The lot two blocks away from Beijing’s historic Forbidden City has so far been off limits for architects both Chinese and foreign.
Over the last 15 years, developers have created dozens of designs for the space where Wangfujing Street crosses Wusi Avenue but all were rejected by China’s planning authorities.
That’s set to change now that German architect Ole Scheeren is building a futuristic auction house, a hybrid building spanning exhibition halls, restoration studios, restaurants and a hotel. It will be the first auction house designed for the art world’s new global elite.
“Beijing is a monumental city. The buildings shouldn't look too light.”
The client is China Guardian, a young private company dealing with Chinese antique art, the fourth-biggest auction house in the world after Christie’s, Sotheby’s and the Chinese government’s Poly Auctions.
The success of Mr. Scheeren’s design is partly thanks to his years of experience working in China. Mr. Scheeren started out designing for Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his OMA office in 2004 in China. He led the construction of the headquarters of the state television CCTV with a design for a huge complex composed of two high-rise buildings. Mr Scheeren’s building now houses 10,000 employees working in the CCTV headquarters, which has become a landmark of the new Beijing.
The structure cemented Mr. Scheeren’s reputation but his latest creation is of a new kind of building, almost the antithesis of CCTV. The Guardian Art Center is less an ultramodern, out-size symbol, more a modest building that’s at ease with its surroundings, a historic area of traditional Hutong structures.
Mr. Scheeren is a fan of the low historic houses that are built around courtyards and form narrow alleys. “I moved to China many years ago to work with this culture,” he said. It’s his first chance to work in this context.
At street level, the new Guardian Art Center meshes easily with the Hutong houses around it; the center’s first floors are made up of small, cube-shaped buildings. Above that floats a massive block of glass which is reminiscent of the city’s modern buildings. “Beijing is a monumental city,” Mr. Scheeren said. “The building shouldn’t look too light.”
Video: Ole Scheeren on his feelings about Beijing.
It also shouldn’t be too ostentatious, Mr. Scheeren felt. In creating the Guardian Art Center’s 120 hotel rooms, the architect mimicked the brick structure of the traditional Hutong, with offset windowpanes and subtle grooves that suggest a simple structure.
The cube-like structures at the base of the building have facades made of a gray stone that’s typical of Beijing, with smaller and larger circular windows in a pattern Mr. Scheeren said relates to a landscape painting called “Dwelling in the Fuchun-mountains,” by Huang Gongwang that’s a masterpiece of historic Chinese art. It’s an important reference for Chen Dongsheng, who founded China Guardian.
The Art Center is built around a 1,700 square-meter hall that can house exhibitions, concerts and performances and can be partitioned as needed.
Auctioneers like Sotheby’s and Christie’s have no such building. Recently in Germany, Ketterer in Munich and Van Ham in Cologne built modern structures for their auctions. But the Guardian Art Center resembles almost an adventure zone for a new generation of global collectors.
The recent turbulence on the Chinese stock market and lower economic growth hadn’t hampered construction, Mr. Scheeren said. On the contrary, everything is going to plan. By fall 2016, the building will see its first auctions of calligraphy, drawings and ceramics.
While all is going to plan at the Forbidden City, Mr. Scheeren has returned home and opened an office in Berlin after 22 years abroad.
This article originally appeared in German weekly Die Zeit. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org