The New China

No longer a sleeping giant

  International Design

China 's current building boom is doing more than sucking up the world's supply

of steel -- it's creating a stage for some of today's boldest architecture and engineering

 Take a tour of the 10 of the most intriguing examples.

Beijing International Airport

Foster & Partners. Under construction, to be completed in late 2007. According to

the U.S. Embassy in China , the country will be building 108 new airports between 2004 and

2009 -- including what will be the world's largest: the Beijing International Airport , designed

by Foster & Partners. Set to open at the end of 2007, in time for the Beijing Olympics in

2008, the airport terminal will cover more than 1 million square meters, giving it a bigger

footprint than the Pentagon.

     It's designed to handle 43 million passengers a year initially and 55 million by 2015 ,

figures that will probably push the new facility into the ranks of the top 10 busiest airports ,

going by the 2004 numbers from the Airports Council International . Given the scale and

traffic, Foster & Partners focused on the traveler's experience, making sure that walking

distances are short, for instance

Shanghai World Financial Center

     Kohn Pederson Fox Architects. Under construction, completion scheduled for 2008

Rising in the Lujiazhui financial district in Pudong , the Shanghai World Financial Center

is a tower among towers . The elegant 101-story skyscraper will be ( for a moment, at

least )  the world's tallest when completed in early 2008 . One of the biggest challenges

of building tall is creating a structure that can withstand high winds . The architects

devised an innovation solution to alleviate wind pressure by adding a rectangular cut-out

at the building's apex . Not only does the open area help reduce the building's sway but

it also will be home to the world's highest outdoor observation deck -- a 100th-floor

vista that will take vertigo to new heights

 

National Aquatics Centre , Beijing

PTW and Ove Arup. Under construction, completion scheduled for 2008. The striking

exterior of the National Swimming Center , being constructed for the 2008 Olympic Games

and nicknamed , the " Water Cube , " is made from panels of a lightweight form of Teflon

that transforms the building into an energy efficient greenhouse-like environment . Solar

energy will also be used to heat the swimming pools , which are designed to reuse double

filtered , backwashed pool water that's usually dumped as waste . Excess rainwater will

also be collected and stored in subterranean tanks and used to fill the pools The complex

engineering system of curvy steel frames that form the structure of the bubble like skin are

based on research into the structural properties of soap bubbles by two physicists at

Dub lin 's Trinity College . The unique structure is designed to help the building withstand

nearly any seismic disruptions

Central Chinese Television CCTV, Beijing

   OMA/Ole Scheeren and Rem Koolhaas. Under construction, scheduled for completion in

2008 The design of the new Central Chinese Television (CCTV) headquarters defies the

popular conception of a skyscraper -- and it broke Beijing 's building codes , and required

approval by a special review panel The standard systems for engineering gravity and

lateral loads in buildings didn't apply to the CCTV building , which is formed by two leaning

towers , each bent 90 degrees at the top and bottom to form a continuous loop . The

engineer's solution is to create a structural " tube " of diagonal supports . The irregular

pattern of this " diagrid " system reflects the distribution of forces across the tube's surface

Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren and engineered by Dane, Ove Arup, the new

CCTV tower rethinks what a skyscraper can be..

Linked Hybrid, Beijing

Steven Holl Architects ; Li Hu , lead architect . Groundbreaking on December 28, 2005 ,

scheduled for completion in 2008 . Linked Hybrid , which will house 2,500 people in 700

apartments covering 1.6 million square feet , is a model for large-scale sustainable

residential architecture . The site will feature one of the world's largest geothermal coo lin g

and heating systems , which will stabilize the temperature within the complex of eight

buildings , all lin ked at the 20th floor by a " ring " of service establishments , like cafes and

dry cleaners . A set of dual pipes pumps water from 100 meters below ground , circulating

the liquid between the buildings' concrete floors . The result : The water circulation system

serves as a giant radiator in the winter and coo lin g system in the summer . It has no boilers

to supply heat , no electric air conditioners to supply cool . The apartments also feature

gray-water recycling -- a process that's just starting to catch on in Beijing in much smaller

buildings -- to filter waste water from kitchen sinks and wash basins back into toilets.

Eco City, Dongtan

 Masterplan by Arup , for the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corp . In planning stages ,

first phase to be completed in 2010 . Developed by the Shanghai Industrial investment

Corp. , Dongtan Eco City , roughly the size of Manhattan , will be the world's first fully

sustainable cosmopolis when completed in 2040 . Like Manhattan , it's situated on an

island -- the third largest in China . Located on the Yangtze River , Dongtan is within close

proximity of the bustle of Shanghai . By the time the Shanghai Expo trade fair opens in

2010 , the city's first phase should be completed , and 50,000 residents will call Dongtan

home-sweet-sustainable-home The goals to be accomplished in the next five years :

systems for water purification , waste management , and renewable energy .  An

infrastructure of roads will connect the former agricultural land with Shanghai

Beijing National Stadium

Herzog & de Meuron . Under construction , to be completed in 2008 . Sports stadiums

have long followed the enduring design of one of the original wonders of the world , Rome 's

