Beijing / Laying a golden egg

It looks a lot like a half-submerged egg or a UFO that has landed in downtown Beijing and is often referred to by either nickname.  It’s actually the National Centre for the Performing Arts and it has, due to its unique and singular architectural identity, become one of Beijing’s best known landmarks.

It’s pretty easy to spot on an aerial photograph, distinguished by its scale and material from older residential buildings to its west and the cultural icons of Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City to its east.

This photo doesn’t really explain much about the building or its location, but I managed to capture an amazing costume on the left … flouncy woolly blouse, leopard print tights and fur-topped heels, with lace parasol.  Inspiring stuff.


The NCPA is somewhat simpler in design and execution.  It is a huge titanium and glass dome sitting in an artificial lake.  One might wonder about the futility of creating a big reflective building in Beijing (given the general lack of sunshine and the maintenance that must result from the relentless air pollution) but it is still an effective gesture.  The building’s architect, Paul Andreu, wanted to create a contrasting, yet subtle, response to the surrounding historic context, and I think it works.  The comparative lack of people is a real relief also.

Entry into the building is a via a submerged lobby that connects to the dome under the lake.


Parts of the lake have a glazed base, allowing sunlight to flood into the submerged building.

Inside the dome, three performance facilities (for opera, theatre and music) take up most of the space, with left-over areas used for circulation, hanging about before and after performances, and for general inspiring of awe.


There is also an exhibition that shows the history and development of the building, and a huge array of photos of celebrity visitors, ushers learning how to gesture people towards their seats (left) and “a foreign kid excited by the exhibits” (right).

But, of course, anything exciting is also a bit scary, and the NCPA is no different.  The building has courted controversy galore, from its design to its cost (about $500 million) and over-runs in construction time (due in part to an re-evaluation of the design that occurred after another of the same architect’s buildings partially collapsed).  Perhaps to counter this criticism, 70% of seats to performances are sold at a rate that is supposedly within reach of the average Beijinger.

A study has calculated that the per-seat cost of the building is about $100,000 and that the ongoing maintenance costs for the building will be somewhat huge.  As such, the government will be required to subsidise the facility for its entire life, to about 60% of its operational costs.  The government seems to not mind too much, saying that the building was never intended to be a money maker. Perhaps this is true … nowhere in the exhibition did I see a photo titled “senior government official excited by building operational budget”.


3 Responses to Beijing / Laying a golden egg

  1. Gizzard says:

    Beijinger! I love that. I can just hear John F. now, “Ich bin ein Beijinger!”

  2. Pingback: Figuring out the last year … « That Look Crayzy!

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