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Old September 25th, 2007, 12:28 PM   #1
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Finding Modern Chinese Architecture

As landmark opens, architectural freedom it inspired has already passed into history
25 September 2007
South China Morning Post









Disappointment spread among supporters of the National Grand Theatre a few years after President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao took power.

Following a decade of architectural liberty in which a series of diverse landmark buildings - many marked by overseas influences - were approved, the new leaders criticised the trend which had begun with the theatre's design, giving support to conservative architecture critics.

Now, with the theatre's construction completed, supporters fear the architectural freedom which the project inspired has come to an end.

On the mainland, the personality of political leaders has a significant impact on the style of public buildings. A renowned mainland architect who supported the theatre's controversial design said former president Jiang Zemin favoured adventurous styles but that an old-school approach dominated today's official designs.

"These days, I cannot express my support [for the theatre] in public, especially not in architectural circles, as the leadership's taste has changed," the architect said. "People with conservative attitudes, such as nationalism and practicality, are powerful and control much of the funding.

"There have been signs of xenophobia in recent architectural design competitions. I fear that another building as bold as the National Grand Theatre, that allows a foreigner to draw a humanitarian sphere at the centre of the nation's political heartland, will not appear for years to come."

The nation was surprised in 1999 when the Politburo, chaired by Mr Jiang, opted for French architect Paul Andreu's "city of theatres" - a titanium-and-glass shelled island floating on an artificial lake - to stand alongside the Great Hall of the People in the centre of Beijing.

Almost immediately, mainland architects lined up to attack its cost, appearance and - above all - what they said was a foreigner's disrespect for traditional Chinese culture.

Tsinghua University professor Alfred Peng Pei-keng , an influential architect, said he and many other prominent architects never stopped fighting the theatre's design and other "monstrous foreign building experiments" on the mainland.

Their efforts paid off last year when Mr Wen openly criticised the trend.

"Many large-scale public buildings are too big, too western, waste the country's resources and are built without Chinese characteristics," Mr Wen said.

A regulation issued jointly by five ministries this year announced: "In future, large public buildings must encourage domestic architects to participate and avoid rushing blindly for international submissions {hellip} Designs must represent a city's history, culture and tradition."

The top leaders' attitude was bringing fundamental changes to the building industry, Professor Peng said.

"Two months ago, I was invited to sit on the panel of the Shanxi Grand Theatre design competition," he said. "I was glad to see that, influenced by the new regulation, top architecture institutes from Beijing and Shanghai submitted their own designs without collaborating with foreign architects.

"But I want to emphasise it is not narrow-minded nationalism. The design [of the National Grand Theatre] is a focal point of international criticism," he said.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Professor Yang Bingde of the Zhejiang University's College of Civil Engineering and Architecture said the theatre and the buildings it inspired eventually would be architectural monuments.

"If Beijing and other major cities in China have a chance to be remembered by future generations, these revolutionary buildings - so different from anything we have done in the past - will leave their impression.

"One day, people will come to China to find the buildings they've seen on postcards," he said.
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Old October 17th, 2007, 08:59 AM   #2
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When the 'egg''s design was first unveiled, critics noted that passing under water to enter the building was very bad design and contrary to Chinese beliefs. There was certainly plenty of noise over the design's rationale and why Chinese characteristics were not considered.

Then, there's Jin Mao, which was made to look like a pagoda according to its Western architects.
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Old October 17th, 2007, 02:56 PM   #3
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French architects are well seen in China (opera houses of Beijing and Shangha´) ?
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Old November 15th, 2007, 05:36 AM   #4
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An Olympian victory
Hugh Pearman
11 November 2007
The Sunday Times

Beijing has set the scene for next year's games with monumentally stunning buildings. Nobody can compete with this audacity, says Hugh Pearman.

Although Beijing is as big as you expect -a dauntingly gridlocked, teeming, dust-laden bigness -it is only the third-largest city in China, behind Guangzhou and Shanghai. Yet, as the capital most likely to take over from Washington, DC, as the world's centre of supreme power, it has a hell of a swagger. When you see what Beijing is doing for the 2008 Olympics, you wonder why London is bothering.

Just as well we started Heathrow's Terminal Five in good time, because, when Richard Rogers's building opens next March, it will have taken nearly 20 years from initial concept to reality. In contrast, China decided it needed a vast new air terminal in 2003 and asked Norman Foster to design it. Then it brought in an army of 50,000 workers to build it, along with an extra runway. And it is finished, bar the final testing, which means it will open at the same time as Terminal Five. In front of the new air terminal is a large glass bubble, which turns out to be the railway station that will connect the airport to the city centre. "Do you know," says Foster casually when I bump into him later, "you could fit Terminal Five inside that station alone?" As one-upmanship goes, that takes a whole barrel of biscuits.

