May 24, 2013

Memo from Beijing: People Are Talking About

The new building for the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC), a 1.3-million-square-foot structure has seen many blockbuster contemporaries, including Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid competing for its commission. Planned to be one of a trio of buildings—the others being a museum dedicated to the arts and crafts and a Sinology center—the new NAMOC will occupy a site next to the Bird’s Nest, Beijing National Stadium, as part of a broad effort to attract more visitors to the area.

Eyes are also on Galeries Lafayette’s return to the Chinese capital, after the Parisian luxury shopping mainstay opened a Beijing outpost on Wangfujing over 15 years ago and shuttered it shortly after due to disappointing sales. The new Galerie Lafayette Beijing is slated to open in September 2013 in Beijing’s Xidan district, a partnership with the Hong Kong fashion retail powerhouse I.T. Expected to comprise 190,000 square feet, the outpost will be the group’s largest after its flagship Paris store on Boulevard Haussmann.

In contrast to luxe retail, experimental pop-ups and alternative events and venues are visible expressions of a strong underground movement characterizing Beijing. Offering a shot of underground cool, The Tease Boutique, an indie collective of European and Chinese creatives, has gained visibility among city-savvy locals for a series of conceptual parties held monthly or bimonthly in secret locations, spanning abandoned churches and empty lofts.

Following Beijing Design Week last September, Caochangdi, the artistic enclave in the city’s northeastern outskirts that was one of the festival’s main components, continues to be a major hotbed for Chinese creativity, boasting avant-garde spaces for local and international artists. Designed by artist Ai Weiwei as a cluster of low, minimalist buildings clad in weathered gray bricks reminiscing of the hutongs, it houses some of China’s leading galleries, from Pekin Fine Arts to Three Shadows Photography Art Center, alongside artists’ studios.

1949 Hidden City, a former research facility for the Beijing Machinery and Electric Institute, is also leading the city’s social scene. In 2008, Elite Concepts retooled the factory on Beijing’s east side into a hip industrial dining and entertainment venue which now includes restaurants, a cafe, a bar and an art gallery, as well as gardens and a gorgeous rooftop. Frederick Twomey’s Bar Veloce, one of New York’s best wine bars, opened here last May. Orange bricks, a high ceiling, neatly arranged seating and a few industrial touches characterize the venue.

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