Bei­jing show spot­lights re­form-era land­marks in China

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE CULTURE - By LIN QI linqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

High-rise build­ings that dom­i­nate the sky­lines of ma­jor Chi­nese cities such as Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Guangzhou in­clude well-de­signed lux­ury ho­tels that passers-by take for granted.

But in the eyes of Cole Roskam, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, these sky­scrapers started to grow since the 1970s and ’80s, dur­ing which time the con­struc­tion of sev­eral in­ter­na­tional ho­tels helped China to con­nect with the rest of the world and pro­vided phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of the re­form and open­ing-up.

And, Roskam’s in­ter­est in China’s in­ter­na­tional ho­tels of those two decades isn’t only aca­demic. He is­nowco-host­ing in Bei­jing an ex­hi­bi­tion, Ac­com­mo­dat­ing Re­form: In­ter­na­tional Ho­tels and Ar­chi­tec­ture in China, 1978-1990, which is be­ing held at the Ul­lens Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art through Oct 23.

The ex­hi­bi­tion re­views the birth of seven land­mark ho­tels — some among the ear­li­est Sino-for­eign ven­tures es­tab­lished at the start of re­forms. They stand as ex­am­ples of the phe­nom­e­nal de­vel­op­ment of five-star ho­tels to ac­com­mo­date in­creas­ing for­eign vis­i­tors for tourism and busi­ness in China in the 1970s and ’80s.

A dis­play of pho­tos, build­ing mod­els and rel­e­vant doc­u­ments of­fer a be­hind-thescenes look at their cul­tural, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal rel­e­vance.

The east wing of Bei­jing Ho­tel, Jian­guo Ho­tel, Great Wall Ho­tel and Fra­grant Hill Ho­tel make for the four Bei­jing ho­tels fea­tured in the show. The re­main­ing are the Shang­hai Cen­tre, Jin­ling Ho­tel in Nan­jing, East China’s Jiangsu prov­ince, and White Swan Ho­tel in Guangzhou, South China’s Guang­dong prov­ince.

“In gen­eral, they present a nice ar­ray of build­ings in dif­fer­ent cities de­signed by dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tects,” Roskam tells China Daily.

He says many such ho­tels in re­form-era cities were de­signed by fa­mous for­eign ar­chi­tects and be­came tall, mon­u­men­tal build­ings at the time of con­struc­tion. The ho­tels also in­tro­duced the con­cept of modern ar­chi­tec­ture to China. The build­ings were fa­cil­i­tated with more ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies than oth­ers back then.

Chi­nese ar­chi­tect Zhang Bo de­signed Bei­jing Ho­tel’s east wing that was com­pleted in 1974 and it fea­tures a grid fa­cade with bal­conies over­look­ing the Chang’an Av­enue. Renowned Chi­nese-Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect Ieo­hMingPei drewon his child­hood mem­o­ries of the el­e­gant gar­dens of Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince, while de­sign­ing the Fra­grant Hill Ho­tel, which blends with the sur­round­ing Fra­grantHills Park in Bei­jing’s north­west­ern sub­urb.

Roskam says glass-cur­tain walls were first dis­played in China in such ho­tels, and ameni­ties like TV sets, air-con­di­tion­ing units and el­e­va­tors in­flu­enced the coun­try’s in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment later.

Sym­bol­iz­ing China’s open­ing up to the world, the ho­tels for the first time in the coun­try had for­eign restau­rants, bars and dis­cos. They also hosted cross­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and ac­com­mo­dated many celebri­ties and dig­ni­ties.

Jian­guo Ho­tel at­tracted cus­tomers with Bei­jing’s first French restau­rant, Jus­tine’s. It’s first-floor rooms were where many in­ter­na­tional bank­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives resided and be­came­pop­u­lar­ly­know­nas the “Wall Street” of Bei­jing.

Amer­i­can cul­tural icon Andy Warhol and his pho­tog­ra­pher friend Christo­pher Makos stayed at Bei­jing Ho­tel dur­ing their trav­els in the coun­try in 1982. The pho­tos taken dur­ing their trip that cap­tured the in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tions of the ho­tel and the Fra­grant Hill Ho­tel they also vis­ited are also dis­played at the ex­hi­bi­tion.

In 1981, Bei­jing Ho­tel wit­nessed the coun­try’s first public fash­ion show since the found­ing of New China in 1949. It was staged by Ital­ian­born French fash­ion de­signer Pierre Cardin who was among the first for­eign busi­ness­peo­ple to land in the coun­try in 1978. A dress that was shown at the cou­ture show is dis­played along with a photo taken by Chi­nese-Amer­i­can pho­to­jour­nal­ist Liu He­ung Shing show­ing Cardin at the open­ing of Maxim’s Bei­jing restau­rant in 1983.

Robert Rauschen­berg stayed at the GreatWall Ho­tel in 1985 when hold­ing his ret­ro­spec­tive show at theN­ational ArtMu­seum of China. His sec­ond solo ex­hi­bi­tion since then, ti­tled Rauschen­berg in China, is also un­der­way at the UCCA.

Roskam says many Chi­nese have fond mem­o­ries of the ho­tels. When he in­ter­viewed some who had worked in them or lived nearby, they mostly spoke of how “ground­break­ing” the ho­tels were.

“They (the ho­tels) are valu­able re­minders of how im­por­tant tourism and for­eign busi­nesses were to China’s econ­omy after 1978. They are also vi­tal re­minders of how quickly China has devel­oped,” he says.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Above: Pho­tos, build­ing mod­els and a dress de­signed by Ital­ian-born French fash­ion de­signer Pierre Cardin are dis­played at an ex­hi­bi­tion re­view­ing China’s con­struc­tion of in­ter­na­tional ho­tels in the 1970s and ’80s. Left: A sec­tional draw­ing of Shang­hai Cen­tre de­signed by the in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tec­tural firm John Port­man & As­so­ci­ates.

PHO­TOS BY THE ARTIST AND HIS PORTRAID (MID­DLE) BY SU DONG

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