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Destination China
The Road to Beijing...

October 2007

From the New York Times:

Looming over the Chaoyang district of Beijing, the rising headquarters of China Central Television, or CCTV, will soon angle and cantilever like a colossal Constructivist doughnut, threatening to writhe free of the scaffolding that barely harnesses it. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren of the radical Dutch firm OMA, it will be a gravity-defying, 755-foot-tall monument to architectural derring-do ? an audacious beacon and backdrop from which the images of a newly ascendant China will be beamed across the globe, one year from now, during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But when Beijing finally gets its Olympic moment in the sun, some of the thrills will simply require a room key. Rising next to the CCTV building, and also designed by OMA, the dazzling Television Cultural Center, or TVCC, peaks and plummets like a mountain cloaked in corrugated zinc. And when its ribbon is cut next year, it will be home to one of the most spectacular hotels around: a 241-room Mandarin Oriental that looks like no other. With restaurants and a bar suspended above, its modular curtain of randomly staggered rooms will hypnotically shift in and out of a head-spinning, 21-story atrium, while a circular ballroom, ringed by water, will glimmer down below.

?It\'s not an accident that this is in Beijing,? said Mr. Scheeren, the OMA partner in charge of both the CCTV and TVCC projects. ?No other city has this level of ambition.?

As Beijing races to recast itself as the metropolis of the future, while ramping up for a projected 1.5 million visitors to the Games, the Mandarin Oriental signals a hotel boom of hyperbolic proportions. A deluge of luxury chains, along with an emerging boutique hotel scene, is lending a platinum-card sheen to the capital\'s cosmopolitan reawakening. At the other end of the spectrum, historic courtyard mansions are getting a trendy makeover as guesthouses, leaving no stone undesigned. It is a surge that mirrors the frenetic pace, superlative aspirations and architectural zeal of a city looking to shed its reputation for being as gray as a Mao suit.
?A lot of first-time visitors to Beijing are surprised by how developed things already are,? said Damien Little, a Beijing-based director of Horwath HTL, an international hospitality consulting group. The city is expected to add more than 4,000 upper-tier hotel rooms this year, Mr. Little said, with 7,000 or so more in 2008.

In redrawing Beijing\'s skyline, these hotels are staking space among the iconic buildings that now line the city\'s monumental thoroughfares like surreal Morandi-esque still lifes. Pick your metaphors: the mammoth ?bird\'s nest? of the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Olympic stadium, the iridescent ?water cube? of the aquatics center next door, or the new National Grand Theater, an enormous glass-and-titanium bubble that seems just inches away from becoming the Blob That Ate the Forbidden City.

During the Olympics, however, the most coveted rooms may be from the self-designated Beijing 7 Star Hotel, being built across the street from the main Olympic stadium. To justify the extra two stars in its name, it promises three dedicated staff members for each of its 270 rooms and, most notably, a bird\'s-eye view of the stadium from your king-size bed.
?There\'s hardly anywhere else where so much is being built,? said Mr. Scheeren, the architect. ?Much of it is pretty respectable ? not only in the context of Beijing, but on a world scale.?

Aric Chen frequently writes about art, architecture, design and travel.
This appeared in the New York Times.


Forbidden City

Ancestral Temple

Yonghegong Lamesary-Beijing

Temple of Heaven