Although China has a reputation as being one of the most modern and innovative countries in the world, much of its architecture has remained unchanged through centuries of history. At least, this is true in terms of buildings such as temples, which show differences only in their decorative features.
Attempts to create modern designs around ancient Chinese architecture principles have been largely unsuccessful, given that most old buildings had three floors or fewer. Modern demand in the big cities is for buildings that give as much floor space as possible, although ancient practices are still followed in many rural areas.
We looked at ten of China’s most impressive architectural showpieces, looking at both old cultural buildings as well as modern designs such as skyscrapers.
1. The Palace Museum
Lying north of Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing, the Palace Museum was the imperial palace of the Qing and Ming dynasties hundreds of years ago. Today, it stands as a legacy to what many believe formed the gateway to modern China, and is one of the largest and most popular tourist destinations in the entire world. Perhaps better known as the ‘Forbidden City,’ the distinct yellow roofs and red walls are a must-see.
2. Liuhe Pagoda
This remarkable building stands in Hangzhou, on the eastern coast of China. The building that stands today is actually the second incarnation of the Liuhe Pagoda, the original stood for 150 years from 970AD before being destroyed, only to be restored in the 12th Century.
In later years the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out further strengthening work, and one of the best, most quirky features of the building is that it appears to have thirteen storeys from the exterior, but in fact only has seven. There is also a nearby park with a museum featuring the history of the pagoda.
3. Bank of China Tower
Our first foray into modern architecture takes us over to Hong Kong, and although it is almost 25 years old it is still a sight to behold. This building will always be notable as it was the first skyscraper to be built outside of North America, and its distinctive look resembling bamboo shoots, a symbol of prosperity, means it is still one of the best loved buildings in China, even as others around it reach higher into the sky.
4. Confucius Temple
Situated in Nanjing, this temple was designed and built to worship one of ancient China’s best-loved philosophers, Confucius. Many of his teachings are still widely quoted and lived by today, and this construction demonstrates how highly he was, and is, thought of by the Chinese population.
5. City Wall of Xian
Situated in the centre of China, this is the best surviving city wall in the entire country. It also stands as a brilliant example of how ancient cities were defended by the military, and is probably one of the best sites of its kind in the entire world. Visitors can simply look at this construction in awe, or choose to either walk or cycle across it and appreciate its majesty in full.
6. Diwang Tower
Standing as the second-highest building in the Shenzhen financial district, the Diwang Tower, also Shun Hing Square, is perhaps the symbol of what modern building in China is all about.
This 69-storey masterpiece contains apartments, offices, retail outlets and restaurants, as well as an observation deck on the roof. The building, as well as being an impressive feat of architecture, is also used to monitor subtle changes in wind and air temperatures from the coast, which can potentially act as an early warning system for typhoon’s and other weather events.
7. Potala Palace
Situated in Tibet, this palace homes the seat of the Dalai Lama and is the modern-day political centre of the Tibetan region. The vast complex contains amazing, complicated designs and constructions, some of the most awe-inspiring buildings on the planet, and art work that has to be seen to be believed.
8. Yellow Crane Tower
Although the modern building is only 30 years old and looks little like the original construction built 1800 years ago, it is still one of the most important sites in China.
Throughout history, the effects of war and fire continually ravaged the Yellow Crane Tower, leading to it having to be repaired and rebuilt on at least ten occasions.
9. Taipei 101
This brilliant skyscraper reigned as the world’s tallest for six years, from 2004 prior to the opening of Dubai’s world famous Burj Khalifa in 2010. Taipei 101 is a benchmark for all modern buildings, having been certified with leading environmental awards owing to its vast green credentials. The building recycles water and collects rain to produce up to 30% of its water usage, while the façade is also constructed in such a way that common forces, such as typhoon winds and earthquake tremors, can be easily withstood.
10. Jin Mao Tower
You could probably point to a number of amazing buildings from the Shanghai skyline, but the Jin Mao Tower is one of the most recognisable and memorable. Containing offices and a 5-star hotel, this building will be the centre of three ‘supertall’ buildings when the Shanghai Tower is completed in 2014, standing alongside this building and the Shanghai World Financial Center.
Impressive architecture is everywhere to be found in China, and is perhaps all the more exciting given the vast range of both ancient and modern examples that are available to visit and experience.