It's a hotbed of innovative architecture, from diaphanous theaters to buildings heated and cooled by water
China 's current building boom is doing more than sucking up the world's supply of steel -- it's creating a stage for some of today's boldest architecture and engineering. Take a tour of the 10 of the most intriguing examples.
1. The Commune, Beijing
First phase completed 2002, expansion scheduled for completion in 2010
Even if the Commune didn't sit beside that wonder of the ancient world, the Great Wall of China , it would still qualify as a wonder. The complex includes houses by 12 of Asia 's leading architects. It was conceived by married real-estate developers Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi, who gave each architect a $1 million budget. Shigeru Ban, the Japanese architect most famous for the paper houses he designed for refugees of the Kobe earthquake, designed the Furniture House, featuring the laminated plywood typically used for modular furniture, and China's Yung Ho Chang created the Split House, which takes the idea of a boxy dwelling, slices it in half, and spreads it out like a fan.
The Commune is now operated as a boutique hotel by the Germany luxury hotel group Kempinski, which is responsible for an upcoming expansion, which will feature 21 homes (including replications of the originals). One element will remain untouched in the new development: the Commune's private pedestrian trails, which trace untouched sections of the Great Wall.
2. Beijing International Airport , Beijing
Foster & Partners. Under construction, to be completed in late 2007
According to the U.S. Embassy to China, the country will be building 108 new airports between 2004 and 2009 -- including what will be the world's largest: the Beijing International Airport, designed by Foster & Partners. Set to open at the end of 2007, in time for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the airport terminal will cover more than 1 million square meters, giving it a bigger footprint than the Pentagon.
It's designed to handle 43 million passengers a year initially and 55 million by 2015, figures that will probably push the new facility into the ranks of the top 10 busiest airports, going by the 2004 numbers from the Airports Council International. Given the scale and traffic, Foster & Partners focused on the traveler's experience, making sure that walking distances are short, for instance.
Building on Foster's experience designing Hong Kong 's new mega-airport, the massive Chek Lap Kok, the sprawling Beijing terminal is housed under a single roof. To help passengers distinguish between different sections of the vast space, skylights cast different shades of yellow and red light across walls -- a subtle but innovative navigational aid. The architects also kept sustainability in mind: An environmental-control system reduces carbon emissions, and skylights situated on a south-east axis lessen solar heat, keeping the building cool.
3. Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai
Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects. Under construction, completion scheduled for 2008
Rising in the Lujiazhui financial district in Pudong, the Shanghai World Financial Center is a tower among towers. The elegant 101-story skyscraper will be (for a moment, at least) the world's tallest when completed in early 2008.
One of the biggest challenges of building tall is creating a structure that can withstand high winds. The architects devised an innovation solution to alleviate wind pressure by adding a rectangular cut-out at the building's apex. Not only does the open area help reduce the building's sway but it also will be home to the world's highest outdoor observation deck -- a 100th-floor vista that will take vertigo to new heights.
4. National Swimming Center , Beijing
PTW and Ove Arup. Under construction, completion scheduled for 2008
The striking exterior of the National Swimming Center , being constructed for the 2008 Olympic Games and nicknamed, the "Water Cube," is made from panels of a lightweight form of Teflon that transforms the building into an energy-efficient greenhouse-like environment. Solar energy will also be used to heat the swimming pools, which are designed to reuse double-filtered, backwashed pool water that's usually dumped as waste.
Excess rainwater will also be collected and stored in subterranean tanks and used to fill the pools. The complex engineering system of curvy steel frames that form the structure of the bubble-like skin are based on research into the structural properties of soap bubbles by two physicists at Dublin 's Trinity College . The unique structure is designed to help the building withstand nearly any seismic disruptions.
5. Central Chinese Television CCTV, Beijing
OMA/Ole Scheeren and Rem Koolhaas. Under construction, scheduled for completion in 2008
The design of the new Central Chinese Television (CCTV) headquarters defies the popular conception of a skyscraper -- and it broke Beijing's building codes and required approval by a special review panel. The standard systems for engineering gravity and lateral loads in buildings didn't apply to the CCTV building, which is formed by two leaning towers, each bent 90 degrees at the top and bottom to form a continuous loop.
The engineer's solution is to create a structural "tube" of diagonal supports. The irregular pattern of this "diagrid" system reflects the distribution of forces across the tube's surface. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren and engineered by Ove Arup, the new CCTV tower rethinks what a skyscraper can be.
6. Linked Hybrid, Beijing
Steven Holl Architects; Li Hu, lead architect. Groundbreaking on December 28, 2005 , scheduled for completion in 2008
Linked Hybrid, which will house 2,500 people in 700 apartments covering 1.6 million square feet, is a model for large-scale sustainable residential architecture. The site will feature one of the world's largest geothermal cooling and heating systems, which will stabilize the temperature within the complex of eight buildings, all linked at the 20th floor by a "ring" of service establishments, like cafés and dry cleaners. A set of dual pipes pumps water from 100 meters below ground, circulating the liquid between the buildings' concrete floors.
