Dashanzi 798 Art District, Beijing

Oct 1, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized

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Think NYC early Soho meets Palermo Viejo in Buenos Aires with a boho-industrial charm, and ghosts of Maoist factory workers marching under grey skies and belching smoke stacks high above.  Throw in some influential artists, the foresight of a Texan bookshop owner, a decade of increasingly permissible artistic expression, along with caffeine, some hipsters and a bit of glamor, and you have the Dashanzi 798 Art District in Beijing.

Sometimes called Factory 798, or 798 Art District, this area was created as a Communist industrial complex in the early 1950s.  It is one of the world’s best examples of the conversion of disused factories and warehouses into a place of unique culture: art galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, history and architecture now attract international tourists who appreciate art along with something a bit off the beaten path.  Its also the best place in Beijing to find good coffee.

When the project was first started as a joint initiative with Russia and East Germany (who as building got underway in 1954 bickered over design aesthetic and level of earthquake safety), the area was farmland on the outskirts of Beijing.  It now sits firmly within Beijing’s sprawl between the airport and downtown.

The Germans led the architectural plans, and the large, naturally lit indoor spaces are some of the best examples of the functional Bauhaus-influenced design anywhere in the world.  It is therefore very appropriate that the area, as it fell into disuse, became an area for unlikely social statement and almost permissible public political expression, via street art.  That artistic spirit is now nurtured and celebrated in all the alleyways and dark corners of the area.  It still has areas that you feel you shouldn’t go into, and occasionally see men in lab coats disappearing into locked doorways, adding mystery to the marvel.  My favorite place in China.

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