One of the surprises that greet visitors to today’s Beijing is the architecture. I arrived in Beijing expecting see old pagodas and nondescript, communist-era monoliths lined up along grey streets. And in truth, I did find some of that. But I also found some new and amazing buildings — including the one you see here, Beijing’s National Grand Theatre.
All over the city, you see ultra-modern buildings the like of which we still rarely see in North America. Buildings with strange geometric shapes, buildings with bridges stretching through thin air to their next-door neighbours, buildings covered with strange and complex materials. China’s new prosperity has left the government with bank vaults full of cash, and it’s chosen to spend some of it on world-class architects. How better to show the world that China has arrived?
Nothing shows it better than the National Grand Theatre, also known as the Beijing National Center for the Performing Arts. Designed by French architect Paul Andreu, it’s set in an artificial lake in the middle of downtown Beijing. Its two-tone, egg-shaped form shines in the sun and glows in the dark. Guests enter by walking through a passageway under the lake; once inside, they encounter a grand foyer leading to a skylit atrium filled with gardens. There’s an opera house, a concert hall and a drama theatre — an impressive building, by all counts.
The National Grand Theatre is a shining tribute to modernism. And the most amazing thing is that it’s only a stone’s throw from Tiananmen Square, symbol of yesterday’s China, home to the stern-looking Great Hall of the People and the tomb of Mao Zedong. I wonder what Mao would have thought of it.