Foster was in town, along with the sculptor Anish Kapoor, the former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin and a million art dealers and collectors and curators and auctioneers, for the opening of the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA).

This is a rather fine converted factory at the centre of Beijing's thriving art-production district. The first big modern-art gallery in China, it is a response to the way the country's art has become very, very funky over the past 20 years. Wealthy entrepreneurs Guy and Myriam Ullens have been buying this art for a lot of that time, and have now gone a lot further by hiring the French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte to turn a Mao-era armaments factory, built by comradely East German engineers at the top of their game, into something potentially very good. The opening show is a bit pedestrian, though. There are rumours of big fallings-out among the curators in consequence.

Prices for good Chinese contemporary art are now at western levels, which is to say absurd, if not quite Damien Hirst. Artists here drive around in swanky cars and cut fat-cat deals, often directly. Charles Saatchi has bought into it, and western artists such as Kapoor are rushing to exhibit in the edge-of-town art district -he has a show on in one of the bigger commercial galleries there - because it's an important market. It's like anything else made in China: efficiently produced, often clever, wonderfully exportable. The world's museums are taking note. Next year, in Britain, exhibitions on Chinese art, architecture and design will blossom everywhere, from the Serpentine Gallery to the V&A. So you get that sense of being at a new centre culturally, as well as commercially and politically.

For their public buildings and spaces, the Chinese always take the grandly symmetrical approach. The Olympic park, in the northern sector of the city, is arranged on just such a rigidly disciplinarian axis, with various big lumps of sports buildings lined up like army cadets on parade. Not that many people are going to mind, because they will all be gazing at something so wildly improbable, it steals the show completely: the main Olympic stadium by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Nobody could claim this crazy steel bird's nest is remotely functionalist. It does the job of containing a stadium, but stadiums as a rule are dull. Designed in concert with the British engineers Arup, it is a seemingly random but, in fact, precisely calculated basket of steel noodles. As with the Foster airport, the closer you get, the more extraordinary it becomes. Can this thing possibly exist, right in front of your nose? In China, it can. The stadium is the world's biggest scribble, drawn in free space.

Artists in the city are already adopting it somewhat literally, in one gallery showing it perched in a giant tree. No doubt, in the edge-of-city avant-garde community, someone else will have thought to show it with a giant egg laid inside it. In which case, the egg in question will be the city's new National Grand Theatre, by the French architect Paul Andreu, best known for airports, notably Paris Charles de Gaulle. The theatre is an object so relentlessly, geometrically pure, it almost hurts. One block west of Tiananmen Square, it is not so much an egg as a giant soap bubble, but made of titanium and glass, and costing Pounds 180m. In the West, it would cost at least three times as much. Inside are three auditoriums -opera house, concert hall, theatre - that together seat 5,500 people. Surrounded by a square moat, disappointingly drained dry when I dropped by, it clearly sets itself up in comparison with the nearby moated Forbidden City.

This is a dangerous game to play, and Andreu's slippery dome loses the contest.

There is nothing that says what it is or what it does. It could be the Communist party HQ, a nuclear reactor, anything. It is a wonder, all right -a thin scattering of people line up to be photographed in front of it -but as photo opportunities go, it doesn't compare with that portrait of Mao looking out over Tiananmen Square.

Arup's Cecil Balmond, master of the informal, complex structure, pops up again helping the Dutch superstar Rem Koolhaas build the knotted skyscraper of the CCTV building in the northeast of the city. It might sound like a security camera, but this is China's state broadcaster. Koolhaas does not do polite architecture; he rejoices in the perversely difficult. This makes CCTV interesting, though I suspect it is more dramatic right now, half built, than it will be when finished. Its two angled legs are rising into the air, getting ever closer. They are starting to grope for each other like blindfolded party guests. There they stand, implausibly poised in the Beijing smog. In the end, though, it's just another object-building by another superstar European architect.

Everyone wants to build in China, and these state- sponsored projects are as plum as such jobs come. At least the Ullens gallery is, at about Pounds 5m, a relatively low-budget conversion of an existing building in the middle of the artistic community it serves and feeds. Had this been left to the state, you imagine it would have cleared a slum and plonked down a monumental container amid hectares of empty space. As it is, the arrival of UCCA effectively saved the hugger-mugger arts district of former factories from being cleared to house yet more rampant commercial sprawl. Let's be thankful to the Ullenses for suggesting, ever so subtly, that there is another, more incremental way to develop a world city.

