The Changing Face of Beijing Architecture - Phoenix International Media Center

Updated 2013-12-18 10:21:57
1. Phoenix International Media Center, under construction. [Photo: Wang]

By William Wang

Just west of Chaoyang Park, dog walkers, joggers and local residents have been following the strangely curvaceous metal structure slowly writhing into existence. Hong Kong's Phoenix Media has chosen Beijing to create their mainland headquarters, using an architectural design which boldly expresses its intentions to move away from tradition toward the open ideals of the future.

A twisted metal doughnut of a glass-covered frame houses two buildings within it, one a full ten stories high. It will include public and private space, viewable broadcasting and production studios, restaurant and café, and winding ramps and escalators bridging the spaces. Even in its unfinished state, its modern design has drawn much appreciation from the public.

As China grasps every opportunity to modernize and establish itself internationally, it is only natural that it would seek international architects to help it do so, not different from cities like New York or Dubai. But the Phoenix Media is unique in its use of local design firm Beijing Institute of Architectural Design to design its showpiece media center. Built entirely by Chinese designers and engineers, it sets the stage for made in China media to also progress towards meeting high international standards.

BIAD's chief architect Shao Weiping elaborates,"In the past ten years, most landmark buildings have been designedy foreign architects. This has given the impression to the [Chinese] people that only international architects are able to create modern design… That's why our project is special. It's made in China. It provides a window to the public and the world [showing] that local Chinese architects and engineers are able to use their designs and technology to do a modern architectural project."

The BIAD design may be locally designed, but its look is unabashedly international. BIAD has dedicatedly built up its cutting edge reputation at international competitions and its projects already go beyond Chinese mainland. In keeping, the Phoenix building's modern design exploits new technology to create something which would have previously been impossible to construct.

Shao's pride is evident when he discusses how the highest international standard was used for every single element. New technology permits BIAD to employ 3,180 different parts to create the complicated glass structure. "This project is more complex than the Bird's Nest," Shao brazenly affirms. "We have received a lot of positive feedback on the project, and we realize that those comments did not emphasize just the shape, they were about the precision of the details and how they all add up."

Noting the building's metallic framework encircling a central hollow, viewers may observe it's similarities with the Olympic Bird's Nest. But Shao is quick to point out the differences while explaining that the parallels are incidental. "We made the design based on the Phoenix Media logo. It's a double phoenix in a circle. Also, we used the concept of a Mobius strip. We chose this because it's a circle shape, and it refers to the Chinese elements of yin and yang. Yin and yang are merging, up and down are transferring, and inner and outer connects between the building and the park, the neighbourhood."

The building may contrast sharply with its surrounding neighbours, but seems strangely at home amongst them. "We could have gone as fancy or as complex as we wanted," Shao explains, "but we didn't go that way because we have a principal… it needs to fit and respect the traditional elements of beauty. It can't conflict with people's traditional judgment of things." A local construction worker confirms Shao's sentiment: "Everyone likes it. It's beautiful and unique."

But Shao knows that the Phoenix Media Center's aspirations go far beyond simple aesthetics. With a hint of a smile he discusses the client-studio connection of this project. "Phoenix Media is an eye on the world. Chinese people all over the world watch Phoenix TV: Hong Kong, the mainland, Taiwan, even European countries and the US. But all [of its] topics and focus are on China. Opening this media center is good progress for China. The fact that they have chosen us [a Chinese company] is an innovation as well." Like the Mobius strip itself, the center hides its complexities within a simple shape. And, the changes which come about from its creation may be more extensive than imagined. The Phoenix International Media Center is located by the southwest corner of Chaoyang Park.

It will open in 2014.

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