Since dynastic times, Beijing has been an image-conscious city – anxious to portray a particular face to its citizenry, and to the world at large. In the early days of Communist rule, Soviet functionality predominated, though things have recently taken a turn towards the cool and stylish – indeed, Beijing has undergone the kind of urban transformation usually only seen after a war. Esteemed architects from across the globe have been roped in for a series of carte blanche projects and, though the overall results have been hit and miss, some of the buildings are truly astounding. The best include the fantastic Olympic venues from 2008 (the “Bird’s Nest” and “Water Cube”); Paul Andreu’s National Theatre (the “Egg”); and, perhaps most striking of all, the CCTV headquarters (the “Twisted Doughnut”) by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, which appears to defy gravity with its intersecting Z-shaped towers.

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