Paul Andreu and the National Grand Theatre in Beijing

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If you are interested in architecture, there is no doubt that you are impressed by the work of Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who gave the world the singular Sydney Opera House, in Australia, inaugurated after much delay in 1973, and now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We all saw Sydney Opera House pictures last week when the APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation met there for their 2007 summit.

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In his pursuit for immortality, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava surprised us all with a splendid Auditorium concert hall in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, in 2003. Not so many delays in that case. No summits there, as yet, either.

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Now, we can be in awe of the new National Grand Theatre in Beijing, unofficially put to use a few days ago by former Chinese leader and opera enthusiast, Jiang Zemin. Admittedly, I wasn’t there when comrade Jiang Zemin, 81, sang his bits of Peking Opera to an intrigued audience, but I am more than impressed by French architect, Paul Andreu’s work that continues a formidable tradition of great 20th century opera and concert house architecture in China’s capital city.

The retired president and Communist Party chief sang parts of a Western opera and also, of a Peking opera for theatre staff when he visited last Friday, a Hong Kong newspaper reported.

The controversial National Theatre, a shiny half sphere, sits in stark contrast next to the Soviet-style Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing, perhaps 500 m from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was due to open in 2005, then 2006, and is now expected to open at the end of this year.

The National Grand Theatre of China in Beijing was designed by French architect Paul Andreu. You may know Monsieur Andreu for his Maritime Museum in Osaka, Japan, or his Grande Arche in La Defense, Paris, France, amongst others. His Beijing theatre must be one of the most talked-about architectural projects for years, both because of Andreu’s bold and innovative design, and for the grand scope of the project itself.

Once opened, it surely will become Beijing’s foremost cultural centre, situated in the heart of the capital, symbolizing all that is exciting about the new China, and no doubt will convert into one of the visual icons of the upcoming Beijing Olympics 2008, together with Herzog & de Meuron’s as yet unfinished Olympic Stadium (see photo below). And any number of summits will be held there, too, for sure.

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It’s lucky, isn’t it, that UNESCO will not be short of candidates for future World Heritage Site considerations?

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