Monday, July 23, 2007

The CCTV Building, Beijing

Late in the evening on Saturday, OES, AL, and I each tried to explain to friends what the Rem Koolhaas/OMA designed CCTV building in China is supposed to look like. Initially, we tried making Ls out of each of our hands and connecting them, but this was not clarifying. OES toyed with an ashtray, a pack of cigarettes, and a finger shaped like an L, but that didn't bring us much closer. Finally, he settled on a metaphor: imagine a Rubix cube with a 2x2 cube from the bottom corner removed. It was the closest we got, and although I suggested that you would also need to remove the remaining squares of a 2x2 cube from the opposite top corner, OES was unconvinced, and he's the architect, so I left it at that. AL, recently returned from Beijing, also swore that the towers were angled inwards, which was briefly debated as possibly just a function of perspective, but in the end, correct.

The building is being constructed, targeting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The images above represent artists' renditions of the fairly striking final building, and the images below are from Flickr, showing construction in progress. AL mentioned her amazement at how so much of the construction in China, where cranes dot the skyline, is also achieved through sheer manpower, with bamboo scaffolding scaling the same heights as the skyscrapers themselves. Of course, so many of the towers in New York and Chicago were raised the same way throughout the 2oth century, with skilled and unskilled laborers scaling heights in open air, on the thinnest of exo-skeletons, including the notable contribution of Mohawk ironworkers in New York. That this tradition of building continues in China and India is not surprising, but no less impressive.

Already the focus of an exhibition at MoMA in New York, perhaps less for its ambition as a monument than as a functioning building. The MoMA exhibit, which I saw last year, communicated the OMA vision, complete with a charming and slightly bizarre set of illustrations relating the stories of people who would be working in the building, as being about making the CCTV building a welcoming space and a usable space, designed specifically to suit the cross-functional purpose of its primary tenant: the state broadcasting company (this write up does a good job summarizing the design orientation of the building). While I am not in love with the aesthetics of the CCTV building, it certainly is a striking monument for the city of Beijing. The race to completion is on!

One final note: a little spooky how the skeletons of the two towers of the CCTV building going up recall our own towers as they were going down...

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