create an energy efficient microclimate. Encased in two nine-level and two 18-level towers are the boutique hotel, Éclat Beijing, a retail hub, as well as office spaces.

Perched at the apex of the complex’s striking glass pyramid, Éclat is a remarkable new addition to Beijing’s luxury hospitality industry. The chic 100-room urban retreat, which opened in March, houses China’s largest private collection of Salvador Dali’s artwork, alongside works by Andy Warhol and Chinese artists Zeng Fanzhi and Chen Wenling. Large windows and the glass structure generate a feeling of space and light within the hotel while creating a unique, climate-controlled environment.

Conrad Hotels and Resorts, one of the most upscale ventures of Hilton Worldwide, also opened a Beijing outpost by the local Mad Architects in March. It is a 300-room hotel spanning recreational facilities, restaurants, a rooftop bar and a spa. Its façade, which looks like a nervous tissue, is lined with a grid of curtain wall windows planted into a simple cubic.

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