Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects
photographed by Hufton + Crow


When Zaha Hadid Architects' 330,000-square-metre Galaxy Soho complex opened in Beijing last month our readers were left guessing how it relates to the surrounding neighbourhood. This set of images by photographers Hufton + Crow shows just that (+ slideshow).

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid

Completed last month by Zaha Hadid Architects, the retail, office and entertainment complex comprises four domed structures, which are fused together by bridges and platforms around a series of public courtyards and a large central "canyon".

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects

The buildings sit within the second-ring business district in the north-east of the city, but are also prominently visible from the narrow alleyways of the densely populated surrounding neighbourhoods.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects

These ancient passages, named hutongs, have been typical of Beijing's urban fabric for hundreds of years, but have been in decline since the mid-twentieth century as the city's development continues to increase.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects

The architect claims that the buildings respond to and are respectful of China's historic building typologies, with courtyards and "fluid movement" between spaces.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects

"The design responds to the varied contextual relationships and dynamic conditions of Beijing," said Hadid at the time of the opening. "We have created a variety of public spaces that directly engage with the city, reinterpreting the traditional urban fabric and contemporary living patterns into a seamless urban landscape inspired by nature."

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects

The decline of Beiijing's hutongs was one of the issues addressed during this year's Beijing Design Week. The event's director Aric Chen commented during the festival that contemporary China should "slow down" and look to "craft thinking" to deal with the disparity between the country's small and large-scale design challenges.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects

In other recent news, designer Michael Young has tipped China to have a design scene that will rival Japan's in less than 20 years.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid

You can see more images of Galaxy Soho in our earlier story, following the opening last month.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid Architects has also just been selected to design a new national stadium for Japan and completed an art gallery at Michigan State University.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid

See all our stories about Zaha Hadid Architects »

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid

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Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid

Photography is by Hufton + Crow.

Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects

  • blablaigen

    What a horrible thing! The extreme contrast between this abomination of a building and the surrounding neighbourhoods is outrageous and serves to illustrate the arrogance with which starchitects – and especially Zaha Hadid – relates to society. What a shame.

  • Eric

    I’m still left guessing…

  • jotaro

    Were these photos commissioned by anyone, or personal exercises as part of the exposé of a bizarre 21st century China?

  • jago84

    Happy faces all around.

  • GMAC

    Without post-rationalisation this design could be anywhere on the planet. Even the flimsy attempt at GIVING the building context is pretty weak.

    I would prefer it if Hadid and other “starchitects” would just come out and say “we just wanted to design a cool-looking building” as this was inevitably the intent. In this respect it succeeds very well. It looks fantastic but please don’t try and give it any meaning beyond the superficial.

    • DUMb

      Yes, well that’s not going to happen is it! You don’t tell the emperor/empress he/she has no clothes. I mean that would be heresy, best just to make approving noises, throw in some words like amazing, breathtaking but don’t whatever you do rock the architectural establishment’s boat if you know what’s good for you – unless you want to end up stacking supermarket shelves somewhere!

  • alex

    Fits right in then.

  • c-a-s

    Good god! That is seriously bombastic and crass.

    • Novalinnhe

      Thumbs up for use of the word bombastic! :D

  • jordanmathers

    Such is fantasy.

  • John

    This is a clunky egg shaped copy of Oscar Niemeyer – Edificio Niemeyer Belo Horizonte 1954.

  • K. Jayanetra

    Reminds me of Blade Runner.

  • Mihkel

    You should post at least one floor plan of the building, to be clear about content. There are very conservative orhogonal plans inside this building. Plan of the building should be obligatory part of the post on this wall.

  • viktor vektor

    Thank you for these unbelievable images!

  • I was in Beijing earlier this year and these images perfectly illustrate the stark contrast you see on the streets there. I wish I could have taken photos like this. They’re brilliant.

  • ronia

    Most of the pictures look like a collage combining a render with a piece of a totally different environment than a real photograph!

  • Mihkel

    Please add plans about building, typical floorplan, than the picture will be more clear.

  • Craig

    Would love to see some of the money wasted on that awful building invested in aiding that surrounding area. Something tells me they need it more.

    • Novalinnhe

      Amen, Craig! Seeing some of the poverty in these pictures – RIGHT next to this monstrosity – has really, really changed my opinion about Zaha Hadid. No longer a fan!

      • EX FAN

        I stopped being a fan when I went to a lecture given by her: it was literally a slideshow (being passed by Schumacher himself) and her saying: “well, this is… a… well… I think this is in Paris, I’m not sure”.

  • bob

    Amazing. Sometimes the new stuff just doesn’t have to fit in. In this case the clash and contrast looks very interesting (this doesn’t apply when the new stuff is crappy though).

  • Pipo

    Couldn’t believe it before, but it actually is a monstrosity.

