Above: Outside the Zaha Hadiddesigned Guangzhou Opera House.
Change is in the air for China’s largest southern city.
By Nicholas Walton
Guangzhou, China’s Factory Floor, has long been a city you had to go to, rather than wanted to; a destination for business, but not really for leisure. Yet the winds of change are blowing even here. In the leadup to the city’s hosting of the 16th Asian Games (gz2010.cn) in November—an event larger than the Beijing Olympics in terms of the number of athletes attending and sports conducted—sleepy, smoggy Guangzhou has been quietly transforming itself into a place that you just might want to visit.
The Pearl River New City is where much of city’s makeover is taking place. This 15-square-kilometer swath is now home to rows of sparkling office towers, five-star hotels, and some of the region’s most ambitious cultural centers. Crowning it all is the Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower, a 618-meter-tall latticework needle whose tapered midsection has earned it the nickname Xiao Man Yao—“Slim Hips.” Slated to open in time for the Games, the tower will be home to a 4-D cinema and exhibition space, two rotating restaurants, and a soaring observation deck.
Another new landmark is the cubist beauty of the new Guangdong Museum, a boxy, black-and-red structure designed by Hong Kong’s Rocco Yim, who took his inspiration from a Chinese lacquer box. Divided into four exhibition halls, its collection will range from centuries-old porcelain and ivory carvings to Cantonese textiles and artifacts, including a 40-meterlong dragon boat.
Then there’s Pritzker Prize–winning architect Zaha Hadid’s eye-catching Guangzhou Opera House, which sits like two angular stones on the banks of the Pearl River. Opened in May with a performance of Puccini’s Turandot, this is China’s third-largest theater space, with two halls seating up to 1,800 people.
Across the water, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Asian Games will be held in a purpose-built stadium on Haixinsha Island, a sliver of greenery in the midst of the Pearl River. When the Games are over, the island will be converted into a public park, adding to the extensive greenways that have already been planted across the city.
And where to stay to appreciate it all? Five-star hotel brands have been quick to stake a claim in Pearl River New City, including a stunning Ritz-Carlton, located next to the museum and with great views to the TV tower, and a Four Seasons, to be located on the upper floors of the 103-story IFC Guangzhou tower, which opens next year.
Originally appeared in the October/November 2010 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Guangzhou’s Got Game”)