Modern Chinese architecture refers to everything built in China since about the middle of the 1800s and includes a wide variety of architectural styles. From blends of traditional elements and contemporary techniques to cutting-edge modern architectural icons, Chinese architecture has it all.
After the start of the Opium wars in the 1840s, Chinese architecture began to blend traditional Chinese style and western architectural characteristics. Traditional elements held over from the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) and those inherent to the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) of the time remained prominent. So most important buildings still featured sweeping roofs, open courtyards, screens and wooden columns. However, some buildings, including restaurants, hotels and stores began to incorporate western elements.
Even the imperial family looked to western architectural elements in the construction of Yuanming Yuan, the Old Summer Palace of Beijing, which was hailed worldwide as an exceptional example of blending eastern and western architecture until its destruction in 1860.
Foreign consulates, banks, clubs and corporate buildings in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Qingdao, Harbin, and other cities also introduced Western architectural styles into China during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.
When the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, architectural styles were pared down, with many buildings taking on a sparse look. Solid grey blocks and simple designs characterized many structures of this period, while large government projects developed a series of styles all their own.
The Returning to the Ancients' Period involved buildings with large roofs, while the New Communist Buildings Period is exemplified by the Big Ten Buildings, ten monumental buildings constructed in 1959 to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the PRC. The designs of these ten structures combine Stalinist architecture, traditional Chinese architecture and modern architecture.
As China opened up to the world in the 1980s, new architectural styles began to develop that combined elements of all of the older styles while also inventing new elements. The construction of these thoroughly modern and creative structures accelerated during the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 Expo in Shanghai as China raced to build a world-class architectural showcase of buildings unlike any seen elsewhere.
Modern icons include buildings such as the Jin Mao Building and the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai and the National Grand Theater and the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing. Some of these buildings have generated considerable controversy, but their status as architectural showpieces familiar to people worldwide is well established.