  • MissPiciu

    Disgusting thing.

  • JMA

    I have to say I think it fits in pretty well.

    Of course the materiality and scale are different, but this is surely the consequence of rich Chinese developers wanting to maximise their revenue, not Zaha designing something simply because it is ‘cool’.

    When seen in plan it matches and mirrors some of the complex topologies in the surrounding area and creates a really useable space.

    • Lee

      Architecture is a 3-dimensional form appreciated in real space; not just a 2-dimensional planning exercise…

  • Lorenz K.

    It’s a fantastic building in the pure sense of the word. Even more than in Iwan Baan’s photographs it looks like a spaceship – utterly disconnected from its environment. I would argue that’s not a bad thing though. However that fact needs to be embraced, not tried to be covered up by talk about it being a reinterpretation of traditional Chinese buildings (“because it has courtyards, etc.”)…

    I like this visitor from a different galaxy.

  • mavii

    Another alien invasion in China.

  • 3DD

    Most of the Zaha buildings are like that: “look at me I am beautiful.”

    This is not a new way of thinking. Look at some Gothic cathedrals in Europe. When they were build they were absolutely out of scale compare to the surroundings. People were overpowered by their impact, but wouldn’t complain, since it was a house for God. Now money is the new God.

    Time will tell if this architecture will become something.

    • Christian

      Very true. Some of the most unapologetic architecture is driven by the religion of consumerism. In that sense, this building is a good reflection of modern society.

  • iag

    Great photography though.

  • I start to think that the big contrast between this futuristic building and its impoverished environment was PART of the idea. Maybe the Chinese powers-at-be want the lower masses to see those gleaming temples to Capitalism, so they are more willing to slave themselves in pursuit of that inviting mirage, in the middle of a social desert. A very curvaceous carrot, dangling by a stick. That’s what this building is about.

  • FrankGehry

    This building is a welcome edition to the development of Beijing. I understand the comments on large contrasts between the hutongs and this new building by Hadid. Though what these images hardly show is the monstrous concrete buildings in the surrounding area that have swept the hutongs for short term profit. In this case there has been made a significant investment in design and that’s something that can be celebrated on a design blog. Whether Zaha Hadid’s is the right way to fill it in is up for discussion but its likely that this kind of building helps progress; it stimulates to form opinion, pushes manufacturing, and raises quality standards. Together with OMA’s CCTV this shows that slowly more buildings arise on the Beijing horizon that make a statement that are worth keeping. And this I think is far better then any of the concrete blocks thrown around the city for a fast financial return.

    • DUMb

      However regardless of it's obvious architectural, material and build quality – it is still a building that could be (literally) dropped into any city anywhere, a 'better' block for sure (albeit with mammarian overtones), with longer term profits no doubt that has joined the party to sweep away the hutongs. Celebrations all round then bloggers!

  • Ogier de Beauseant

    I suspect the structures would have an amazing impact if seen in person as they would read as a giant monolith. Much like the World Trade Center gave when first approached by exiting a subway nearby.

  • ruben

    Amazing! I passed by last night and it looks quite impressive, it’s part of modern Beijing and people love it!

  • Marrkit

    To all those bemoaning the contrast, nobody worry, the contrast will only be temporary, because its likely that the old and relatively insignificant surrounding neighborhood will soon be knocked down to make room for a new mega Archistatement.

    I mean did you think the Galaxy Soho complex was built on an unused field?

    1.5 Million people were evicted in Beijing to accommodate the 2008 Olympics. Contrasts are a minor detail when you consider the social implications of all the Mega Architecture being developed in Beijing.

  • ddbb

    Disgusting, whatever the context and intentions!

  • Thomas Delight

    I just spewed in my mouth.

  • concerned

    I understand that topography could be percieved as a legitimate concept to base architectural work [ref: @JMA], and in most cases this works. However, when the concept leads to a building being inappropriately force-fed into an urban and social context that clearly is in decay and facing poverty, it seems grossly misinformed.

    Hadid manages to alienate the population even more through this design by pompously advertising the wealth of both herself and her clients, which has led to this starchitecture vibe.

    Architecture, ultimately, is supposed to consider the people, societies and the urban context in which it is located, and this is simply not reflected in this monstrosity.

  • Onelab

    Chinese developers still believe that investing in real estate is the way to go. Only time will tell if they have made the right decision with the building.

    For me: I like the building I see in these pictures. I generally like Hadid’s architecture, the sleek forms and curvy designs. Whether or not it is appropriate for this site I cannot tell until I have actually seen it with my own eyes.

    As commented above: some drawings containing site/section and plans would be very welcome to better understand this building.

    Not every building should be built according to a genius loci (and what would it have been considering it was build on half a slum?). Just think of the old cathedrals in Europe or the first skyscrapers in the US, as commented before above.

