Guangzhou’s Got Game

  • Guangzhou's Got Game.

    Guangzhou's Got Game.

  • Guangzhou’s new landmarks include the cubelike Guangdong Museum and the latticework Guangzhou TV tower.

    Guangzhou’s new landmarks include the cubelike Guangdong Museum and the latticework Guangzhou TV tower.

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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 ( 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”)

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