Three Architectural Curiosities You Must Visit In Beijing
We travel because we want to experience new things. We want to see new sights, meet new people, taste new food and just generally experience and be a part of things we normally wouldn’t were we to stay still and not venture out into the great wide world that spreads before us, offering its cultures and treasures and becoming our proverbial oyster, allowing us to sample its delights before moving on to something different.
China is a country well-known for its people and culture, being both heavily-populated and a much sought-after destination for tourists and travelers. It has much to offer the world in terms of culture, cuisine, experiences, destinations and architecture. It is the latter of these which seems to get the least exposure, but is no less important than everything else one envisions when they think of China, or indeed any Asia vacations.
Here you will be able to experience but a mere taste of some of the wide-ranging variety of architectural splendor that China has come to be known for. For this article, we shall be focusing on Beijing, so you know that these wonders are within a reasonable visiting-distance of one another.
Beijing National Aquatics Center
Known colloquially as the Water Cube, the National Aquatics Center appears to be – for lack of a better explanation – a giant cube-like structure. Put more succinctly, the Center is actually more of a rectangular box, but a rectangular box in which 25 world records were broken during the 2008 Olympics.
Construction began in late December 2003 and was finished by January 2008, with the outwardly simple, yet nonetheless unique design having been chosen from a selection of 10 different proposals that were put before a panel in July of 2003. The actual design and construction of the Center was an amalgamation of effort from various fronts, as it was constructed by both Chinese and Australian architecture and construction firms, with the Chinese opting for a cube design to relate it to the National Stadium just next to it (more on which, later) and the Australians deciding to put the “bubbles” on it, thus symbolizing water.
The structure itself is a wonder to behold, giving the illusion of a box covered with bubbles, albeit the size of a very large building. At night, the Center is illuminated from within, further enhancing its otherworldly appearance.
Beijing National Stadium
Sports stadiums are often designed with architectural uniqueness in mind and the National Stadium is certainly no exception.
Designed by a Swiss architecture firm – Herzog & de Meuron – in 2003 and chosen from amongst 13 other applications, the design aims to optimize/maximize natural ventilation for the stadium’s 80,000 strong potential crowd (originally, the stadium had 91,000 seats, but 11,000 of these were taken out post-Olympics) and because of this, the latticed beams and girders of the stadium lend to it a look similar to that of a bird’s nest, which is where the stadium garners its affectionate nickname: Bird’s Nest Stadium.
The stadium also has the illustrious title of world’s largest steel structure, which is all the more reason to at least take some time out to visit the stadium and experience the awe of this incredible steel building. Another benefit to visiting the stadium is that it is in close proximity to the aforementioned National Aquatics Center.
China Central Television (CCTV) Headquarters Building
Looking like something out of an Escher drawing, the CCTV building is certainly a wondrous sight to behold, with its edged and dangerous appearance, as if it could fall on its side at any given moment.
Started in September 2004 and finished in June 2008, the building totally rewrites common perception of what a skyscraper can and should be, providing not only an architectural challenge from a design point of view, but also from a construction point of view, as the whole area it’s built in is a seismic zone in itself. The project was deemed so spectacular and unusual that planning permission had to be sought from a special panel, as it broke several of Beijing’s building codes, as it required unique and adventurous architectural methods to ensure its stability, many of which were not standard practice in Beijing at the time of construction.
Sadly, on February 9 2009, the adjacent Television Cultural Center was set on fire from fireworks, powerful ones that were being operated without the necessary permit from the local government, thus leading to somewhat of a scandal. The fire caused an extravagant and overwhelmingly expensive amount of damage, which also lead to the death of one firefighter, but also meant that the CCTV building could not undergo its official opening due to safety concerns. However, scaffolds were erected and renovation has been underway for some time, leading to an estimated opening date for the CCTV building sometime this year (2010).