    I truly dislike the the architect-bashing which is so common these days on this site and all the people who post comments which utter just disgust without adding anything to the discussion. The bashing is just jealousy and if you can’t add anything sensible: please refrain from adding a comment!

    As for a non-Chinese architect designing such a building in China: it’s up to their conscience (or is it their responsibility to the people they employ in the offices?) to decide whether or not to accept this commission.

    As a building: I like what I see. Does it fit? I can’t tell yet.

    • Novalinnhe

      Jealousy? Not quite. As a 19 year old student and passionate environmentalist, I’m sat here fuming at the absolute unfairness of plonking such a luxurious, expensive, and government-paid building into the middle of what is obviously a very poor area. That is certainly what *I* am angry about, and I am sure I speak for a good number of commenters.

      The people walking past in old shirts and coats, on their way to the modest jobs they have, are probably only just able to afford their taxes. And was the money they gave invested back into their lives, or their neighbourhoods, or even their children? The people who will have contributed the millions and millions of yen required to fund this building – did they benefit from any of it?


      Architecture for architecture’s sake is wrong, both philosophically and morally. Period. It demonstrates the same “out-of-touch”edness we so despise from the majority of politicians. It’s a cold-hearted arrogance, an incurable aloofness which architecture seems to have developed – and something which both society and the world in general should not be forced to play host to.

      In short: this building looks good – or believes it looks good – but it flies with absolutely no shame in the face of everything and everyone around it. A fantastic structural embodiment of Disney’s Cruella De Vil.

  • tmo

    Such BS. What does SoHo even mean there? So long Houtong? Yeah, this thing is going to look great when there are no tenants and there is no one to maintain it. Seen it all too often with other vanity projects around Beijing.

  • xfory

    At least they could have been honest and say that a recent graduate was playing around in Maya/Rhino and this shape came up. It looked so cool that they decided to ignore the surroundings. That’s how ZHA does urban planning. Another good example of this arrogance is Kartal-Pendik Master Plan in Istanbul.

  • Gayle

    If you don’t have visionaries we all would be living back in 80s or the 50s or the 20s with whatever architecture was current. Come on people let’s move forward and embrace brilliant new architecture and try and place it in 20 years time or 100 years time. Don’t be jealous, be inspired.

    • concerned

      I’m sorry but I disagree with your comment (respectfully though).

      In my opinion, you don’t have to give up intelligence and appropriateness in a creative industry. Designs and architecture that responds to and holistically connects with the social, cultural and urban context is a must – but this does not mean that the design cannot be brilliant, unique and inspiring.

      Being able to translate reasoned and intelligent concepts into a well delivered and appropriate design is what makes someone an architectural visionary, not their grandiose yet misinformed gestures.

    • Novalinnhe

      Please do not use the word “jealousy” when debating on a design website which incorporates such a massive slice of the design world. A textile artist reading this article, for example, will find it very hard to feel any sort of jealous at all – it’s not part of their world. The majority of people commenting on this article are simply laymen with opinions – the very people who would be standing at street level looking up at it.

      These are the opinions which are – rather, should be – the most valid to any socially aware architect. Sadly, they are a dying breed.

  • PeterB

    When this building was first shown, it looked rather like the result of an intern’s modelling play with a stack of left-over foamboard. Now that it can be seen in context, I can’t say that view of it has been changed. But what is now revealed, is that the building has also been fitted with a roof apparently lifted from the British Museum courtyard.

    Unfortunately for the surrounding population, I would say that they are soon very likely to be pushed out of the district in a bout of social engineering. Not a nice result for them, or their community.

    Ground-breaking? Progress? Depends who is paying.

  • I’m not a big fan myself, but I wonder how else an architect could respond to a commission for a 330,000-square-meter complex… should Zaha have just rejected the job? Submit a larger masterplan that would destroy the neighbourhood anyway? I’m really asking!

  • Vampire

    This is something for insects for sure, not human though. Ant-hill?

  • Mr.J

    This project looks like sliced eggs that have been morphed together in a forced marriage.

  • Jinger

    Great photos! Welcome to Beijing – a lot of the place looks like this. Hadid is not the first to revel in the clash of styles that reverberates through the city. If you don’t like it, you’re too nostalgic and you don’t belong in the 21st century. Go get a (beige) cardigan.

  • J.Z.

    From the outside it looks like a butt.

  • This is just horrific. Chinese cities have already developed too fast whilst destroying their local and cultural identities (e.g. the hutongs) with developments such as this one by Hadid. It is simply adding to this lack of character and context!

  • a2d1

    It’s a shame that this new series of pictures focus ONLY on the lower neighbouring areas, making the Hadid project look as if laid in the middle of nowhere. Why did Dezeen choose not to publish any pictures taken that show the building as it sits within the other 3rd ring road buildings?

