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Alien arrival … the Galaxy Soho complex is accused of destroying Beijing’s historic streets. Photograph: /Zaha Hadid Architects

Beijing’s street names can be deceptive. Visitors to No 7A Small Arch hutong, just inside the city’s second ring road, might get a little more than they bargained for. Long gone is the stone gateway that once marked the entrance to this network of narrow streets. Now, it’s been replaced by a sinuous white arc, jacked 60m into the air, that loops and twists, connecting a cluster of vast egg-shaped buildings in an improbable acrobatic leap.

This alien arrival is Galaxy Soho, a 370,000 sq m complex of shops, offices and restaurants by Zaha Hadid Architects, recently bestowed with a top award by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The judges heaped praise on its flowing bands of white aluminium and glass that “give the development an almost geological solidity and presence”. They hailed it as “a welcome democratisation” of the architect’s work, asserting that the public space that weaves between the complex “demonstrates a rare generosity in a country determined to outdo the west in terms of commercialisation”.

But others in Beijing beg to differ. The city’s chief preservation watchdog has written an excoriating open letter to the RIBA accusing the project of “destroying” the city’s built heritage, claiming that it has “violated a number of heritage preservation laws and regulations”.


Oliver Wainwright
The Guardian


The People's Daily office building in Beijing
The People’s Daily office building in Beijing. Photograph: Imaginechina/Rex Features

Beijing’s building boom has already spawned a wealth of novelty forms, with a stadium in the shape of a bird’s nest, a theatre nicknamed the egg, and a TV headquarters that has been likened to a giant pair of underpants. But the official People’s Daily newspaper might have trumped them all with its new office building, which appears to be modelled on a colossal phallus.

Photos of the scaffold-shrouded shaft have been circulating on Weibo, the Chinese micro-blogging site, to the authorities’ dismay, with censors working overtime to remove the offending images. “It seems the People’s Daily is going to rise up, there’s hope for the Chinese dream,” commented one user. “Of course the national mouthpiece should be imposing,” added another.

The 150m-tall tower, located in the city’s eastern business district, appropriately near OMA’s pants-shaped CCTV headquarters, is the work of architect Zhou Qi, a professor at Jiangsu’s Southeast University.

“Our way of expression is kind of extreme,” Zhou told the Modern Express newspaper, “different from the culture of moderation that Chinese people are accustomed to.” He explained the design was inspired not by part of his anatomy, but by the traditional Chinese philosophy of “round sky and square earth” – the tower tapers from a square base to a cylindrical top. He claimed that the elongated spherical form was designed to recall the Chinese character for “people” from above. The fact it might look like a male member from below was clearly a secondary concern.

Cleaner-minded commentators have compared the building to everything from a steel-framed penguin to an electric iron, a giant juicer and an aircraft carrier. But perhaps Zhou should take solace in the fact that his tower joins a long tradition in architecture – from the thrusting Dionysian columns of ancient Greece to the sturdy stone linga of Hindu temples.


Oliver Wainwright
The Guardian

Ai Weiwei Photo: REX FEATURES

The artist and dissident was instrumental in one of his country’s greatest modern triumphs when he helped design the Beijing National Stadium which housed the dazzling spectacle of the 2008 Olympics.

But his outspoken criticism of the authoritarian regime in China has put him on a collision course with the government. He has recently distanced himself from the Beijing National Stadium project, which he called a “pretend smile” against the sinister backdrop of the country’s human rights record.

he 53-year-old was placed under house arrest at the weekend to stop him attending a gathering of thousands of supporters at his Shanghai studio to protest against its impending demolition by the authorities.


Heidi Blake

Lin Tianmiao at work in her studio in Songzhuang (Natalie Behring for The New York Times)

When you arrive in this town a fast 40 minutes on the expressway from Beijing, you pass under a modern version of an old-style Chinese pailou, or gate, inscribed in Chinese and English with “Songzhuang, China,” which would seem a rather grand way for an ordinary town on the North China Plain to describe itself.

And Songzhuang at first seems like a medium-sized town of no particular distinction, with its long, ramshackle main street lined by ordinary concrete storefronts — little charm here. Then you notice the Land Rovers and Mercedes sedans, the art galleries and exhibition halls, and you’ve arrived in what has become over the past decade one of the biggest and liveliest artists’ colonies in the world.

To be sure, the feverish, ever-changing and now internationally renowned Chinese art scene has other centers of activity, most famously Beijing’s Dashanzi, otherwise known as the 798 District, a sprawling warren of galleries, shops and artists’ studios often compared to New York’s Soho of about two decades ago.


Richard Bernstein
New York Times

Archaeologists believe the hundreds of 13-foot poles at the Small River Cemetery in a desert in Xinjiang Province, China, were mostly phallic symbols. (Photo: Liu Yu Sheng)

In the middle of a terrifying desert north of Tibet, Chinese archaeologists have excavated an extraordinary cemetery. Its inhabitants died almost 4,000 years ago, yet their bodies have been well preserved by the dry air.

The cemetery lies in what is now China’s northwest autonomous region of Xinjiang, yet the people have European features, with brown hair and long noses. Their remains, though lying in one of the world’s largest deserts, are buried in upside-down boats. And where tombstones might stand, declaring pious hope for some god’s mercy in the afterlife, their cemetery sports instead a vigorous forest of phallic symbols, signaling an intense interest in the pleasures or utility of procreation.


Nicholas Wade
New York Times