Stunning, edgy, avant-garde… These are not adjectives previously associated with Beijing’s architecture which has traditionally been known for its classical designs dating from imperial times and its more recent communist modernism. However over the last few years a new wave of unconventional and striking architectural masterpieces has been springing up around the city.

Even upon arrival in the city, the visitor to Beijing is immediately struck with the design of the new airport expansion at Beijing International, which resembles an ice block. Traveling around the city, other unconventional and innovative structures catch visitors’ eyes.

(modern architecture) CCTV Headquarters

Hosting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games inspired a number of dramatic sporting venues, including the unusual “bird’s nest” Olympic Stadium. This is a skeletal structure of steel and concrete designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzong and Pierre de Meuron, who also created the Tate Gallery Modern in London.

The recently completed new headquarters for CCTV, China's state television network, is a dramatic and innovative design in the shape of a continuous, vertical loop with no right angles, and is nicknamed the “twisted donut”. It dominates the skyline in the city center. Next door are the offices and studios for the tv station, in the shape of a horizontal trapezoid. Both these buildings were designed by the team of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and are part of the new and rapidly developing central business district.

Next to the massive example of the Mao-era communal architecture of Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People is the astonishing modern “alien egg” structure of the new National Theatre. This titanium and glass building, surrounded by water, was designed by French architect Paul Andreu.

The challenge for Beijing’s urban planners is balancing the construction boom of new infrastructure and sometimes controversial landmark buildings with the preservation of portions of older architectural masterpieces such as the courtyard homes, (The Temple of Heaven roof detail) The Temple of Heaven roof detail. walled gardens and interconnecting hutongs (alleyways) dating from several hundred years ago. Famous examples of imperial architecture are the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and other halls, arched gates and bridges around Beijing. These are internationally famous for their use of stone, timber and glazed tile and their eye-catching use of color, decorative carving and curved roof lines. However many other classic older architectural styles are of humble origin, originally being laborers’ and craftsmen’s homes, but they represent an important element in Beijing’s history and architectural style.

A visit to Beijing is an architectural feast. Around the city visitors will be greeted with inspiring, surprising and occasionally controversial landmark structures spanning the centuries from the imperial dynasties, through communist-style, through to contemporary innovative examples of 21st century architecture.