I’ve been photographing SOM’s Beijing Financial Street for a few years now and it’s quite a remarkable transformation of the several city blocks of hutongs it replaced. Our first shoot involved the facades and interiors of two perimeter buildings while the vast majority of the remaining site was still a rather large but inspiring, hole in the ground.The whole development is now nearing completion and includes a landscaped plaza, two five-star hotels, several major office buildings, a sizable retail mall and an endless supply of neighbouring apartments.
The odd thing though, is that it really doesn’t feel like Beijing. Or at least the Beijing I was familiar with. Tree-lined streets, laid out in a grid pattern, dense low-scale structures…
I mention this not as a criticism of the design, merely a reflection on the experience of walking around the site. I didn’t feel like I was in China. It must be said that the various areas within the site are doing exactly what they were supposed to. That is, the large open parkland draws local families and visitors with activities, plenty of public seating and an impressive water fountain (well, for the first twenty times you see it). The curved avenue of retail outlets and eateries are buzzing at lunch with the surrounding corporate employees and the luxury hotels add an ever-changing international face to the passing crowds.
There are several viewpoints in particular where the experience takes on a strange hyper-reality. At these moments it is possible to look around an almost full 360° and see nothing that wasn’t designed by SOM. To all intents and purposes, I could have been standing in a giant 3D rendering.
In that sense, it was one of the most successful large scale projects I have seen come to fruition. Everything, well almost everything, was where it should be according to the renderings. The trees, the building, the cars, the signs, the people. Just so.
Life imitating art.