The result: The water-circulation system serves as a giant radiator in the winter and cooling system in the summer. It has no boilers to supply heat, no electric air conditioners to supply cool. The apartments also feature gray-water recycling -- a process that's just starting to catch on in Beijing in much smaller buildings -- to filter waste water from kitchen sinks and wash basins back into toilets.
7. Dongtan Eco City , Dongtan
Masterplan by Arup, for the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corp. In planning stages, first phase to be completed in 2010
Developed by the Shanghai Industrial investment Corp., Dongtan Eco City , roughly the size of Manhattan , will be the world's first fully sustainable cosmopolis when completed in 2040. Like Manhattan , it's situated on an island -- the third-largest in China . Located on the Yangtze River, Dongtan is within close proximity of the bustle of Shanghai .
By the time the Shanghai Expo trade fair opens in 2010, the city's first phase should be completed, and 50,000 residents will call Dongtan home-sweet-sustainable-home. The goals to be accomplished in the next five years: systems for water purification, waste management, and renewable energy. An infrastructure of roads will connect the former agricultural land with Shanghai.
8. Olympic Stadium, Beijing
Herzog & de Meuron. Under construction, to be completed in 2008
Sports stadiums have long followed the enduring design of one of the original wonders of the world, Rome 's Coliseum. Herzog & de Meuron's National Stadium in Beijing is an attempt to rethink the classic sports-arena layout for more ecologically correct times.
The Swiss architects (of Tate Modern fame) wanted to provide natural ventilation for the 91,000-seat structure -- perhaps the largest "eco-friendly" sports stadium designed to date. To achieve this, they set out to create a building that could function without a strictly enclosed shell, yet also provide constant shelter for the audience and athletes alike.
To solve these design problems, they looked to nature for inspiration. The stadium's outer grid resembles a bird's nest constructed of delicately placed branches and twigs. Each discrete space within the facility, from restrooms to restaurants, is constructed as an independent unit within the outer lattice -- making it possible to encase the entire complex with an open grid that allows for natural air circulation. The architects also incorporated a layer of translucent membrane to fill any gaps in the lacy exterior.
9. Donghai Bridge , Shanghai/Yangshan Island
China Zhongtie Major Bridge Engineering Group, Shanghai # 2 Engineering Co., Shanghai Urban Construction Group. Officially opened in December, 2005
A key phase in the development of the world's largest deep-sea port was completed when China 's first cross-sea bridge -- the 20-mile, six-lane Donghai Bridge -- was officially opened in December, 2005. Stretching across the East China Sea , the graceful cable-stay structure connects Shanghai to Yangshan Island , set to become China 's first free-trade port (and the world's largest container port) upon its completion in 2010.
To provide a safer driving route in the typhoons and high waves known to hit the region, Donghai Bridge is designed in an S-shape. The structure, reported by Shanghai Daily to have cost $1.2 billion, will hold its title of China's -- and one of the world's -- longest over-sea bridge for only a couple of years, though. In 2008, the nearby 22-mile Hangzhou Bay Transoceanic Bridge , which also begins (or ends, depending on your journey) in Shanghai , will earn the superlative.
10. National Grand Theater, Beijing
Paul Andreu and ADP. Under construction, to be completed in 2008
Located near Tiananmen Square , the 490,485-square-foot glass-and-titanium National Grand Theater, scheduled to open in 2008, seems to float above a man-made lake. Intended to stand out amid the Chinese capital's bustling streets and ancient buildings, the structure has garnered criticism among Bejing's citizens for clashing with classic landmarks like the Monument to the People's Heroes (dedicated to revolutionary martyrs), the vast home of the National People's Congress, or Tiananmen Gate itself (the Gate of Heavenly Peace).
French architect Paul Andreu is no stranger to controversy -- or to innovative forms. A generation ago, in 1974, his untraditional design for Terminal 1 of Paris 's Charles de Gaulle airport was criticized for its unusual curves, yet Andreu's groundbreaking, futuristic building later was seen to distinguish de Gaulle from more generic European and international air hubs. (The same airport's Terminal 2E, also designed by Andreu, gained attention in 2004 when it collapsed, tragically killing four people.)
Beijing 's daring National Grand Theater is as much a spectacle as the productions that will be staged inside in the 2,416-seat opera house, the 2,017-seat concert hall, and the 1,040-seat theater. At night, the semi-transparent skin will give passersby a glimpse at the performance inside one of three auditoriums, a feature that highlights the building's public nature.