Galaxy Soho Mall, No. 7A Small Arch Hutong Beijing, China
Borden, Dan, Pretty, Vacant: Zaha’s New Beijing Bubbles, Uncube Magazine, 21 January 2014.
The Galaxy Soho building, located in Beijing, China, is shining of beacon of modern architecture in the skyline of one of China’s largest cities. However the building is plagued with issues of “vacancy, doppelgängers, and the heritage lobby.” Designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, the building consists of 4 office blocks, 15 stories high, that appear as smooth, white mounds. Borden likens the visage to eggs, hills, and “water-smoothed stones.” These organic shapes are “brilliantly rational” with layers of “white aluminum planes separated by wrap-around tinted glass, like a gigantic stepped topographic model.
The mall building is part of a new business model by Chinese businessman and developer Pan Shiyi. He and his wife have bankrolled numerous new structures in China using “cutting edge design to draw sophisticated office and retail tenants.” 6 months after its opening, however, the mall was reported to have a “100% vacancy rate.” Despite this occupancy rate, the mall “employs an army of workers to scrub the city’s pollution from its lovely skin,” removing the grime of China’s smog from the exterior of the building.
The mall has also faced criticism from the public that it has contributed to the destruction of Beijing's architectural and cultural history. The mall’s site is still referred to on some maps by its previous name “No. 7A Small Arch Hutong” a “centuries-old neighborhood of authentic courtyard buildings that was bulldozed in the name of progress.” While the Royal Institute of British Architects honored architect Zaha Hadid with an award for her work on the Galaxy Mall, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre contested this decision, writing that the mall had “caused great damage to the preservation of the old Beijing streetscape.”
Singh, Bryna, Controversy over US$10 million donation to Yale: 7 things about China's power couple Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, The Straight Times, 30 October 2014.
This article outlines the unexpected rise of China’s power couple of modern developers. Pan Shiyi and his wife Zhang Xin founded Soho China, one of China’s largest real estate companies for commercial property development. Both husband and wife have unexpected rags to riches stories. Singh contributes their success to “innovative architecture, clever land deals, and shrewd business sense.”
Their “humble beginnings” were both with very poor, families. Pan was born in rural village to a teacher father and an invalid mother. Zhang was born in Beijing but moved to Hong Kong when she was 14 where “she worked in various factories and saved up enough after several years for an education abroad.” After university, Pan began to work at the Ministry of Petroleum Industry. In 1988 he left to try his hand in business with no personal wealth or savings. He began to invest in real estate and began to find success.
The company Pan and Zhang started together, Soho China, is “regarded as Asia's largest commercial real estate IPO.” The company introduced the idea of small offices and home offices to a Chinese real estate market which had never utilized those types of spaces. They own successful hotels, offices, and commercial real estate buildings in Beijing and Shanghai. Zhang also owns a “40 per cent stake of New York's iconic General Motors building in midtown Manhattan.”
However the couple’s business successes are rivaled by their public presence. Singh explains that they are “hugely influential figures in China” appearing on television, movies, and amassing a massive online following.
Kimmelman, Michael, Zaha Hadid, Groundbreaking Architect, Dies at 65, The New York Times, 31 March 2016.
Kimmelman’s obituary chronicles the life of Zaha Hadid-- an “ Iraqi-born British architect whose soaring structures left a mark on skylines and imaginations around the world and in the process reshaped architecture for the modern age.” Kimmelman credits Hadid, an Iraqi woman, with “liberating architectural geometry” by creating structures whose “formal fluidity” and organic shapes convey “mobility, speed, [and] freedom.”
In discussing her work Hadid once said ““I am non-European, I don’t do conventional work and I am a woman...On the one hand all of these things together make it easier — but on the other hand it is very difficult.” She was the first woman to win architecture's version of the Nobel Prize, the Pritzker Prize, and to win Britain's RIBA Gold Medal.
Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid joined a family of progressive Iraqis with ties to the United Kingdom. Her father was educated in London and “headed a progressive party advocating for secularism and democracy in Iraq.” During her childhood Baghdad was a “cosmopolitan hub of modern ideas.” She attended a Catholic school “where students spoke French, and Muslims and Jews were welcome.” She later studied in Beirut and the Architectural Association in London where she was inspired by the Russian avant-gardes Tatlin, Lissitzky, and Malevich.
In the early years of her architectural career, Hadid developed a reputation as a “theoretical designer of groundbreaking forms.” The designs were thrilling, groundbreaking, and difficult to build.
Hadid was also no stranger to controversy during her career. Her constructions in countries such as Azerbaijan and Qatar were criticized for the evictions of local families and the use of foreign laborers in their construction. While some of the criticism appears to be valid, much of it Kimmelman deems as unfair.
This did not deter Hadid from continuing to to design highly conceptual buildings. The New York Times called her work on The Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati “the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War.” The Maxxi Museum of Modern Art in Rome is one of the only modern buildings to fill the ancient city’s skyline.
Hadid was a pioneer “for women” and “for what cities can aspire to build and for the art of architecture.”
Hessler, Peter, Hutomg Karma, The New Yorker, Feb 13, 2006
A Hutong, like the one destroyed for the creation of the Galaxy Soho Mall, is an alley way or a courtyard that utilizes communal ways of living to help deal with and survive the extreme poverty in these areas. The Hutongs house many people in close residences, in most cases these people share an entrance to their home or apartment with another half dozen residents. Most people living in a Hutong also do not have access to a private bathroom, thus there are plenty of public restrooms within these courtyards.
The architecture of a Hutong could not differ more from Hadid’s work. Brick, tile, and closed in spaces define a Hutong residence.
The communities of a Hutong are very tight knit, most people are close neighbors and the merchants often know their shoppers by name.