As Beijing celebrates its “green Olympics”, greens dot contemporary settings too—as here in Jinwai Soho, Beijing.
Green represents the Chinese scholar tree, symbol of luck and happiness. Its strong, firm and unyielding nature also represents the locals.
Green spaces are prized across China—gardens, natural reserves, lakesides. There is an immense calm in these gardens. In the mornings, people walk mossy paths shaded by plane trees, exercise and cycle past lotus ponds, sip tea by the water under sweeping willows.
The new geometric architecture marries well with sculpted landscaping. Indoors and outdoors are unified with plants. At Ikea in Beijing, I saw a retired Chinese couple loading a single plant on to their cycle cart. They had cycled down two ring roads to get there—and all they had bought was this beautiful plant.
Glossy white finishes are typical of contemporary design in products and interiors. In the reception area of a large publishing house shown here, the coolness of white and transparent crystal contrasts with the warmth of the wood. The texture and shape of letters adds a sense of cultural context in a modern space.
Chinese intellectuals have worn white jade as a symbol of intellectual integrity for decades. This stone is a symbol of good luck. Though it can vary in colour from transparent white to the deep green of water, it is valued for its translucent glaze.
This same quality is prized in porcelain in China. And today we see it in the finish of high quality tiles and paintwork on furniture and in dining room screens.
The colour of the Imperial City finds a fresh setting in a café at Houhai Lake. Red is a significant colour in China—auspicious, a symbol of life and luck.
The red palace walls, the entrance to Mao’s mausoleum, the red-painted doorways of the stores along Houhai Lake, red lanterns at festivals and the iconic red at Chinese weddings all call on it. Traditionally, red is often combined with shades of green, yellow or blue.
In contemporary use, red is matched with black, grey and hot pink in interiors, objects and signage—terracotta red on large wall surfaces, velvet red in furnishings and upholstery, vivid lacquered red in accessories, distressed red for wood. The look is urban, created with new architecture or the refurbishing of older industrial areas.
This year, yellow has been forecast as a leading colour in interior design and fashion. Here, a window display in a Nike showroom has golden athletes jumping a golden hurdle perforated with traditional patterns of ornamentation.
Extended into shining gold, yellow is the imperial colour, once forbidden to all but the emperor. It is a colour considered spiritual and intellectual.
The roofs of the Forbidden City are aglow with gold. Yellow glaze highlights the tiles and ceramic figures of guardian animals on the roofs.
Prized in most cultures, gold is being used in contemporary architecture as an adornment. New technologies of construction have enabled a fresh expression of “going for gold” in the context of the Olympics.
Shades of blue are seen in a set of contemporary furniture, albeit with traditional references, in fashion designer Kam’s studio in Shanghai.
Blue is considered a heavenly colour by the Chinese, hinting at history and creativity. Blue is the colour of the sky in Beijing in summer and on clear autumn days.
Traditional Chinese porcelain, of course, mixes blue with white.
In more recent times, we found it in an old lab in Shanghai where Kam has his studio in a very pedestrian building block. This set of old fashioned tables and chairs breaks out of the traditional mode in its use of colour to highlight the grooves and hollows. And it is thoroughly modern in its modular function. The way the pieces come together reminded me of a tangram puzzle, though that was not what Kam intended.
This is the tone of much of China’s traditional architecture, including the Great Wall. Older citizens use a broomstick-sized brush to “paint” calligraphy with water for “ink” on stone pavements, as here at the Temple of Heaven.
Small grey bricks lend texture to the architecture of Beijing’s old streets, such as the Hutongs, the ancient lanes around the Forbidden City.
In Shanghai, a restoration project uses the same grey to convert the Xintiandi area into a fashionable shopping and dining district. In contemporary Chinese interiors, grey concrete walls are being left bare. Vast industrial factories are being converted into centres for the arts, softened by the texture of wood furniture, perhaps painted a Chinese red, matte or lacquered.
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