For more on Beijing's new buildings, and images, visit timesonline.co.uk/visualarts
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Old November 19th, 2007, 06:16 AM   #5
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Old Beijing emerges renewed, inside and out
19 November 2007
The China Post

Our bus, No. 3 of four coaches chartered by China Travel Service, sped along the airport expressway as night began to fall and darkness zeroed in. When the bus stopped at the first toll booth, Xiao Song said the row of booths, an arch decorated with traditional Chinese cultural trappings, is China's "National Gate" (guo men). "Welcome to Beijing," she said cheerfully.

"Beijing today is not like it used to be," Xiao Song said. "What you are seeing now is the New Beijing. The city has now expanded to have six rings radiating from the Forbidden City. The Third Ring, where our hotel is located, was a suburb not long ago." Now it is downtown Beijing," she said.

The imperial capital of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties is not an economic monolith in terms of wealth distribution and development, she said. There was a saying describing Old Beijing's contrasting neighborhoods: "East is noble, west is rich, south is poor, north is deserted". But no longer," she pointed out. For example, the deserted north is now the site of the Olympics, a booming area where the world's most advanced and modern building are springing up like mushrooms.

She owed the birth of "New Beijing" to the vision and planning of mayor Wang Qishan, whose star is rising after the recent 17th Chinese communist party congress in Beijing. Wang's "two-axis, one-line" urban development policy has integrated the city into neighboring areas including Langfang and Tianjin, she said glowingly.

To take a quick look at the "New Beijing," our group of 150 visitors from all over the world was taken to several spots-the newly completed National Grand Theater, the awe-inspiring CCTV headquarters under construction, the vast Olympic Park, and a rare glimpse of China's rocket research institute called China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

The new theater looks like a huge balloon floating on water. Some say it looks like a brilliant pearl or a tear drop depending on the imagination of the beholder. The US$400 million structure was the masterpiece of French architect Paul Andreu, whose ultra-modern design seems hard to be blended into the ambience of nearby Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City on bustling Chang an Avenue. The theater is grand indeed, with a 2,416 opera hall and a 2,017 concert hall. It forms a striking contrast with other buildings on Beijing's oldest thoroughfare. Xiao Song told us that Chang-An Avenue has become an "architecture museum" of old and new. To this visitor, it's sort of a "100 flowers" redux.

But it was the CCTV's new headquarters On East Third Ring Rd. that caught the visitors agape. It is bold and unreal. Two leaning towers, each 50-stories tall, defy gravity to lean toward each other at the top, where they will meet to "shake hands," "embrace" or "kiss." Leaning at such a sharp angle is frightening, making the Leaning Tower of Pisa pale in comparison. After completion next year, the trapezoid-shaped building will look like a twisted "square donut" with a hollow center. Some suggest that this symbolizes "humble-heartedness," others joke that it may also mean mindless. The new home of China's state-run TV network has a total floor area of some 400,000 square meters, spacious enough to house the CCTV's 10,000 employees. The construction cost of this avant-garde building is a mind-boggling US$750 million, but not a big deal for the network's lucrative operation.

The Olympic Park, no doubt, is the centerpiece of New Beijing. For six years since winning the bid to host the Games, Beijing has made the 2008 Olympics a top prize to pursue, a raison d'etre for the city's 13 million residents. "Olympic madness" is the best catchphrase to describe the fever and frenzy, as more than US$40 billion has been thrown into the preparations to ensure the 29th Summer Games a "Green Olympics," a "High-tech Olympics," and a "Humanistic-Cultural Olympics". Some believe the Games could be "the grandest ever" in the Olympic history.

To the surprise of the visitors, the host at the Overseas Exchange Association arranged an unscheduled tour of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), which, in laymen's words, is a rocket research institute. This organization under the military is not open to ordinary tourists. The main exhibition hall is a museum of China's rocket development, from the 50s to the present. Real-sized rockets, from CZ-1 (Changzheng, or Long March-1) that blasted China's first satellite, Dongfanghong (East is Red), into the orbit in 1970, to CZ-2F, the launch vehicle for Shenzhou 1, China's first experimental spacecraft which made a successful return to earth after 21 hours in space, marking a milestone in China's manned spaceflight technology.

The space capsule of Shenzhou 5, in which astronaut Yang Liwei made the first manned space flight in 2003, is also on display. A female worker at CALT briefed the visitors about the preparations for this year's launching of China first moon orbiter, Chang'e, an ambitious project aimed at putting a man on the moon. CALT is now in charge of developing China's next generation of rockets, Long March 5 (CZ-5)., which is said to be powerful enough to send a 25-ton payload to low earth orbit.

