MODERN ARCHITECTURE IN CHINA

MODERN ARCHITECTURE IN CHINA

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Bird's Nest Olympic stadium
China is becoming a focal point for cutting edge architecture. There are a lot of projects and development and a plentiful supply of cheap labor to build them. Constructions cost on China are about a tenth of what they are in the West and little as one 15th of what they are in New York and London.The famous Italian architect Mario Bellini told Reuters, “China is today a place to be...China is giving great architects really great opportunities at this moment, with financial power, a very fast decision process, and physically fast construction. In the time they build a tower there, we build a little house.”Some of the new buildings are quite bold or ridiculous depending on you perspective. One architect told the New York Times, “Everyone is encouraged to do their most stupid and extravagant designs there. They don’t have as much barrier between good taste and bad taste between minimal and expressive,.”

Some have compared China’s flamboyant new architecture with fashion show fashions---clothes are interesting to look at but you would never be caught wearing it on the street. Some Chinese complain the designs are for foreign tastes rather than Chinese ones. Du Xiaodong, editor of Chinese Heritage told National Geographic, “China is not confident in its own deigns and people prefer to try something new. The result are disconnected from whatever’s next door, and the newest building in the world sits next to some of the oldest, standing together like strangers.”

China’s low-wage workers allow foreign architects to design bold, innovative structures that would be too costly to build anywhere else. Some have described China as a “Western architects” weapons testing ground.”

Using massive construction crews that work around the clock with no union interference the building are constructed in incredibly short times, Even the most ambitious project can be finished in three or four years. Many of the buildings are designed to be built by low skilled workers at break neck speed. Many have prefabricated parts that can be snapped together rather than cut on site.

Modern Architecture in China: Gluckman.com gluckman.com ; Top Ten Chinese Architecture chinese-architecture.info ; NPR Article npr.org Beijing Gluckman.com Gluckman.com ; New York Times Interactive New York Times ; Bird’s Nest Stadium Websites Official Site Official site ; Beijing 2008 Beijing 2008 ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Water Cube Websites Official site ; Beijing 2008 ; Wikipedia ; National Center for Performing Arts Websites China National Center for Performing Arts Official Site China National Center for Performing Arts ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Guardian Slide Show Guardian Slideshow ; Terminal 3 at the Beijing Airport Websites Foster & Partners Foster & Partners ; Blog Report naseba08 ; Beijing Airport Beijing Airport site ; Wikipedia , Wikipedia ; CCTV Headquarters Websites OMA Oma ; Wikipedia Wikipedia

Shanghai: Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai Websites Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Jin Mao Building in Shanghai Skyscraper Page Skyscraper Page ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Jin Mao Group Jin Mao Group ; Shanghai Grand Hyatt Shanghai Grand Hyatt ; Shanghai World Financial Center Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Shanghai World Financial Center official site Shanghai World Financial Center official site ; Skyscraper Page Skyscraper Page

Liang Sicheng, Father of Modern Chinese Architecture

Liang Sicheng and his wife Lin Huiyin, whose appreciation of China's ancient buildings and their devotion to preserving its heritage made them two of the country's most revered architects. Liang is known as the father of modern Chinese architecture, and much of his and Lin's most important work was carried out while they were living in the courtyard house in Beizongbu Hutong in Beijing in the 1930s. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 30, 2012]

Liang and Lin wrote a seminal work on Chinese architecture, listed relics in need of protection during wartime, designed the national emblem of the People's Republic of China and worked on the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square. Liang and his colleague Chen Zhanxiang urged the Communist government to build an entirely new city when it decided to make Beijing the capital of the new republic. He believed it was the best way to preserve its ancient buildings. But officials rejected that plan and most of the old city has vanished forever. Ironically and tragically, the the courtyard house in Beizongbu where Liang and Lin lived was torn down by developers in January 2012.

Lin died in 1955 after an illness. Liang was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and died in 1972. His second wife was named Lin Zhu.

Widow of a Famous Architect Recalls the Cultural Revolution

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “When Liang Sicheng was denounced as a counter-revolutionary, he was scared to look even his wife in the eye. Lin Zhu, who had been working in the countryside at the time, rushed home to him on learning the news. "He said, 'I've been waiting for you and missing you every day, but I'm afraid to see you,' " the 83-year-old told The Guardian. Her husband sensed the horror ahead. Beijing's Tsinghua University---one of the country's top institutions---was already covered in posters attacking professors. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, February 24, 2012]

Liang Sicheng is regarded as the father of modern Chinese architecture. Lin Zhu is his widow. "Back then, I thought this was like a dark cloud that would soon pass. I didn't realise it would cover the country for the next 10 years," Lin says. When it lifted, Liang was dead, his health wrecked by the scores of lengthy "struggle sessions" publicly to humiliate him; by beatings from Red Guards; and by the cold, damp conditions of the building to which the family had been moved.

