Beijing 2009 - SOHO Jian Wai

My trip to Beijing was a Study Tour, and besides the sightseeing and food-tasting, we also visited some projects. The size of projects in China is shocking for someone coming from Kuching, where units are counted in the 10s. Here, they build entire city blocks in one go. The SOHO Jian Wai is such a project - covering a site of over 40 acres, with a total built-up of around 700,000 sq. m. There are 20 high-rise towers with shops on the lower floors, offices and apartments on top - which explains the name of the project. It is also developed by one of the largest real estate developers in China - called SOHO.

The architect is Riken Yamamoto, famous for his minimalist-modernist designs. In his design statement he mentioned that he was inspired by Moroccan cities, where the narrow alleyways and tight urban places - and the indiscriminate mixing of everything together made him feel the life and pulse of the city. He was trying to recreate that feeling at SOHO Jian Wai. 

Looking at the actual project, it reminded me more of the Villa Radius conceptual city by Le Corbusier. Essentially towers placed in open spaces to alleviate the high density required of a modern city and still provide sufficient open space and sunlight for everyone. The visionary proposal by Le Corb has influenced urban design for decades. It has also been discredited for creating anonymous and squalid public housing blocks, which later had to be demolished due to their dilapidated state. 

SOHO Jian Wai is located at the 39 East Third Ring Road, in the Chaoyang District.

The towers are very minimalist in design. They look like New York office blocks. Car parks are provided in basement levels with atrium connection to the plazas.

Generous open spaces between the towers provide much needed relieve from the high density.

Shops are on the lower floors of the buildings, and there must be hundreds of them within the project. 

I had always thought that Le Corb's idea was spot on, for it is impossible to keep on building low and spreading out further and further into the landscape. We are just competing with nature, farmlands and water sources. That is a nightmare scenario in China, and perhaps projects like this are and example of how to create high density livable spaces in the city. 


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