  • Max

    This SOHO development echoes all the other recent projects by the same developer. Very soon, when there are large ugly signs and other mismatching “content” filled into the building, it will soon become eclectic, mundane and far less photogenic (whether or not this is good or bad is subjective). This happened to Jianwai, Chaowai, Sanlitun and countless other SOHOs in Beijing. This project is perhaps a step forward in terms of styiling, but the there is nothing new or interesting about the building (plans, arrangement or inner relationships), at least not in a Chinese context. The detailing, finish and materials are horrendous. There are far better examples of new architecture in Beijing which works both commercially and contextually. And soon, when every backwater on earth has got their own Zaha, this one will surely not end up among the ‘selected works’.

  • Peter Zhang

    Hutongs are horrible places to live. The great majority of them are old, filthy, dangerous cesspools of disease. Often you cannot find indoor toilets, but most share outdoor toilet with several families.

    Chinese people have a difficult time understanding the moral indignation of some westerners. If for aesthetic reasons, I can understand the disagreement. But why there is so much anger for a futuristic building near a hutong? Hutongs date to Yuan Dynasty. Isn’t it time for a change?

    Do westerners despise progress in Asia because of the so-called white guilt? I often feel westerners enjoy travel to foreign lands only to see people at arms length: less advanced, like animals in the zoo.

    I have live on Nanzhugan Hutong, since 2006. It is literally 10 seconds west of Galaxy SOHO. I saw the large open construction hole as I crossed the footbridge back home every day and saw every stage of this construction.

    Ten seconds north of Galaxy SOHO, you’ll find Chaoyangmen Soho, followed by the Bank of China headquarters, largest BoC in China. Across the street from there, you’ll find the headquarters of China’s two largest oil companies, Sinopec and CNOOC.

    If you think Galaxy SOHO was dumped in the middle of a hutong, you’re wrong. It’s placed along east second ring road, in a part of Beijing that has received a lot of development in past 20 years.

    In fact, the adjacent hutong seen in these photographs is one of last strips of hutongs in this entire area. I walked this hutong a few times, but prefer to avoid it. That hutong is narrow and dirty, with trash everywhere, like low-income slum for criminals or migrants with no hukou, not paying into the tax system. There are often muggings, expositioners and other such crimes along the bushes just south of Galaxy (along and next to the hutong) as you travel to Jinbao Jie, the next well-groomed street with Ferrari dealership, Ogilvy and gorgeous French-owned hotel.

    My building is no better than a large square. I see Galaxy outside my window and dream to live in a new place like this. Children stare at it on their way to the subway. People roller-skate here at night and talk about the building. Some do not like the precise shape of the curves. But most are very happy to see this structure in our neighbourhood. We want it here. It can inspire us in a way Temple of Heaven or Forbidden City never can. You maybe see it as the symbol of western influence on an ancient culture. I do not. Most people I know do not. We want to be part of the way of future. We do not want to get left behind again. We want our children to see Galaxy SOHO and have the dream of flying to the moon.

    • Ralph Kent

      “Do westerners despise progress in Asia because of the so-called white guilt?”

      Not personally, Peter, and I don’t think it’s a widely held view either. I just find the shadow-banking mentality and phoney infrastructure projects that we are seeing in China more than a little bizarre and obviously hugely wasteful. As you know, many of these buildings will be demolished before they have been occupied – Ordos being the classic.

      This project appears to be a shameful waste of resources (some claim heritage) in a pathetic attempt to play out a Cold War mentality via GDP figures. I would object to this happening anywhere in the world, Asia, Europe, the US – but it seems particularly widespread in China, which is why I think projects like this attract so much vitriol.

      Given you live so close to it, could you tell us how much of Soho Galaxy is currently occupied / let?

  • Reenie

    Architecture can only do so much. Aesthetically I agree that this building is not fluid with the surrounding hutong neighborhoods, but after visiting Beijing last month and going to see this project (which at the time was almost completely built but having a hard time filling up with tenants) I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the social activity that occurs in the hutongs fluidly occurring in these public spaces. This included kids running around with tricycles, hacky sack groups, people playing cards, and possibly some dance groups.

    Earlier in the day I had visited Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid in which I expected more activity of this sort to be happening, only to find that the whole thing is gated and patrolled. You cannot even enter as a visitor wanting to see the building.

    It’s not all architecture’s duty or fault. It also depends on the people running the building. Seeing this building in the way I did proved to me that Chinese street life and the Chinese people are incredibly resilient, especially when dealing with their surroundings.

    There are always going to be avant-garde architecture projects. Right now this is happening in China, although I do hope that it doesn’t happen at the expense of all of the hutongs, which I find incredibly interesting.