Lin still struggles to understand how hundreds of millions could participate in such cruelties. Some of Liang's persecutors were forced into taking part, she says; others were jealous of his success. Most were young students who did not understand his ideas. To her husband, who had loved teaching, that was particularly painful. "He wrote confession letters, one after another, but didn't know what he had done. The most important claim was that he had received a 'capitalist education'. No one could tell us what proletarian architectural design was---and you were too afraid to ask."

As the movement escalated, Lin considered demands to join it: "I thought probably I would be beaten to death by the Red Guards. Maybe my children would desert me and my friends would keep their distance. But I couldn't understand what Liang Sicheng had done. I couldn't go against my conscience by leaving him."

Together they endured six years of enforced Maoist study and public denunciations that often ran for hours. "Because it was all day long, the brain sort of became numb," Lin recalls. "Normally he was not beaten up at those sessions, but sometimes they would come and beat us at home." Liang's ordeal ended when he grew so sick that he could no longer rise from his bed for the struggle sessions. He died in 1972, aged 70.

In later years, Lin worked with her husband's accusers; some, quietly, apologised. She does not blame individuals for caving into pressure to attack others, though she is adamant that she never did so. She even suggests those years helped her to grow. "Whatever happens, whatever comes, I'm not afraid any more. It made me stronger and made me think," she says. But she fears that intellectual life in China has never fully recovered---and she worries the country could see another such movement. "Many of us are concerned about whether we can avoid a similar disaster in future. History doesn't repeat itself exactly---but it's possible."

I.M. Pei

I.M. Pei is one of the world's most famous architects. A Chinese-American, he was born in Shanghai and graduated from M.I.T. and later studied under Barhaus-founder Walter Gropius at Harvard. In 1983, he won the Pritker prize, regarded as the Nobel prize of architecture.

After a rough start with the Hancock tower in Boston, in which a design flaw caused some windows to pop out, he had a long string of successes that included the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, and the glass pyramid at the Louvre and the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan.

Wang Shu Wins 2012 Pritzker Prize

Chinese architect Wang Shu has won the 2012 Pritzker architecture prize. Praised for his ‘strong sense of cultural continuity and reinvigorated tradition,” he is the first Chinese architect to win the prestigious award. [Source: Mary Hennock, The Guardian, February 28, 2012] Mary Hennock wrote in The Guardian: “It has been won by the likes of Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas, and now Wang Shu's name can be added to the list as the first Chinese architect to be awarded the prestigious 2012 Pritzker prize , seen as the Nobel prize for architecture.

The decision to award him the prize acknowledges "the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals", said Thomas Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the $100,000 (£60,000) prize. The jury praised the importance of Wang's work in a country that is modernising and urbanising at top speed." As an architect, everyone dreams about the prize ... I'm very happy for him," said his wife Lu Wenyu. They run a joint practice, Amateur Architects , founded in 1997.

Past Pritzker winners include American Frank Gehry and many of the big names in European architecture who have created modern Beijing landmarks; Rem Koolhaas, designer of CCTV's headquarters, and Swiss team Herzog and de Meuron's Olympic Stadium. Last year Wang was awarded the Gold Medal by France's Academy of Architecture.

Unusually for an internationally decorated architect, Wang's five major projects are all in China, many in his home region of Zhejiang near Shanghai. They include three college campuses and the Ningbo History Museum, and his work typically mixes modern design with traditional material. China's rapid urbanisation makes the issue of "the proper relation of present to past---particularly timely", said jury chairman Lord Palumbo. Much of the new building in China is mediocre, with public buildings often emphasising giganticism and grandeur rather than style. The jury praised Wang's work as "exemplary in its strong sense of cultural continuity and reinvigorated tradition".

Wang reworks Chinese styles with recycled materials; 2 million tiles from demolished traditional houses were used in the China Academy of Art's Xiangshan campus, in Hangzhou. A library at Suzhou University's Wenzhang Campus is a cluster of low cubes sunk half underground to reflect feng shui traditions, which oppose high buildings that block energy between mountains and water.

Born in 1963, Wang graduated from Nanjing Institute of Technology. His first job was to research building restoration and he worked with craftsmen for 10 years to gain a feeling for materials. He tries to recover what he has called the "handicraft aspect" of building design, in contrast to "professionalised, soulless architecture, as practised today". Wang is the first Chinese citizen to win the prize. In 1983 it went to Chinese-American immigrant IM Pei, who designed the Louvre Pyramid.

Architecture Boom in China

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Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower
Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, “At a time when many Western economies are stagnant and many construction projects have been delayed or scaled back for lack of financing, China is on a major push to urbanize - building new office towers, apartment blocks, exhibition halls, stadiums, high-speed train stations and nearly 100 new airports. The boom is offering U.S. and European architects new opportunities and an economic lifeline, as much of their industry is struggling.”[Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 14, 2010]

“Many more projects are in the works - in some cases, the equivalent of entire cities, such as the sprawling industrial park being built in Shanghai's Pudong area. Every major city, it seems, is building or expanding a new central business district or financial center - often the size of the downtown of a midsize American city.”

