Curvilinearism: The Rise of Curved Architecture in China


Made famous through the works of Antoni Gaudi and Zaha Hadid, the style of curvilinearism has been propelled into the forefront of architectural consciousness. With China as the world’s development hotspot, cities like Beijing, Suzhou and Huzhou are increasingly become breeding grounds for innovative architectural designs

By: Leo Lian, Beijing Sotheby’s International Realty 

Posted on: November 1, 2019

Soho building by Zaha Hadid Beijing

Curvilinear architecture can be found worldwide, often under our very noses. Traditional Chinese buildings are famous for their curved features, particularly ‘Gongs’ which are imperial buildings or buildings of importance with winged edges. Turn west and witness churches with conical spires or mosque roofs decorated with golden domes. These religious buildings offer a glimpse into the largely undisclosed history of architectural curvilinearism. This form of structural design is not necessarily new – architects throughout history have taken inspiration from nature, where the most common form is, you guessed it, the curve. 

But there are two sides to this coin and China, as an international property development hotspot, has a large part to play in the rise of this curved form of design. Chinese cities growing at lightning-speed provide architects with a license to push their creative capabilities beyond what is possible in other parts of the world. Increase in demand for new buildings allows architects to trial new designs, ripping up the rule book and exceeding expectations. It is, therefore, unsurprising that we see the rise of this weird and wonderful form of architecture in China, more than in any other destination. 

Major Contributors to Curvilinearism

The National Stadium Beijing, Bird's Nest

Zaha Hadid can be credited as a trailblazer for the movement in Asia, pushing the boundaries of acceptability for the continent. Hadid’s SOHO buildings in Beijing take inspiration from historical Chinese courtyards, combining classical with the contemporary. The SOHO complexes are designed to represent the variation and dynamic nature of Beijing’s ever-changing environment, integrating China’s history with China’s future. 

This form of post-modernist architecture can be found outside of the commercial real estate market, seen elsewhere in the form of national monuments, parks and structures. The Beijing National Stadium, known colloquially as the ‘Bird’s Nest’, signifies the deep relationship between curvilinearism and nature. Now seen as an international icon, the building was the focal point of the 2008 Olympics and remains a crucial advocate for curved building designs. 

Horseshoe Hotel Beijing

Plans containing yet more curvilinear architecture are being approved across China, including the Suzhou Zhongnan Centre. The skyscraper is projected to be 729m with sides arching towards the peak of the building, following the curved trend. In Huzhou, the ‘Horseshoe Hotel’ was completed in 2013 with a Torus geometrical shape, being accredited as the third best “new skyscraper for design and functionality”. China clearly has an appetite for curvilinearism. 

Transition to Residences

Moving down from the high heights of commercial skyscrapers and onto street level, we are beginning to see curvilinear designs permeate the residential property market. Twisting Courtyard, a property currently on offer for rent through Beijing Sotheby’s International Realty, is a prime example of this transfusion. Evident within the property is a blend of classical features and curvilinear design. Indoors, undulated flooring is met by asymmetric curved walls, creating an open and active living space. Step outdoors into the more traditional Chinese courtyard and bear witness to the classical side of Chinese architecture. The winding tiled paths curve around a hawthorn tree centrepiece, as is typical with Chinese courtyards. The property is symbolic of the increase in curvilinear architectural design, but maintaining the crucial elements that define Chinese architecture. 

Twisting Courtyard Beijing China

With China’s population increasing at 0.6% per year and property being developed at a pace to match, it is no surprise that more diverse and interesting forms of architectural design are growing in popularity within the country. Curvilinearism succinctly expresses the culture, history and nature of China, showcasing its attractiveness to prospectus architects and developers. For those looking to track the development of this structural art form, keep a wayward eye on China. 

Twisting Courtyard Beijing China Curved Architecture


Leo Lian Beijing Sotheby's International RealtyLeo Lian joined the team at Beijing Xin Rui Zeng Yi International Real Estate Brokerage Co., Ltd (Beijing Sotheby’s International Real) in April 2014 when it first launched. As a Business Development Director, he is responsible for the branding and business development department with a strong focus on new development and sales overseas. Previously, Leo was the Project Director at Beijing Xin Rui Zeng Yi International Investment Management Co., Ltd, Xicheng District Beijing. He looked after the project team, selecting and managing company projects, handling overseas investments for clients.

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