A recurring theme in Beijing's history is the grand architectural gesture. From the Forbidden City and imperial palaces to the imposing Soviet monstrosities of the 1950s, Beijing has always been about architecture that screams, "Here we are." The prestigous projects commissioned in the buildup to the 2008 Olympics—the CCTV Tower, the Bird's Nest, and others—seemed to suggest that this trend would continue unabated. Impressive as they are, those landmarks have left a mixed legacy, and if his recent pronouncements are anything to go by, President Xi Jinping appears determined to put an end to the era of "weird" architecture.
Against this backdrop, and amid the ongoing and hotly disputed destruction and sometimes garish redevelopment of traditional hutong areas, there are also some exciting examples of tasteful urban development. The historic Dashilar neighborhood in Beijing's Xicheng District is undergoing a lengthy renovation project that aims to create an area driven by sustainable business models that upholds the spirit of Dashilar's traditional architecture. A neighborhood is emerging that is less commercially focused and more centered on creating a culture of eco-consciousness, innovative design and community. On the other side of the city, Parkview Green's sloping roof is part of a energy-conserving design, making it one of Beijing's most well-used green shopping and office spaces.
All over, restaurateurs, fashion designers, and other entrepreneurs are choosing to sell their products in modern spaces that subtly exude the charm of Beijing's layered history and culture. Whether that is through a few rescued glazed tiles from an old roof, a restored courtyard, or a re-imagining of an old factory, Beijing is learning that the small architectural gestures can, too, make a city great.
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