"Train stations, airports - they really need everything," Martin Hagel, senior architect with the German firm GMP, based in Shanghai, told the Washington Post. "It's a place where architects want to be." He added, "The scale of things is unbelievable - building a new city is something you don't get to do often." The Chinese aren’t afraid of height either. Paul Katz of the New York firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, or KPF, said, "When people in the U.S. were not building tall buildings, we were here building tall buildings...There's hardly a building you see today that stood 15 years ago."

Another force behind the building and architecture boom in China is a lack of bureaucracy. Architects can design and build a project and put it to regular use in as little as a few years. In the United States, by contrast, with various bureaucratic hassles, projects can typically take more than a decade to come to fruition, and often much longer.

“The speed of development brings its own challenges, several architects said, Richburg wrote. “Among them, the foreign architects' desire to build environmentally sustainable buildings and cities often run smack into the local imperative to build it quickly - and often build it cheaply. For example, an American architect said that in the United States, buildings are typically designed to last 75 to 100 years, with many of the best-known and best-loved buildings, such as New York's Empire State Building, gracefully entering late middle age. But in China, he said, the private developers often want "a building to last 30 years" maximum. "Their idea of a building is like a commodity. It's disposable."

Foreign Architects in China

China is regarded as a place where foreign architects can be their most creative. They say working in China gives them an unparalleled chance to show off their expertise, experiment with cutting-edge designs, and use new energy-efficient "green" technologies. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 14, 2010]

In China, "people have no preconceived notion of what building development should be," Silas Chiow, China director for the U.S. firm Skidmore Owings Merrill, or SOM, told the Washington Post. "That gives young architects an opportunity to try new ideas....China is almost like an experimental laboratory for different architects." SOM designed Shanghai's Jin Mao tower, one of the most visible buildings on the Pudong skyline, and Beijing's New Poly Plaza, with the world's largest cable-net-supported glass wall, and Tower III of the World Trade Center in Beijing. SOM also designed the futuristic car-shaped Pearl River Tower, with wind turbines and solar panels.

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Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist
and his take on the Bird's Nest Stadium

Not everyone is so pleased. "They're using China as their new weapons testing zone," Peng Peigen, a well-known architect and professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told the Washington Post. "These kind of stupid things they build could never be built in their own countries, in this life, the last life or the next life." Peng praised "95 percent" of the many foreign architects in China. But he said the other 5 percent are ignoring the basic design rule that "form follows function." He criticized the Swiss-designed "Bird's Nest" stadium, used for the 2008 Olympics, as an "atrocious design" with a top-heavy roof, and called the French-designed National Grand Theater, known as "The Egg," a dysfunctional and "almost dangerous" eyesore.

“Foreign architects have been working in China since the late 1990s. But the real construction boom began in 2001. Many of the largest, most visible projects designed by foreign architects are government-funded. Some private developers - often prefer to see an international name on a structure that they hope will become a landmark. China has its own architects, but, as Peng noted, the communists who came to power in 1949 did not respect architecture as a profession. Since then, it has been officially recognized only since the 1980s, leaving too few experienced local architects.

See Beijing, Shanghai

New Architecture in Beijing

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CCTV Headquarters
Beijing does not have a skyline like Shanghai, Hong Kong or New York. Its trophy buildings are scattered around the city in a rather haphazard way. This contrast with old Beijing, a mostly flat city in which courtyards and narrow lanes of the hutongs were part of grand geometric scheme with the Forbidden City at the center of the city’s central north-south axis.

Old Beijing---designed for pedestrians, camels and Imperial processions---has proven to be a bad frameworks for a modern city. There are not that many conventional streets and blocks. The hutongs are like masses that have to be obliterated to be updated. As the 2008 Olympics approached a number of foreign architects were asked to come in and build new building, some of them quite radical. The result:

some of the world’s most spectacular modern structures. Some---like the Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube made for the Olympics, Norman Foster’s new airport terminal and Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters---have received rave reviews from architecture critics. While others---namely the Egg concert hall---have been panned. Some Beijing residents are not so pleased with new structure, calling the non-Chinese architects “foreign devils,” and complaining their work disrupts Beijing’s feng shui. There were even nationalist-tinted accusations that the building---mostly designed by Europeans---were unsafe. Some find the debate about high profile buildings amusing because there is so much bad architecture around. Many nondescript buildings have kitchy pagoda designs or some other eastern ornament to meet demands by the city’s mayor for buildings to look Chinese. New development are dominated by blocky apartments and offices that have nothing to distinguish them except their ugliness. Among the worst buildings are those that attempt to copy masterpieces of Western architecture. One architect told the New York Times, “They’re like copies of copies. Kitsch derived from kitsch.” Amon the new buildings are the new Bank of China building in Xidan was designed by I.M. Pei. Inside the building Pei has placed one of his signature glass pyramids on the ceiling. Web Sites: Gluckman.com ; New York Times

