Ten of Beijing’s most significant contemporary buildings

Beijing National Stadium

In the first of a series spotlighting contemporary architecture in China we round up 10 of the most significant buildings in Beijing, including works by MAD, Zaha Hadid Architects, OMA and Herzog & de Meuron.

Beijing National Stadium
Photo is by Iwan Baan

Beijing National Stadium, 2008, by Herzog & de Meuron

Beijing’s distinctive National Stadium is better known as the Bird’s Nest due to its steel lattice envelope. The 80,000-seater arena was designed by Swiss studio Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei for the 2008 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games.

More recently it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, as well as the accompanying Paralympic Winter Games.

Find out more about the National Stadium ›

Chaoyang Plaza, MAD Architects photographed by Khoo Guo Jie
Photo is by Edmon Leong

Chaoyang Park Plaza, 2017, by MAD

The 120-metre-tall mountainlike glass volumes of Chaoyang Park Plaza were designed by Beijing architecture studio MAD and completed in 2017. The design was intended to reference the lakes, hills and stones depicted in traditional Chinese shan shui scenic paintings.

Ridges and valleys define the shape of the exterior glass facade as if the natural forces of erosion wore down the tower into a few thin lines,” said MAD. 

Find out more about Chaoyang Park Plaza ›

Galaxy SOHO by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photo is by Iwan Baan

Galaxy Soho, 2012, by Zaha Hadid Architects

London-based firm Zaha Hadid Architects designed this 330,000-square-metre retail, office and entertainment complex for real estate megadeveloper China Soho.

Completed in 2012, it is made up of four domed structures fused together by bridges and platforms between curving floor plates, surrounding a series of courtyards.

Find out more about Galaxy Soho ›

CCTV Headquarters by OMA
Photo is by Iwan Baan

CCTV Headquarters, 2012, by OMA

One of the Beijing skyline’s most recognisable buildings is the irregularly shaped China Central Television (CCTV) Headquarters, designed by Dutch practice OMA, which opened in 2012.

OMA’s famous founder Rem Koolhaas defended the “very serious building” in an interview with Dezeen following Chinese president Xi Jinping’s declaration that he had had enough of “weird architecture”.

Find out more about CCTV Building ›

Guardian Arts Center by Ole Sheeren, Dezeen's top museums and galleries
Photo is by Iwan Baan

Guardian Art Center, 2018, by Ole Scheeren

Not long after President Xi’s comments, architect Ole Scheeren unveiled his design for the Guardian Art Center, touted as a model for how Chinese architecture can be both contemporary and respectful of history with its small ground-level blocks matching the scale of the hutong courtyard houses traditional in Beijing.

“This is an important statement vis-a-vis architecture in general in China at this point, to not only present the glaring and new, but to find ways to address a sense of historic continuity without falling into historicising,” Scheeren told Dezeen in 2018.

Find out more about Guardian Art Center ›

Phoenix International Media Center by BIAD UFo
Photo is by Pawel Paniczko

Phoenix International Media Center, 2016, by BIAD UFO

President Xi’s words did not lead to an immediate end of unusually shaped buildings in the Chinese capital, however, as demonstrated by the Phoenix International Media Center, which opened in 2016.

The Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and Un-Forbidden (BIAD UFO), which designed the ring-shaped building as the headquarters of a broadcasting company, compared its twisted form to a Möbius strip.

Find out more about the Phoenix International Media Center ›

Leeza Soho tower by Zaha Hadid Architects in Beijing, China
Photo is by Hufton + Crow

Leeza Soho, 2019, by Zaha Hadid Architects

Another Zaha Hadid project for China Soho, the 45-storey Leezea Soho skyscraper contains the world’s tallest atrium at its centre.

The tower straddles an underground subway service tunnel, leading the architecture studio to divide it into two halves on either side of a 194-metre-high void.

Find out more about Leeza Soho ›

KPF completes Beijing's tallest skyscraper: CITIC Tower
Photo is by HG Esch

CITIC Tower, 2019, by KPF

CITIC Tower, more popularly called China Zun, is Beijing’s tallest skyscraper at 528-metres tall, and the fifth-tallest building in China.

Designed by American firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) based on a concept by Farrells, the building was intended to form the centrepiece for Beijing’s new central business district.

Its shape – wider at the top and bottom than in the middle – is supposedly based on the form of a zun, a type of ceremonial vessel dating back to the Bronze Age.

Find out more about CITIC Tower ›

National Theatre Beijing by Paul Andreu
Photo is by Paul Maurer

National Grand Theatre, 2007, by Paul Andreu

Designed by French architect Paul Andreu, the National Grand Theatre is a huge dome in the middle of a lake next to the Chinese government’s seat of power – the Great Hall of the People.

It houses three theatres inside the huge 149,500 square-metre dome, which is the largest complex of its type in Asia.

Find out more about the National Grand Theatre ›

Zaha Hadid Architects withdraws from Architects Declare
Photo is by Dan Chung

Beijing Daxing International Airport, 2019, by Zaha Hadid Architects

The third Zaha Hadid Architects project on this list is the starfish-shaped terminal building at Beijing Daxing International Airport, which was completed in 2019.

Designed alongside airport specialist ADPI, it was intended to be as compact as possible with the check-in island, security desks and retail area all arranged inside the central area.

Find out more about Beijing Daxing International Airport ›

The top photo is by HG Esch.

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