Coliseum Herzog & de Meuron's National Stadium in Beijing is an attempt to rethink the

classic sports arena layout for more ecologically correct times . The Swiss architects

( of Tate Modern fame ) wanted to provide natural ventilation for the 91,000-seat structure 

-- perhaps the largest " eco-friendly " sports stadium designed to date . To achieve this ,

they set out to create a building that could function without a strictly enclosed shell , yet

also provide constant shelter for the audience and athletes alike . To solve these design

problems , they looked to nature for inspiration . The stadium's outer grid resembles a

bird's nest constructed of delicately placed branches and twigs . Each discrete space within

the facility , from restrooms to restaurants , is constructed as an independent unit within the

outer lattice -- making it possible to encase the entire complex with an open grid that allows

for natural air circulation . The architects also incorporated a layer of translucent membrane

to fill any gaps in the lacy exterior

Donghai Bridge , Shanghai/Yangshan Island

China Zhongtie Major Bridge Engineering Group , Shanghai # 2 Engineering Co. ,

Shanghai Urban Construction Group Officially opened in December , 2005 . A key phase

in the development of the world's largest deep-sea port was completed when China 's first

cross-sea bridge -- the 20-mile , six-lane Donghai Bridge -- was officially opened in

December, 2005 . Stretching across the East China Sea , the graceful cable-stay structure

connects Shanghai to Yangshan Island , set to become China 's first free-trade port ( and

the world's largest container port ) upon its completion in 2010 . To provide a safer driving

route in the typhoons and high waves known to hit the region , Donghai Bridge is designed

in an S-shape . The structure , reported by Shanghai Daily to have cost $1.2 billion , will

hold its title of China 's -- and one of the world's -- longest over-sea bridge for only a couple

of years , though . In 2008 , the nearby 22-mile Hangzhou Bay Transoceanic Bridge , which

also begins ( or ends , depending on your journey ) in Shanghai , will earn the superlative

National Grand Theater, Beijing

Paul Andreu and ADP . Under construction , to be completed in 2008 . Located near

Tiananmen Square , the 490,485-square-foot glass-and-titanium National Grand Theater ,

scheduled to open in 2008 , seems to float above a man-made lake . Intended to stand out

amid the Chinese capital's bust lin g streets and ancient buildings , the structure has

garnered criticism among Bejing's citizens for clashing with classic landmarks like the

Monument to the People's Heroes ( dedicated to revolutionary martyrs ) , the vast home of

the National People's Congress , or Tiananmen Gate itself ( the Gate of Heavenly Peace )

     French architect Paul Andreu is no stranger to controversy -- or to innovative forms . A

generation ago , in 1974 , his untraditional design for Terminal 1 of Paris 's Charles de

Gaulle airport was criticized for its unusual curves , yet Andreu's groundbreaking , futuristic

building later was seen to distinguish de Gaulle from more generic European and 

international air hubs . ( The same airport's Terminal 2E , also designed by Andreu , gained

attention in 2004 when it collapsed , tragically killing four people . )

   Beijing 's daring National Grand Theater is as much a spectacle as the productions that

will be staged inside in the 2,416-seat opera house , the 2,017-seat concert hall , and the

1,040-seat theater . At night , the semi-transparent skin will give passersby a glimpse at the

performance inside one of three auditoriums , a feature that highlights the building's public nature .

 

 

 

Beijing: Bold? Brazen?

At least architecturally speaking, since a number of new designs are unlike anything ever seen in China, or anywhere else for that matter. Suddenly the focus of many of the world's great architects, Beijing in the run up to the Olympics, is like a blank canvas. Some wonder, though, if all the lavish new strokes are too expensive, and eccentric.

By Ron Gluckman /Beijing


"THIS IS OUT FIRST HIGH-RISE. We wanted to do something different than your typical, two-dimensional, obvious skyscraper," says Ole Scheeren, director of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the cool Dutch design firm founded by Rem Koolhaas.

  OMA's new project is sure to make a big splash in Beijing, a city still characterized by conservative, Stalinist architecture. Koolhaas, who previously proclaimed the skyscraper to be dead, certainly intends to give life to a decidedly atypical high rise. In fact, simply describing it is pretty nigh impossible, Scheereen concedes.

   The new headquarters for CCTV, China's state television network, will most resemble a cartoon version of the letter "Z." At 230 meters high, the brightly colored, continuous loop with no right angles will tower over every other building in the city upon completion by 2008.

  Next door, a companion structure will take on the shape of a trapezoidal boot. These will provide more than 550,000 square meters for CCTV studios, offices, exhibitions and a hotel. Each of the unconventional structures would stand out in any city, at least upon this planet.

  Yet, across Beijing, the once-stodgy urban landscape is sprouting a number of other avant-garde structures, all designed to prove the communist capital isn't so much old fashioned, as innovative, artistic, with-it.