Bird’s Nest Stadium

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Bird’s Nest Stadium (Olympics Area) is the nickname of the National Stadium, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, the track and field events and important soccer games at the 2008 Olympics. One of the world's most famous new structures, is was designed by the Pritzer-Prize-winning Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Piere de Meuron, who became famous when they converted London’s dour Bankside Power Station into London’s Tate Modern museum. The Bird’s Nest name was given by the Chinese public to the stadium as it being built because it resembled a nest. The name was considered a compliment because bird’s nest soup is a highly-valued delicacy associated with special occasions. The architects originally likened the design to the finely cracked glazing on Chinese pottery. Described by the Times of London as “the world’s most iconic building in this decade of iconic buildings,” the National Stadium won the inaugural Design of the Year for Architecture Award from the Design Museum. Ai Weiwei, an artist and consultant for the project, said, “We didn’t design it to be Chinese. It’s an object for the world.” Herzog and de Meuron’s design beat out 13 other finalists. De Meuron told the Times of London, “We wanted to do something hierarchal, to make not a big gesture you’d expect in a political system like that but something for 100,000 people on a human side without being oppressive. Its about disorder and order. It seems random, chaotic, but there’s a very clear structural rationale.” Herzog said, “The Chinese like to hang out in public spaces. The main idea was to offer them a playground." During the Olympics small models of the Bird’s Nest stadium were hot sellers. Design of the Bird’s Nest Stadium The Beijing Olympic Stadium is 330 meters long, 220 meters wide and 69.2 meters tall and covers 250,000 square meters and has 91,000 seats and a capacity of 100,000 people. It is a complex, slightly off-kilter, elliptical 42,000 ton lattice work of steel surrounding a concrete stadium bowl. The elliptical shape evokes heaven. The “architectural forest” of steel arcs upwards and inwards over the stadium seats and looks impossibly complex with most of the beams being structural rather than decorative. “Twenty-four main columns hold it all up, but they disappear into the other lines. The concrete “egg” is painted red. When it is illuminated at night it glows eery red through the steel “nest.” The Bird’s Nest stadium is made of a unique mesh of interlocking bands of gray steel girders, covered in places by weather- and sound-proof outer membranes. The translucent roof “made of ETFE, the same material used on the Water Cube---is supported by a series of cantilevered trusses and itself supports a network of drainpipes. The seats are set up in wave-like, partially staggered rows to improve sight lines and ventilation. Entrances are on all sides and slender stairways wind through the lattice to reach the upper concourses. A rainwater recycling system is used to irrigate 861,000 square feet of plants around the staidum. Some electricity is provide by solar panels.

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New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote: “Viewed form a distance, the contrast between its bent steel columns and its bulging elliptical form give the stadium a surreal, moody appearance, as if it was straining to contain the forces that are pushing and pulling it this way and that..A secondary pattern of irregular crisscrossing beam is woven through this frame, creating the illusion of a gigantic web of rubber bands straining t hold the building in place.” Inside the latticework, he wrote, “The crisscrossing columns create a...world of dark corners and odd leftover spaces---an effect that intensifies as you ascend through the structure. Light filters through the translucent roof panels...The feverish play of light and shadows is reminiscent of a German Expressionist film.” Inside the stadium many of the seats and the sections all look the same. There is no view outside the stadium, Perhaps A 50-foot-high wrap-around HD scoreboard encircle the entire top of the stadium The area around the Bird’s Nest is covered by pavement and has few shady areas. Building the Bird’s Nest Stadium : The new stadium was built with almost a third of the $1.65 billion earmarked for all new facilities at the Beijing Olympics. Ground was broken in April 2004. It opened in April 2008. Forty-eight percent of the money to build it came from a the CITIC group, a government-owned investment company. The lattice for the stadium is composed of metal pieces that weigh as much as 350 tons and were been put in place with a 100-foot-tall crane. The 24 main columns weigh 1,000 tons each, far more than those found in conventional stadiums. Stadium workers earned about $200 a month, working seven-day, 63-hour work weeks. Many slept 12 to a room on plywood mattresses but regarded the job as the best they ever had. At its peak, 9,000 workers worked on the Bird’s Nest stadium. The government denied reports that 10 people died during the construction and large amounts of compensation money was paid to families of workers that died to ensure their silence. The government admitted the deaths of two workers only after The Sunday Times reported their deaths. Some consider the new stadium an extravagant waste of money. It has four times as much steel as a normal stadium of that size and was built at time when steel prices were at an all time high. Originally $500 million was earmarked for the project. In the mid 2000s, officials began thinking that maybe the plan for the stadium was a little too extravagant. Its budget was cut back to $400 million, with changes including getting rid of proposed retractable roof, reducing the number of seats and using less steel. In the end the stadium cost around $450 million. Bird’s Nest Stadium After the Olympics: After the Olympics about 10,000 tourists a day paid $7 for a tour of the stadium and a chance to walk on the stadium floor and climb through the expensive seats. Within a few months the paint was already starting to peel. The only event booked for 2009 was a staging of Puccini’s opera “Turandot”, directed by Zhang Yimou, on the one-year anniversary of the Olympics opening ceremony. The stadium costs $19 million a year to maintain and finance. It has no permanent tenant after the Beijing Guoan Football Club backed out, saying it would be embarrassing in a 91,000-seat stadium with only 10,000 spectators. In February 2009, it was announced the area around the Bird’s Stadium would be turned into shopping and entertainment complex over the next three to five years. The original plan called the Bird’s Nest stadium to have about 10,000 seats taken out to make way for shops and restaurants and a hotel to be placed in the upper concourse. A shopping mall already sits below the stadium that is reached by broad ramps. There are also plans to market the Bird’s Nest name. Already it has raised $14.5 million from sponsors such as 3M and Bayer. Some have suggest having rock concerts there. It will difficult to recoup the cost. Web Sites: Official site ; Beijing 2008 ; Wikipedia ;

