Strategically positioned at the boundary of Beijing’s Forbidden City, Büro Ole Scheeren’s Guardian Art Center is a contemporary response to Chinese cultural history and a new anchor for the community.

The layered structure of interlocking volumes constructed of grey stone, glass bricks and steel is a cool addition to the historic area, where it neighbours governmental buildings, the National Art Museum of China and Beijing’s most popular shopping thoroughfare, Wangfujing.

The Guardian Art Center therefore sits on the national stage and for Scheeren its architecture makes a statement that speaks of the present: ‘For China, it’s important on many levels as it takes a new position on contemporary architecture, tradition and value,’ says Scheeren.

The double height entrance to the Guardian Art Center. Photography: Iwan Baan

The design abstractly layers Chinese artistic and urban culture into its form – circular apertures embedded into the façade are patterned to reflect the undulating forms of the Fuchun Mountains captured by the treasured 14th century painter Huang Gongwang.

Yet the materials always offer an astute temperance of past and present – the brick pattern of the upper volume references the traditional architecture of the domestic hutong, however Scheeren builds with glass bricks that appear smooth and solid from the exterior, yet transparent from within bringing floods of light into the interior.

Similarly, the grey basalt stone of the lower volume is commonly used in older Chinese buildings, yet in Scheeren’s design it forms a series of playful cuboids rendering it modern in style.

The exterior shapes reflect the variation of interior functions of the Guardian Art Center, which holds exhibition and event space, auction halls, art storage and a boutique hotel within its walls.

The upper and lower volumes of the building are distinctly arranged to refer to the interior programme. Photography: Iwan Baan

‘The building brings art and culture back to Beijing’s centre,’ says Scheeren – the late 90s saw a shift in the city’s artistic centre to the 798 Art District, yet Scheeren sees the Guardian Art Center as a new pull for the art world and its community back to the heart of the city.

Scheeren’s design was the one that was selected out of 30 different designs put forward to Beijing’s planners over the course of 15 years.

‘They were concerned to find an architecture and an architect who would comprehend the context in a respectful way,’ says Scheeren, whose CCTV building in Beijing in the Central Business District for China Central Television (CCTV) Headquarters was selected back in 2002 for almost the opposite reasons: ‘The CCTV was dedicated to the future,’ says Scheeren of his last Beijing project which completed in 2012.

While equally as cutting-edge contemporary, the Guardian Art Center prides itself with its sensitive and layered response to tradition: ‘This is a building that, while contemporary, is about Chinese identity. It spans a nice bridge of two extremes of the city – the futuristic and historic.’