Building a new China

Post D – Chinese Contemporary Culture

Shipra Sharma, 98136346

A few years ago, during my visit to Hong Kong I came across  a building that completely left me dumbfound. Standing in the heart of Hong Kong, a concrete jungle was a beautiful tall glass structure made to stand out.

Screen Shot 2016-11-10 at 4.33.05 pm.png

The Bank of China Hong Kong stands tall with 315 m and two additional masts reaching 367.4 m, during the years 1989 to 1992 it was the tallest building in all of Asia, and presently is the fourth tallest in Hong Kong.

The mastermind behind this structure was I. M. Pei, a Chinese-American architect who was born in 1917 (yes, he is 99 years old), and went to US in 1917, where he graduated with a Bachelor in Architecture from MIT (Wiseman, 2001). Pei was in heart intrigued by culture and art, as a boy he was a devout buddhist and drawn towards music and other cultural forms, which can be seen carried through to his work as an adult.

(Lieu Song, 2008)

During the 1950;s Pei noticed Chinese architects moving more towards westernising their designs, so in his lectures he always talked about the value of tradition and culture and the results of it being seen in inspiration, so he urged the audience to search deeper in China’s for inspiration.

fragrant_hill_hotel(Gisling, 2008)

In 1978 Pei was approached for a hotel in his home country. Upon visiting his ancestral lands in Suzhou, where he dug around for inspiration, he admired Chinese buildings, the most prominent being the flora and fauna, and gardens and the peace and serenity that they gave him, from here he started to think about the relationship between positive and negative space. Pei’s designed Hotel perfectly fit into its natural habitat, which was a struggle in itself, for assistance he worked with an expert from Suzhou to preserve and renovate the original plantation and water system. But alas the building was made, and although under appreciated by the local architects, it was a life changing experience for Pei.

hk_bank_of_china_tower_view(WiNG, 2008)

When Pei was approached by the Bank of China, he was at loss of inspiration, he retreated to his family home where he played around with a bunch of sticks, which inspired him to break usual traditional Chinese architectural norms, he designs and building didn’t fail to do that, the building design was criticised by well know feng shui advocates. As the construction was near to an end Pei heard about the Tiananmen Square Protest, and was aghast by the massacre of unarmed innocent civilians, which was later also known as the June Fourth Incident, he was deeply hurt and wrote an article for The New York Times titled “China will never be the same” (I. M. Pei: Building China Modern, 2011), in the article he talked about how these kills destroyed hope for a generation who saw the future of China, Pei and his family were disgusted with what happened, after which we see a lack of inspiration in his last work, and finally a halt as an architecture.


I.M. Pei: Building China Modern, 2011, Educative Documentary, SBS One.
Gisling, 2008, Fragrant Hill Hotel, viewed 8 November 2016, <;.
Song, B.L. 2008, Courtyard of the Museum of Louvre, viewed 8 November 2016, <;.
WiNG, 2008, HK Bank of China Tower, viewed 8 November 2016, <;.
Wiseman, C. 2001, The Architecture of I.M. Pei: with an Illustrated Catalogue of the Buildings and Projects, Thames & Hudson, London.
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