Water Cube

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Water Cube (Next to the Bird's Nest Stadium) is the nickname of the National Aquatic Center, which hosted the swimming events at the Beijing Olympics. Designed to look like a collection of water molecules, it is covered by bubble-like outer sheathing that is iridescent blue in color. Although the building looks Western its creators insist it has many Chinese elements. The rectangular shape and north-south orientation, for example, are not unlike that of the Forbidden City. The International Olympic Committee called the building “nothing short of staggering." The Water Cube held 17,000 people at the time of the Olympics. Forty events were held there. It was unveiled in January 2008 after three years of construction. Designed by the Australian firm PTW, it may have cost as much as $200 million and was designed to cut energy cost by 30 percent. Money to build it came largely from donations from overseas Chinese. The Water Cube is a box of irregular “bubbles” or “pillows” shaped like slices of 12-sided and 14-sides polyhedrons. The bubbles are made of ethylenetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) that are only 0.008 of an inch thick. ETFE is a very strong translucent polymer similar to Teflon. It is 99 percent lighter than glass and far more efficient providing insulation and transmitting light. The pillows are inflated within a steel frame to mimic foam. Their pattern and color give people inside the building a sense of being underwater and looking upwards towards the surface. The frame is composed of 22,000 steel beams. The way the bubbles fit together is based on a discovery in 1993 that 12- and 14-sided polyhedrons fit together more compactly with less surface areas that 14-sided ones first proposed by the famous physicist Lord Kelvin more than a century ago. The membranes are functional, designed to collect heat and water that can be used in the venue. A total of 353,000 cubic feet of rainwater can be saved annually by collecting water that falls on the facility and the surrounding paved areas. Washington Post architecture critic Philip Kennicot wrote the bubbles and the frame create “a delightful set of contradictions: The building is rectangular, even severe in shape, but the outside is soft and inviting. The pillows, some of them 30 feet across, are strong enough to walk on, but also vulnerable to piercing. And the entire cube is surrounded a water moat to keep sharp objects away, It is also translucent and the effect at night, when it glows a rich aqua blue, is stunning. Elegant, minimalist gate entryways, enhance the simplicity of the shape.” Many like the design. Some criticized it for not being Chinese enough. Swimmer liked it because the pool was very fast. Sports fans liked it because the lighting and acoustics were good and the air temperature was comfortable,

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Water Cube Pool : The pool was very fast. Among the features that made it fast were wave-flattening lane markers with spinning plastic baffles that sucked the energy out of waves; edge gutters, that allow waves to wash over the edge rather than bounce back into the pool; and a heating and cooling system that kept the water at ideal temperature around 80 degrees, The pool was three meters deep, a meter deeper than usual top-level pools preventing waves from bouncing off the bottom. The pool had 10 lanes rather than the standard d eight, leaving empty lanes on the side allowing the waves to dissipate. All these things helped create a calm pool with a smooth surface, which is easier to swim through quickly than a choppy pool. Today, the Water Cube is used for a light and sound shows with dancing fountains in the swimming pool that Michael Phelps won all those gold medals. The word was that the Water Cube was going to be turned into a public pool, a shopping mall or maybe an indoor tennis court with two thirds of its 17,000 seats taken out. It has licensed its name to a bottled water company. Web Sites: Official site ; Beijing 2008 ; Wikipedia

National Center for Performing Arts

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National Center for Performing Arts (opposite the Forbidden City) is an opera house with a controversial design by the French architect Paul Andreu that its supporters hope will leave a Sydney-Opera-House like stamp on Beijing. Situated somewhat incongruously among massive Stalinist buildings at Tiananmen Square and larger than New York’s Lincoln Center, it features a massive bubble-like titanium shell, 149,500 square meters of floor space and three halls: a 2,416-seat opera house, a 2,017-seat concert hall, and a 1,040-seat theater, plus a small experimental theater.

