Ole Scheeren’s Guardian Art Center is a Hybrid of Culture and Commerce

The building, whose completion in Beijing was announced today, combines an auction house, gallery, restaurants, and a hotel in one building.
Ole Scheeren Guardian Art Center

View of the new Guardian Art Center from its North plaza. Courtesy Iwan Baan

The Forbidden City has for centuries marked Beijing’s geographic and symbolic center of gravity. Now, just two blocks East, a glimmering new building by Büro Ole Scheeren is banking on re-establishing the area as the nucleus of China’s art scene.

The Guardian Art Center, commissioned by China Guardian Auctions, the world’s fourth-largest art auction house, is also betting on a novel method by which to build cultural institutions—one that marries commerce, culture, and hospitality under one roof. In addition to dedicated auction spaces, the center comprises an exhibition hall, restaurants, offices, and access to a new subway stop, all crowned by a luxury hotel.

“I think that the Guardian Art Center acknowledges, in its own way, the hybrid nature of today’s contemporary cultural environment,” Scheeren told Metropolis in an email. “This acknowledgment is manifested through the inclusion of a range of interconnected spaces for the buildings flexible program.”

Scheeren has likened the building, a tightly knit assemblage of discrete spaces, to a “Chinese puzzle.” But complex programmatic needs weren’t the sole challenge. Scheeren first had to win over Beijing’s stringent planning authority, who had rejected some 30 different proposals for the site. To gain approval, it was essential that the architect resolve the relationship of the building to its complex—and historically significant—site.  Abutted by traditional hutong houses on one side, bulky commercial buildings on the other, and a stone’s throw from the Forbidden City, the Art Center needed to be carefully woven into its context. 

Ole Scheeren Guardian Art Center

View to the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. Courtesy Büro Ole Scheeren

At grade, the eight-story building is an impressive stack of rectilinear forms. The lower half is defined by a jigsaw of interlocking basalt-clad volumes (a motif that has become Scheeren’s signature), which break up the mass of the building, while acknowledging the scale of the adjacent clusters of hutong houses. The complex’s upper floors, to contain the hotel, are housed in floating glass slab, which frames the building’s perimeter.

Scheeren blended subtle references to Chinese history and culture throughout. Circular apertures are sprinkled across the facade like a constellation of stars following a pixelated abstraction of Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains by the 14th-century painter Huang Gongwang. The rectangular glass panels on the upper volume, meanwhile, are meant to evoke the brick of the neighboring, centuries-old hutong dwellings. Scheeren said in a release that such design choices represent “the common people” and “becomes a statement of humbleness in proximity to the imperial Palace, the Forbidden City.”

Still, though the building is meant to be public-facing, it is hardly humble—billed at once by Scheeren’s office and China Guardian as a “Machine for Culture” and a “one-stop art trading center.” In addition to two dedicated auction halls, the building features a 18,300 square-foot column-free hall (about the size of four basketball courts) to stage exhibitions, auctions, and events. The ritzy PuXuan Hotel and Spa is slated to open this spring.

Ole Scheeren Guardian Art Center

Interior view to the grand staircase. Courtesy Iwan Baan

The Art Center’s completion also marks concerted efforts on behalf of its client, China Guardian, to position itself as an even more dominant force in the art market. Since its founding in 1993, the company has conducted more than $8 billion in sales. Its owner, Chen Dongsheng (a grandson-in-law of Mao Zedong) owns a 13.5 percent stake in Sotheby’s. “What we have done today is unprecedented in the world. Guardian Art Center witnesses our efforts in past 25 years,” said Chen when the company began moving into the new facility in November.

These cumulative efforts seem to be working. In late December, China Guardian hosted its inaugural auction at the new Art Center, bringing in nearly $500 million in sales. The $22 million sale of a Chen Yifei oil painting  set a record for the company.

The project’s completion also marks a milestone for Scheeren, who resides in Hong Kong and has a primary office in Beijing. Though the architect has numerous buildings across the globe—including the award-winning Interlace in Singapore, as well as towers underway in Frankfurt and Vietnam—the Guardian Art Center only marks Büro Ole Scheeren’s second major project in the Chinese capital, after the completion of the China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters in 2012.

“Years ago, I have frequently passed by this empty space… So I am not without pride that I was given the chance to build Guardian Art Center, in a way as an effect of my close and long term connection to the city,” Scheeren told Metropolis. “This is, of course, after many years an emotional and key moment for my hard working team in our Beijing office, but also for me personally.”

You might also like, “Büro Ole Scheeren Designs Trio of Terraced Towers for Vietnam.”

Categories: Cultural Architecture