  Nor is this merely a Beijing phenomena. From Chongqing to Xiamen, Chinese cities are falling over themselves in the race for flash architecture, the perceived badge of hip. Shanghai has its shelter-skelter skyline, and Shenzhen sports a Viva-Las-Vegas look. Beijing, however, had always been content to be square.

  Not anymore. In fact, even Cold War throwbacks like Tiananmen Square no longer offer respite. Behind the Great Hall of the People, a site the size of four soccer pitches incubates a structure that some call the "Alien Egg."

   In a daring design by French architect Paul Andreu, the three halls that comprise the new National Theater are tucked inside an egg of titanium and glass. When it opens within the year, this striking egg will float upon an artificial lake, currently at the moat stage. Visitors will enter by escalator and appear to plunge into the water--with Mao's portrait at the Forbidden City behind them.

   Unsurprisingly, this radical design provoked so much public outcry that it was repeatedly halted for reconsideration. Critics complained that it was too expensive, modern and foreign, especially considering its location at the very heart of the People's Republic of China.

  Architects and engineers circulated petitions to kill the project. In the end, it was scaled back from a $500 million design with four theaters to the $300 million three-theater egg that now, fully framed on Beijing's main boulevard, looks like something hatched from a galaxy far, far away.

  Yet, such quabbling may be a thing of the past. Just three years after all the controversy over Mr. Andreu's "Alien Egg," the CCTV tower -- dubbed by locals as the "Twisted Donut" -- has hardly raised a peep of protest, even as costs soared to $700 million. Mr. Scheeren confides that there have been questions, mainly over the engineering realities of this truly radical design.

  Understandable, since many of the construction processes have never been attempted. OMA mainly had to demonstrate the logic of its structural design. Full approval was given in January, and Beijing authorities didn't even blink at the new cost estimate, even though its several times that of any previous OMA project.

  In the short space of a few years, Beijing's entire shell of conservatism seems to have shattered. "The mind here has changed quite radically in recent years," says Mr. Scheeren. "In America and Europe, there is very little readiness to do things of this scale and impact right now. A project like this would be impossible to do anywhere else in the world."

  Has Beijing's taste matured? More likely, the capital desperately desires to update its dowdy image before it hosts the 2008 Olympics. Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who designed London's Tate gallery, are signed for a $460 million skeletal steel Olympic Stadium that resembles a bird's nest.

  Lord Norman Foster was given the nod last November for a $1.9 billion airport expansion, and drawings show a futuristic runway flanked by an ice-block-like terminal.

  And there are many more of these building to come. The Twisted Donut and 170-meter boot are the first of 300 towers to rise in a new central business district. In the suburbs are sites for science parks and other theme developments, as well as luxurious subdivisions with names like Margarita Island, Glory Vogue, Latte Town, Palm Springs and Yosemite Village.

  Local architects have mixed feelings about these new, western-flavored designs. While most welcome fresh ideas, few can't help but envy the stratospheric sums earned by these famous -- and foreign -- architects. Some also question if these building are appropriate for Beijing.

  "Most Chinese don't have problems with foreign architects. They are eager to learn, exchange ideas," says a prominent Beijing architect, who requested anonymity. "But some of these ideas are bad." He singles out both the National Theater and the CCTV building as over-arching, misplaced and ridiculously expensive. "Nobody wants to see Beijing being played the fool."

  Lin Gu, a local reporter, recently returned to Beijing after a year of study in Europe. "This city is increasingly unrecognizable, and it feels alien, all this avant-garde architecture," he says. "Many people in Beijing have been brainwashed to think big buildings - however ugly - are modern."

  Average Beijingers, meanwhile, have little idea what is coming to their skyline soon, or the cost, but are proud of anything that seems to improve the standing of the capital. "All these big buildings make Beijing seem like a city of the world," says a proud cab driver, who quickly asks: "Is this what New York looks like?"

  Others grieve the demise of the tiled-roof homes and alleys that gave the city its ancient charm. The Chinese-born architect, I.M. Pei, on a visit a few years back, bemoaned the quest to build ever higher. "I said long ago, you should be able to look out over the walls of the Forbidden City and see nothing but blue sky. Of course, now it's gray sky," he added bitterly, "but you see sky."

  For how long, though? Few Beijingers are questioning the Twisted Donut, or the erection of 300 new towers in a formally low-lying city that had long resisted the instant skylines embraced by the rest of the country. This may mean that the time is finally ripe for Beijing to take on the appearance of a bright, bold world capital.

  Still, some local architects can't help but worry that the current urban free-for-all will leave Beijing with egg on its face.


Ron Gluckman is an American reporter, formerly based in Beijing (2000-2004), who has written about architecture in China for many publications. This piece appeared in the Asian Wall Street Journal in April 2004.

Photo of Andreu's National Theatre by Ron Gluckman. All others are artist renditions from the architectural firms.

Specail thanks to Ron Gluckman of www.gluckman.com

 

 
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