The design for National Center has been compared to a flying saucer, a hatching dinosaur egg and a giant blob. For many Chinese it looks like an egg set in a pot of boiling water, and the name “The Egg” has stuck. Its total cost: $365 million, which works out to about $90,000 a seat. Critics, complain the new structure is too costly and ugly and has been built with no considerations to its surroundings or China’s history. One blogger wrote: “It looks like a quasi-foreign devil in the historical palace area. If you weren’t told it was the national theater you would probably think it was an oil tank or a huge warehouse.” Some say the modernist design disrupts the feng shui of Beijing and therefore threatens the entire nation. Many dismiss it a “ben” dan (‘stupid egg’) or “huai dan” (‘rotten egg’).

The 56-meter-high elliptical shell, which Andreu said is “a symbol of rebirth,” is designed to look as if it is floating on water. It sits in the middle of a lake, with 16,000 cubic meters of water, enough to fill 42 Olympic-size swimming pools. At night the titanium and glass structure glows and is reflecting in the water, some say, like a pearl or a rising sun. The dome in the pool is intended to represent the Chinese concept of a round sky and square earth. There are no doors. People enter through a glass-roofed venue and staircase situated below the reflecting pool. Some critics have said that the entrance comes off as ‘silly and cumbersome” rather than dramatic and make the building difficult to evacuate in an emergency (one has to cover a distance of 250 meter to reach freedom).

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The box office, main lobby and exhibition hall in the theater are on the basement level. A long corridor leads to the center of the complex, a large atrium enclosed by the dome. The view from here is quite spectacular. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, ‘slender escalators that look like they’re suspended in the air crisscross the atrium, climbing to balconies that lead to the upper levels of the theaters. The vast ceiling under the dome is lined with slats of Brazilian redwood. The effect is something between a 21st century airport and the innards of a piano.” One of the biggest problems with the structure is keeping the titanium shell shining brightly. Dust and pollution can be washed off but removing bird droppings is not so easy. An army of cleaners has been employed to keep the shell clean and a nanotechnology film has been applied to the glass to dissolve the dropping and dust. The site for the center was designated in 1950s. The original plan called for a Stalinist building built with Soviet help but that plan was scrapped when relation between China and the Soviet Union became strained in the 1960s. The structure that Adeau designed is very complex and took seven years to build. Among Andreu’s other works is a terminal at Charles de Gaulle International Airport that partially collapsed shortly after it was inaugurated, killing four people, including two Chinese, and a terminal at the Dubai airport which collapsed during construction. As for music performed in the national theater, Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker, “the concert hall has reasonably clear acoustics but lacks warmth. In the top corner of the opera house where the sound should be best, the orchestra comes across as tinny and colorless. There is little evidence that musical considerations played a role in the design. No serious acoustician would have approve the halls’pocket of extra space , where sound bounces around and gets lost.” During the first weeks after the center opened in 2007 it welcomed soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, tenor Jose Carrereas, conductors Kurt Masur and Seiji Ozawa and the Kirov Ballet. The tickets for events and even tours are expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary Chinese. A cheap seat in the uppermost gallery of the opera hose goes for about $70, considerably higher than an equivalent seat at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Many seats are set aside for politicians, diplomats and corporate VIPs, which inevitably means that many seats are empty at sold out events as these people fail to show up. Web Sites: China National Center for Performing Arts ; ( Wikipedia ; Guardian Slideshow

Terminal 3 at the Beijing Airport

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Terminal 3 at the Beijing Airport at Beijing airport opened in February 2008 before the 2008 Olympics. Designed by the famous architect Norman Foster, it is the world’s largest terminal, covering 10 million square feet, standing seven stories high and extending 3.9 kilometers. It required 39,000 workers to build and will accommodate 53 million passengers, increasing capacity at the airport to 78 million passengers a year. Terminal 3 cost US$3.65 billion and is bigger than all five terminals at Heathrow put together. Divided into three sections connected by a shuttle train, it has a concourse that is nearly three kilometers long, 136 aircraft stands and sections with their own security and travel document controls. There is train station for trains to downtown and a multitude of shops selling luxury goods. The terminal was built rapidly and with a minimum of fuss because the builders did not have to worry about environmentalists, financing or pubic hearings about noise and other matters that might affect the local. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote in The New Yorker, Foster “has established a pattern so clear that your natural instinct is to walk straight ahead from the front door to where you need to go. The sheer legibility of the place would be achievement enough, given its size...Even more remarkable than this organizational feat, however, is the fact that Terminal 3 is also an aesthetically exhilarating place to be. “Its long, low shape appears to rise gradually, as if its roof touched the ground at each end...The structures sensuous curves...make you think of movement, while still appearing serene...Inside the terminal, with its high, vaulted ceiling and wall of glass facing the airfield, loosely recalling Saarinen’s TWA Terminal, but this room is big enough to contain that entire building.” Web Sites: Foster & Partners ; naseba08 Beijing Airport site , , Wikipedia

