Drum roll… SOHO
Considering the number of SOHO’s that have been built in the 6 years that I’ve been living in Beijing, SOHO Galaxy would seem a fitting name for the whole group of them. But no this is just one of the twoshopping centers currently under construction in Beijing designed by Zaha ( + one more in Shanghai). There more Beijing SOHO’s than you can count with your fingers (SOHO New Town, Jianwai SOHO, SOHO Shangdu, Chaowai SOHO, Guanghualu SOHO, Guanghualu SOHO II, Beijing SOHO Residences, ZhongGuanCun SOHO, Sanlitun SOHO, Qianmen Avenue, Chaoyangmen SOHO I, Chaoyangmen SOHO II, and Galaxy SOHO)
Headed by the billionaire outfit developing couple described by The Times of London as ‘China’s most visible and flamboyant property tycoons’, ‘SOHO China Limited’ have claimed the old London district’s name as their brand. A name not derived from King Henry 8th’s hunting cry on London’s celluloid and sex driven quarter, disappointingly, but instead the conveniently rounded and plump acronym Small Office/Home Office. Or as what’s defined in London planning regulations as Work/live space.
A quick waltz around Beijing on a freezing winter day last week took me to 5 SOHO’s nearby my home. The older SOHO’s (and by old I mean 3 or more years old) were desperately populated, high tech looking buildings filled with the type of shops, had they been located elsewhere other than SOHO shopping mall, that have the more traditional Chinese work/live arrangement that involves a bed behind the counter. Generally the hot lower level locations were run as cheap lunchtime staple-food joints, presumably for those working in the CBD but trying to save for that overinflated dowry apartment (on how china property soaring prices, price bachelors out of the marriage market) in the upper levels of SOHO, or not being able to afford the type of lunch their CBD job suggests.
The newly completed ones (Sanlitun SOHO being a prime, well known example) were empty colossuses with a few brand shops in the road side entrances and a scattering islanded coffee shops. An entire atrium devoid of slogans, logo’s or any of the trimmings of the commercial shopping experience clanged and bounced along instead to the sounds of the only commercial enterprise there, an ammusment arcade on the ground floor. The grandness of the struture laying in emptyness and begining a life of disused decay led me draw comparisions to the english seaside Pier. An ambitious and once grand gesture now stuck in Limbo between enevitable decay and ruin and the unimaginably high costs of demolition vs rehabilitation. Dufully I headed into the arcade and exchaged my pictures of mao for local coin. Me and my companion were the only ones in there as we started on a game as a gun slinging cop duo accending a high rise shopping/office development in a lift which would occasionally open for us to be swamped with mutants, zombies and other creatures you would typically expect to find in a vibrant high rise shopping development. But the arcade machine had taken it to the next stage. It’s gimic, an actual pair of elevator doors between us and the screen. The games generic architecture and rendering mirrored the lifelessness of the mall which housed it. By adding the real elevator doors the developers of the game had bought the player a step closer to reality, a step to address reality that the SOHO developers have overlooked.
SOHO Galaxy CGI flythrough
Here are some more picures I’ve taken of the SOHO galaxy development
My days tour finished at SOHO Galaxy, the latest installment led by Zaha Hadid’s architecture office. This building being more iconic that the previous SOHO developments and obviously aimed at the very highest tier of small office/home office purchasers. Where most other SOHO’s have failed, for there guestures of modernity and high tech becoming to readily rendered cheap with a crass flambouyance and lack of inteligent design, this one atempts to ammend. Zaha Hadid who’s name and design has been cashed in on by more than a few provincial party leaders should attract the hip and rich which seems to be the market which most appeals to the SOHO couple Zhang and Pan. The SOHO developments I more readily view as an entrance of the billionaire couple onto a scene of their own fantasy. This one may work out and like the similar Sanlitun village development be a hub of shopping in Beijing.
For more on Zhang Xin one half of the SOHO couple see Beijing Billionaire Who Grew Up With Mao Sees No Housing Bubble
And the other half PanShiYi on his Weibo account here