Top 5 Modern Chinese Architecture Marvels

By: Chaz Wilke - Staff Writer

China, the global superpower with a restrictive government might not make one think of wildly inventive architecture. But great art is often created within confining restrictions. In recent years, China has seen a boom in creative architectural forms.

China’s latest decade has seen some of the most unique and stunning examples of inventive modern architecture.

1. The National Stadium (Bird’s Nest)


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Much of the world, including China, considered the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing to be China’s reintroduction to the global stage. With that, the Olympic stadiums became a statement of intent to prove what modern architecture could be.

The National Stadium’s outer structure made of a massive grid of unwrapped steel prompted onlookers to nickname the structure the Bird’s Nest. “It was built with 36 kilometers [22.37 miles] of unwrapped steel, with a combined weight of 45,000 tons. Covering over 258,000 square meters, the stadium has at least 100,000 seats,” says, the authorized government portal site to China.

Taking four years to build, the crown gem of the 2008 summer Olympics became a talking point the world over. In an NPR interview, Chinese tourist Wang Xiaoyu says, “I’m proud that China has this great architecture, that it can build such a great world monument. How can you not feel proud?”

The New York Times architecture critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote, “Its elliptical latticework shell, which has earned it the nickname the Bird’s Nest, has an intoxicating beauty that lingers in the imagination. Its allure is only likely to deepen once the enormous crowds disperse and the Olympic Games fade into memory.”

2. The National Aquatics Center (Water Cube)


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Another equally inventive structure at the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics was the National Aquatics Center. The National Aquatics Center fittingly looks like a tank of water filled to the brim. It’s no wonder that onlookers call it the Water Cube.

Over 100,000 square meters of ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) foils, a form of industrial-strength plastic sheet that helps bounce the light of LEDs created the look of a shimmering underwater paradise.

After the 2008 summer Olympics concluded, the National Aquatics Center found new life as an indoor waterpark.


The transformation from Olympic venue to indoor water park is remarkable. The cost of entry is 200 Chinese Yuan which equals about $32.


Images courtesy of the official water cube site.



The state-run television station moved into its new facility in 2012. The structure’s design was created by architect Rem Koolhass, who works at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, which is a part of the East China Architectural Design & Research Institute (ECADI). A member of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, ECADI has become “one of China’s most influential architectural design institutions,” says the Council.

The structure appears to defy gravity as the form twists and turns high above the bustling Beijing streets.

Now with the massive skyscraper completed, CCTV is looking to soon expand its broadcast offering from 22 stations to 200 channels, in an effort to complete globally.

New York Times resident architectural critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, once again weighs in on the captivating form of the structure. “At moments monumental and combative, at others strangely elusive, almost retiring, it is one of the most beguiling and powerful works I’ve seen in a lifetime of looking at architecture,” he says.

Since this is a government structure, the adventurous architecture is not without criticism. Many locals and critics abroad have condemned the building as “glorifying a propaganda organ of the Chinese government.”

4. The Sunrise Kempinski Hotel


[Render courtesy of Kempinski]

Next on the list is a soon-to-open hotel that sits along the shores of Yanqi Lake, which is about 60 miles from Beijing.

“The Sunrise Kempinski Hotel was designed to look like the rising sun, an image symbolic of China’s meteoric rise in the global economy,” says Inhabitat, the architecture and design blog.

A group of 60 designers came together to brainstorm the design of this hotel. Creative minds from the UK, the US, Spain, Italy, Holland and the Philippines are behind the unique design of this modern architectural marvel.

“We had an international team to give their opinion on modern contemporary Chinese architectural design and to enable us to broaden our ideas on how we can use our design to showcase the Chinese culture to the world,” says Chief Designer Zhang Hai Ao.

The hotel includes 14 restaurants and bars, 14,069 square meters of meeting space, landscaped gardens, a private marina, as well as recreational and fitness facilities.

Originally scheduled to open Nov. 17, 2014, the official website only offers a timer counting down to the grand opening with about a week left at the time of this writing. There has been no press release explaining why there has been a delay in opening. But when the hotel does open, there will be special introductory room packages starting at around $175. This amount is relatively similar to most moderate to high end hotels in the US.

5. Gate to the East


[Render courtesy of RMJM]

Gate to the East is also known as Gate of the Orient and cost $700 Million to construct. Locals and critics alike have come to call this skyscraper “The Pants Building” as it bears a striking resemblance to a pair of starched trousers standing upright.

The British architectural firm RMJM is responsible for the design and describes it more as a gateway. “The Gate to the East introduces a dramatic iconic ‘gateway’ to the city of Suzhou and represents the significance of China in the world today,” says RMJM’s website.

The Gate to the East stands a staggering 301.8 meters (990 feet) tall, which isn’t quite tall enough to enter the list of tallest structures in the world, but still stands high above the skyline of Suzhou. This honor will be short-lived however, as by 2020, developers plan to build an impressively tall 700 meter (2297 feet) mega structure called the Suzhou Zhongnan Center. This new structure would then be the second tallest in the world.

The Gate to the East was completed in 2014 and is occupied by transport and commercial companies.

Top Image Credit: Yuangeng Zhang / [cropped]