CCTV Headquarters

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CCTV Headquarters is one the world’s boldest and most spectacular buildings in the world. Created by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his partner Ole Schreeren of the radical Dutch firm OMA, it is comprised of three interlocking “Ls that form a kind of twisted cube and bring to mind an Escher painting. Some have called the building a modern-day Colossus of Rhodes. Others have and compared it with the legs of a robot or “a pair of trousers.” Many Beijingers call it the Big Shorts and make jokes about what it would be like to work in the building’s crotch. For a skyscraper the CCTV headquarters is rather short, only fifty-one floors (768 feet high), and squat but it has more office space (6.5 million square feet, or 750 square meters) than any other building in China and is the second largest office building in the world after the Pentagon. For all that has been written about it comes off as monumental, austere and intellectual rather than showy and gimmicky. The soft gray color of the glass is not all that different from the soft gray skies that dominate most Beijing days. The diagonal grid of the steel framework is visible with the densest concentration of steel around te cantilever where the structural stresses are greatest. The CCTV building looks very different from different angles and distances. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote in The New Yorker, “A vast structure of steel and glass, it is a dazzling reinvention of the of the skyscraper, using size not to dominate but to embrace the viewer...Looking from a distance like a gigantic arch, it is a continuous loop, a kind of square doughnut. Two vertical sections, which contain offices lean precariously inward, connected by two horizontal sections containing production facilities, one running along the ground. The other a kind of bridge in the sky. When you get closer, you see that each horizontal section is made up of two pieces that converge in a right angle. The top section, thirteen stories deep, is dramatically cantilevered out over open space, five hundred and thirty feet in the air, and it seems ot reach over you like benign robot. The novelty of the form...takes time to comprehend; the building seem to change as you pass it.” The CCTV building can be appreciated without craning you neck to see the top. When viewed from across the street it looks like three distinct buildings: the base, south tower and north tower.Koolhaus told Vanity Fair, “It has a delicacy despite its size. Its something that’s not really a tower, but is three-dimensional, so it defines urban space.” About 10,000 people will work inside. One feature of the building is that these people will be able to look out the window and see the building they work in.

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The CCTV headquarters is situated in the heart of Beijing’s booming central business district. It is said to have cost $600 million, sparking a debate that the money could be better spent on something else. The design looks simple but to achieve it is technically very complex. Engineers reportedly spent a year working out the stresses on the I-beams alone. The cantilevered hole in the middle is quite ambitious. Some called the project “Promethean.” OMA is famous for its purposely-awkward “anti-iconic” works. Architect Ole Scheeren told The New Yorker the continuous loop symbolized “collaboration” and the building itself “comes across sometimes as big and sometimes as small, and form some angles that are strong and form others weak. It no longer portrays a single image.” The CCTV headquarters was already famous before construction even began. The design for the building was approved in September 2004.Construction began in 2006. The two angled towers were connected in December 2007 to form a continuous loop of vertical and horizontal sections. The entire structure was scheduled to be completed before the opening of the 2008 Olympics but didn’t make that deadline. Next to CCTV building is the Television Cultural Center, or TVCC, also designed by OMA. It has been described as “peaks and plummets like mountains cloaked in corrugated zinc.” In February 2009, a fire broke out in the unfinished but almost-completed Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Beijing, killing one firefighter overcome by fumes and injuring seven other people. The 159-meter-high, 30-story hotel, designed by Koolhaas and Scheeren, were part of the CCTV complex. Flames six to nine meters high shot out of the buildings and were reflected n the CCTV tower which emerged relatively unscathed. The fire was caused by a powerful and unapproved firework used in an illegal fireworks display set off to celebrate the Lantern festival. Owners of the property had ignored warnings that the powerful fireworks were dangerous and not allowed. Twelve people, including four CCTV employees, were detained in connection with the fire. Eight members of a pyrotechnic crew fled the scene when the fire broke out, leaving behind, 21 boxes of unused fireworks. Web Site: Oma ); Wikipedia

Linked Hybrid

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Linked Hybrid is new development designed by New York architect Steve Holl and the Chinese architect Li Hu. It consists of eight squarish towers and one roundish one---each about 20 stories high---connected by glassed-enclosed bridges at various heights that come across as streets in the sky. Some bridges start at one floor and run to another. Each contains a facility such as a gym, café or bookstore shared by the building. One has a swimming pool floating 17 stories in the air. Linked Hybrid embraces 750 apartments, a hotel, a movie theater, shops, cafes, a school. The towers are made of aluminum and are between 20 and 25 stories tall “linked” at the 20th floor by bridges. Arranged in a loose ring, the towers are of varying sizes and several have cantilevered five-story section that hang out in space. The Central Plaza is filled with water. The hotel is an 11-story glass cylinder. All the buildings have green island gardens on the roof are heated by hot water brought up from deep geothermal wells. The Vanity Fair architecture critic called it a “deeply ingenious piece of architecture, rich with ideas and virtuoso engineering.” China World Trade Center (near the CCTV Headquarters) is the tallest building in Beijing at 74 stories. Designed by the architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it employs an innovative cross-bracing style that give the building strength to withstand the high winds and sand storms that slam into Beijing the city and the occasional earthquake. To make the most of the city’s sunlight it uses specially designed glass.

