An Architecture Tour of Beijing: Top 10 Modern Architectural Marvels

National Museum

Standing on the east side of Tian’anmen Square, the National Museum is one of the most historic buildings in the capital. The old buildings of the National Museum used to be divided into the National Museum of Chinese History and the National Museum of Chinese Revolutionary History, both of which were founded in 1959. After three years reconstruction, new National Museum opened in March 2011. The current museum nearly triples the size of the complex from 65,000 square meters to almost 200,000 square meters, and the number of exhibition rooms increase to 49. It has four floors above ground and two floors underground, housing an 800-seat theater, a 300-seat academic lecture hall and a 600 square-meter studio.

National Museum, Beijing

National Stadium (Bird’s Nest)

The National Stadium, as the main track and field stadium for the 2008 Olympics Games, is dubbed the “bird’s nest” because of its innovative grid formation. The twig-like structural elements and the bowl-shaped roof are the masterpiece of the project, yet they posed great challenges for technicians and workers during construction. The stadium was begun in March 2004 and finished in March 2008. It was built with 36 kilometers of unwrapped steel, with a combined weight of 45,000 tonnes. Covering over 258,000 square meters, the stadium has at least 100,000 seats.

National Stadium (Bird's Nest), BeijingNational Aquatic Center (Water Cube)

The National Aquatics Center, also known colloquially as the Water Cube, was a major venue for the 2008 Olympic Games. After over four years of construction, the building was completed on January 28, 2008. The Water Cube comprises over 100,000 square meters of ETFE foils, making it the single largest, most complicated and most comprehensive ETFE structure in the world. The venue was used for swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming competitions during the 2008 Olympic Games. In daylight, the Water Cube shines as a translucent blue spectacle; while at night, the glow of its LED bubbles creates a spectacular visual effect.

National Aquatic Center (Water Cube), Beijing

National Center for the Performing Arts

Situated in the heart of the capital, next to Tian’anmen Square, the National Center for the Performing Arts is Beijing’s foremost cultural center. Designed by architect Paul Andreu, the theater has been one of the most talked-about architectural projects for years, because of Andreu’s audacious and innovative design and the project’s grand scope. The curved building features a titanium shell and emerges like an island at the center of a lake. The theater houses three performance auditoria – a 2,416-seat opera house, a 2,017-seat concert hall and a 1,040-seat theater – as well as art and exhibition spaces.

National Center for the Performing Arts, Beijing

Beijing Int’l Airport Terminal 3

Terminal 3 of Beijing International Airport started construction on March 28, 2004, and became fully operational on March 26, 2008. Designed by Netherlands Airport Consultants B.V. (NACO) and UK Architect Norman Foster, Terminal 3 is one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable airport buildings, designed to accommodate Beijing’s cold winters, hot summers, short autumn and spring seasons. It consists of three main passenger terminals (Terminal 3A, 3B and 3C) and two satellite concourses (Terminal 3D and Terminal 3E).

Beijing Int'l Airport Terminal 3

National Library (second phase)

A brand-new extension of China’s National Library opened on September 9, 2007. Designed by a German architectural firm, the modern library is the world’s biggest Chinese literature collection center and digital resource base, as well as the most advanced network service base in China. Covering an area of 80,538 square meters, the new library, located in southern Haidian District, can seat 2,900 readers and accept 8,000 visitors a day. The new addition makes the total construction area of the National Library over 250,000 square meters, ranking third in the world, only behind the U.S. Library of Congress and the Russian State Library.

National Library (second phase), Beijing

Beijing South Railway Station

Beijing South Railway Station is located in Fengtai District. The construction began in June, 2006 with an investment of 6.3 billion yuan (959 million U.S. dollars). Covering an area of 499,000 square meters, the South Railway Station is the second largest in the capital after Beijing’s West Railway Station. It has 13 platforms and 24 arrival and departure lines, and consists of two floors above ground and three floors underground. On August 1, 2008, the station was put into use and now serves as the terminal for the inter-city express rail between Beijing and Tianjin. In the future, it will become a high-speed rail terminal for the Beijing-Shanghai route.

Beijing South Railway Station

National Indoor Stadium

As a neighbor of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, the National Indoor Stadium is also a part of the Olympic Park. It is nicknamed the Fan, (Chinese: “shanzi”), due to its design resembling a traditional Chinese folding fan. The steel roof of the National Indoor Stadium is 144 meters long from north to south and 114 meters wide from east to west, consisting of 2,800 tons of steel. After two and a half years of construction, the indoor stadium opened on November 26, 2007. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the stadium hosted the gymnastics, trampoline, handball, and volleyball competitions. Now, it is used for sports competitions, cultural and entertainment events, and as a multifunctional exercise center for local residents.

National Indoor Stadium, Beijing

Capital Museum

Situated in the center of Xicheng District, Capital Museum is China’s second largest museum, dwarfed only by the National Museum. After nearly four years construction, the new Capital Museum reopened in May 2006 at a cost of 1.23 billion yuan (about 187 million U.S. dollars). With an area of more than 60,000 square meters, the museum consists of Central Ritual Hall, Exhibition Hall, Multifunction Hall, Cultural Heritages Storehouse and Digital Movie Hall. There are more than 5,622 culture relics on display.

Capital Museum, Beijing

New CCTV Tower

The new home of China Central Television (CCTV) is located in the busy commercial area near the World Trade Center in Beijing’s CBD. The tower, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, is like two huge inverted “L’s” connecting together. This remarkable concept, a breakaway from the traditional design of skyscrapers, presents a fresh image to local residents and attracts people’s eyes miles away. Covering an area of more than 470,000 square meters, the building has 52 floors above ground and three floors underground, with a height of 234 meters.

New CCTV Tower, Beijing

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