Tianhe became a district in the 1980s as the city expanded its size. Back then, it was east of another district called Dongshan and it was more suburban like if not rural like. Despite a majority of colleges and universities in the city are located in the district, the rest of the district were mostly composed of rice fields.
The first big project built in the district during the 1980s was the Tianhe Sports Center where the city landed as host of the Sixth National Games in 1986. The complex include a stadium of 65,000 seats, a gymnasium and an indoor swimming pool and it literally transformed the district. Soon other projects followed and rice fields gave away to residential complexes called "xiaoqu" . The construction of ''xiaoqu'' began in the mid and late eighties and most of them had residential buildings of no more than 10 stories. Each floor was kept to no more than four units due to the lack of elevators since they would increase the construction cost. Also, due to the sheer number of residential buildings — some ''xiaoqu'' had more than 20 residential buildings, therefore, a lot of land was needed and thus converted.
The building of Guangzhou East Railroad Station in 1990 further contributed to the growth of the district. The old Guangzhou Railroad Station is 10 km to the west and was the terminus for trains from and to Beijing and Hong Kong. To relieve the traffic, the East Railroad Station was built and it is now the terminus for trains from and to Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
As the district developed, the size of ''xiaoqu'' became smaller since land became more valuable and expensive. Most of the new ''xiaoqu'' now only consist of four to six residential buildings but each can contain 30 floors or more since the growth of district attracted big developers where the cost of construction was no longer the issue. Also, taller residential buildings gave rise to taller office buildings.
A part of the district that is south of the Sports Center and north of the Zhujian River, called "Zhu Jian Xin Cheng" which was desolate a decade ago but is now almost built-up with only high-rise buildings. A twin towers, said to be taller than CITIC Plaza were proposed.
Many of the city's colleges and universities are located in the district. They include:
* Guangzhou Sports College
* Guangzhou Military College
* Jinan University
* Guangdong Industrial University
* Huanan Agricultural University
* South China University of Technology
* South China Normal University
Besides the Guangzhou East Railroad Station , Tianhe is also the terminus several metro lines:
* Metro Line 1 connects Tianhe and Liwan via Yuexiu.
* Metro Line 2 connects Wanshengwei with Sanyuanli
* Metro Line 3 connects Tianhe with Panyu via Haizhu.
* Metro Line 4 connects Tianhe with Panyu, starts at Wanshengwei and stops at Jinzhou
* CITIC Plaza, is a complex completed in 1997 between Tianhe Sports Center and Gaungzhou East Railroad Station, that has a 80-story, 391 m skyscraper of the same name. It was briefly the tallest building in China and now the third tallest in the country and seventh in the world.
* Pearl River Tower, a skyscraper under construction at the junction of Jinsui Road/Zhujiang Avenue West. It is due for completion Autumn 2009 and will be occupied by the .
* The famous shopping mall, TeeMall, a very big shopping centre, the chinese from Guangzhou even call it the biggest shopping mall in Asia.