Pudong New Area of Shanghai

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Pudong when new skyscarper
is finshed around 2012

Pudong New Area (east side of Huang Pu River on the side opposite the Bund) is a 208-square-mile (522-square-kilometer) area with industrial parks, some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, billion dollar auto and steel plants, foreign factories, and housing developments. There are separate zones for finance (Luijazui), high tech development (Zhangjiang), export processing (Jinqiao) and trade (Waigaoqiao). Dong means east side of the river. The heart of Pudong is basically a group of trophy skyscrapers plunked down in what used to be rice fields. Conceived by former Shanghai mayor and Chinese prime minister Zhu Rongji and designed to be China's premier "free economic zone," Pudong was built from scratch with its own international airport. Many of the showcase building are designed by famous architects from Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States. The land used to be occupied by marshes, farms, once-story building and rice paddies.

Central Pudong is filled with new skyscrapers, office buildings and hotels and offices for over 2,000 foreign companies, including many in the Fortune 500. Among the factories there is $1.5 billion General Motors plant that churns out Buicks. On the far eastern end, about 32 kilometers from downtown Shanghai, is the new international airport connected to downtown Shanghai by the maglev train. There is an impressive river walk with shops and cafes and good views of river traffic and sights on the opposite shore. The area as a whole isn’t very walker-friendly. The wide roads are difficult to cross. Web Site: Official government site

Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower

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Shanghai suburb

The Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower (in Pudong) is a massive 1,500-foot-high, multicolored, rocket-ship-shaped structure located across the Huangpu River from the Bund. The centerpiece of the Pudong development area and the tallest television tower in Asia, it contains two immense disco-ball-like geodesic domes with elevated shopping malls inside. The tower is the a futuristic symbol of Shanghai. Purple and pink, it cost $100 million and rises above rows of new concrete apartments and glass skyscrapers. The tower is open daily from 8:15am to 9:15pm. The entrance fee varies from $6 to $12, depending on how high you want to go. There are often long lines to board the elevator to the observation area, where there is an outstanding view. For a $10 admission fee, visitors can play laser tag, watch robots in a space station and go on a virtual-reality roller coaster ride in Space City, a four-story theme park in the lower orb. At the bottom of the tower is the Shanghai Municipal History Museum, with gunboats moored in river and wax figures of foreigners at a ball. Web Sites: Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide

Jin Mao Tower

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Jin Mao Tower (near the Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower in Pudong) was the world’s 6th tallest building as of early 2008. Resembling across between a pagoda and a Manhattan skyscraper, it cost $540 million and has 88 floors and is home to the world’s highest hotel (the Hyatt) and the world's highest health club (at the Hyatt) and the world’s longest laundry shoot, which run’s from 87th floor of the Hyatt hotel to the its basement. It used to be home to the world’s highest hotel (the Hyatt) and the world's highest health club (at the Hyatt) until it was surpassed by the Hyatt next door in the Shanghai World Financial Center. The Jin Mao Tower has been described as a super-sized modernist pagoda. It was designed with good fortune in mind. Eight and 88 are lucky number. The buildings height 414 meters (1,380 feet) is also auspicious. Among the buildings that are taller are the 508-meter-high Taipei 101 in Taiwan, the 452-meter-high (1,491-foot-high) Petronas Towers in Malaysia and 1,461-foot-high Sear's Tower in Chicago. Opened in August, 1999, Jin Mao Tower was designed by the American firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the same architects that designed the Sears Tower. The 555-room Grand Hyatt Shanghai occupies the top 35 floors of the building. Elevators race from the ground floor to the 88th floor in 49 seconds. Among the building’s problems are the fact that there are too few window-washing gondolas to keep the window clean. The tower is open daily from 8:30am to 9:00pm. There is an observation deck with fine views of boats jostling for position in the Huangpu River below. The entrance fee is $6. Nearly the same views can he had for free from the Grand Hyatt, where there is floor to ceiling glass. Around Jin Mao is Luijiazui, the main financial center. Among the other notable buildings are the Pudong Shangri-La, a five-star hotel used by Tony Blair and other VIPs when they visit Shanghai. In June 2007, Alain ‘Spiderman’ Robert climbed Jin Mao Tower without permission. Afterwards he was arrested, spent five days in jail.

Image Sources: Wiki commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2012


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