After the hurried visit to the academy, one could not help but wonder how China's indigenous research and development of space science and technology could have blossomed into such towering achievements. The mainland, after all, is still a developing country. Is this "Chinese ingenuity?"
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Old November 19th, 2007, 11:47 PM   #6
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wow, i have never seen a pic of the completed project , looks even better than on the renders
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Old December 12th, 2007, 12:19 PM   #7
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Master designer eyes China's architectural revolution

HONG KONG, Dec 12 (Reuters) - He's designed everything from avant-garde chairs to cars to the Islamic art wing under construction at the Louvre, and now Italy's Mario Bellini wants to join China's architectural revolution.

Bellini is a renowned designer and architect, with product and furniture designs featured in museums worldwide. He has won several awards, including a medal of honour from the President of the Italian Republic for his international work.

In recent years, China has, to much controversy at home, flung open its doors to big-time architects from abroad who have won bids for headline projects like the egg-shaped National Theatre and various Olympic venues in Beijing.

Bellini spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of a design event in Hong Kong about working in China, which is rapidly modernising its cities and has been dubbed an "architectural playground".

Q: What do you think about what's happening in China?

A: I know that China is today a place to be. I think that China is giving to great architects really great opportunities at this moment, with financial power, a very fast decision process, and with physically fast construction. In the time they build a tower there, we build a little house. They seem really open to the top quality, not because they don't understand and take what looks strange and foreign. They do understand. Considering the projects they are having, it seems that really major things are going on here, as it used to be in Japan 20, 30 years ago.

Q: Do you think indigenous architecture and design in China is getting watered down by Western architects?

A: I don't know much about indigenous architecture. But a few years ago when I was here for a competition I met Chinese local architects and I was astonished by the high quality. Not because I didn't think China would have good architects, of course, but astonished by the fact that the Chinese architecture school was already delivering first-rate young architects.

Q: Do you want to work in China, or feel the need to do so?

A: When a nation reaches the level where they are able to interface with architects and intellectuals from abroad then it is nice to work there. What could be attractive about working in China is the fast timing, because architects always feel they haven't got a long enough life. In Italy, whatever you start working on, at the end it takes 10 years between when you start and when it is completed. From what I understand, in China, when there is a real will to do something then it goes fast, it is done seriously, and that is for an architect important. Otherwise you burn your life during these long waiting times.

Q: Considering the speed that some things can get done in China, what would you like to do there?

A: I think that the most exciting and challenging projects are normally the public interest projects, like museums, or stadiums, or public administration buildings, or university campuses. Or, a usual challenge for an architect is the big tower. Everybody is racing against others to build the longest and the tallest."

Q: In the context of China, what are the biggest challenges?

A: The challenge is to be able to answer their enormous expectations. I can imagine that if a Chinese city calls an architect from far away or abroad, which would mean a higher difficulty, a higher cost, it's because they have got such tremendous expectations. They are looking for something outstanding, for the best ever. They are just expecting to see something unexpected, something they think they themselves wouldn't be able to imagine because we are the bearers of different cultures... which have been open to innovations longer, because China is just growing so fast now after a long, long sleep. That would be the challenge.
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Old December 23rd, 2007, 07:06 PM   #8
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China's National Center for Performing Arts inaugurated

BEIJING, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- The egg-shaped futuristic National Center for the Performing Arts of China was officially opened Saturday evening with senior Communist Party leader Li Changchun and other officials at present at the inaugural concert.

A group of prestigious Chinese artists gathered at the center, formerly known as the National Grand Theater, for the concert given by the China National Symphony Orchestra (CNSO) and the Beijing Symphony Orchestra.

Li Yundi, a promising Chinese pianist who won the top prize of the Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition at the age of 18, gave his unique performance of Maurice Ravel's "Piano concerto in G major" at the concert.

The quartet by Lv Siqing, Huang Bin, Huang Mengla and Ning Feng, four Paganini International Violin Competition winners attracted thundering applauses.

A 200-member chorus impressed the audience with their performance of the famous Chinese folk song "Jasmine Flower."

The opening performance season of the grand theater will last till April 6. About 6,000 Chinese and overseas artists will give 180 performances, including operas such as Othello and ballets like Swan Lake, Jewels and Le Corsaire.

The Mariinsky Theater Opera Company (known until 1991 as the Kirov), from St Petersburg, Russia, will perform Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor on December 25. It will be the first foreign art troupe to give a performance at the center.

Among famous names of international performers are Valery Gergiev and Seiji Ozawa, and sopranos Kathleen Battle and Kiri Te Kanawa. Apart from the Mariinsky Theater of Russia, other famous foreign art troupes such as the New York Philharmonic will also perform.

The center administration expected the total audience to reach 300,000.

Deng Yijiang, deputy president of the center, said in mid November that more than 20,000 tickets have already been sold for the opening season.

Although the performances during the season are mostly classic ones at comparatively high price, the center said that it will sell tickets for as little as 30 yuan (4 U.S. dollars).

The Beijing New Year Concert to be held in the center on Jan. 1, will sell standing-room tickets, each 30 yuan, local media reported.

The architecture, designed by French architect Paul Andreu, triggered great controversy right after its blueprint was made known to the public. Some criticized it for being out of place as it sits near the Forbidden City while others favor its futuristic style.

The center boasts three large halls -- a 2,416-seat opera house, a 2,017-seat concert hall and a 1,040-seat theater.

The construction lasted from December 2001 to late September this year costing about 2.69 billion yuan (about 336 million US dollars).
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Old July 1st, 2008, 05:44 PM   #9
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Beijing Boasts Stunning New Buildings
By ANITA CHANG, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jun 30, 1:44 PM ET

This ancient capital city, long known for the architectural splendor of its centuries-old palaces and temples, is getting a new look that could have been plucked from science fiction.

A series of landmarks, notable for their futuristic design, will greet visitors to the Olympics. They include an Olympic stadium that looks like a giant bird's nest, a swimming venue literally built of bubbles and a pair of black office towers that lean toward each other at a 10-degree angle.

"This is the hottest place on Earth in terms of architecture," said Rory McGowan, a Beijing-based director of Arup, the British design and engineering firm, which is involved in several signature projects in the city. Architects and designers "are flocking over here in the thousands to look at Beijing."

As China's economy started taking off about 20 years ago, a similar transformation began changing the face of Beijing. Scores of traditional courtyard homes, factories and drab communist-inspired apartment blocks have been razed in recent years to make way for high-rise buildings with names such as "Fortune Plaza," "Soho" and "Park Avenue."

Now, with the Olympics coming, the construction has turned into a round-the-clock frenzy as the host city seeks to convey an innovative and forward-looking image. Such projects could change Beijing's image as a stodgy city, particularly compared to cosmopolitan Shanghai, where foreign architects first gravitated a few years ago.

The "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium was designed by Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron, known for turning a hulking former power plant in London into the Tate Modern art museum. It's a 91,000-seat bowl that will host the opening and closing ceremonies along with track and field events. The stadium's nickname comes from an exterior of steel "twigs" that form a massive, curving nest.

Motorists regularly disrupt traffic on an adjoining highway as they stop to snap photos.

Across from the Bird's Nest is perhaps Beijing's most whimsical building: the Water Cube, the swimming venue for the Games.

Builders used material similar to plastic wrap to create 4,000 translucent bubbles, which were filled with air and bolted to a metal frame. The material allows sunlight to filter in and the sounds of splashing water to flow out.

China Central TV's new headquarters was planned by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who designed the Seattle Public Library, the Prada store in New York and the Casa da Musica concert hall in Porto, Portugal.

Its two 37-story towers of black glass on diamond-shaped steel beams bend toward each other and are joined at the top by a sloping horizontal section that ranges from nine to 14 stories. It looks like a pair of bermudas, and Chinese have dubbed it "Big Shorts."

Not everyone likes the city's changing look.

"Most of the venue designers are foreign, and they don't know Chinese culture well enough," said Zhang Song, a professor in the college of architecture and urban planning at Tongji University in Shanghai. "They tended to focus mainly on surrealism, avant-garde style and postmodernism. These things are very good for a short time, but as times passes by, I wonder if they will last as classic design."

Beijing's other new buildings include a gargantuan airport terminal, with slanted skylights atop an arching roof, meant to mimic scales on a dragon's back. In the heart of the city is a glass and titanium dome nicknamed "The Egg," the sprawling national theater entered by walking under a clear-bottomed moat.

The change is dizzying — many of the structures have opened just within the past year — but city planners shrug it off.

"I don't think it's anything to make a fuss about," said Tan Xuxiang, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Planning Commission. "It's like a growing child. I'm a 12- to 14-year-old kid. If you see me after two years and I haven't grown, then I definitely have some kind of illness, right?"

Some, though, lament the loss of old Beijing. While the imperial Forbidden City and other tourist sites remain, many of the old courtyard homes — nestled amid the city's "hutongs," or alleyways — have been lost.

The days when hutong dwellers filled the streets in the evenings are giving way to a more modern and anonymous urban lifestyle.

"When people think of Beijing, they should also understand the traditional aspect of Beijing — the Forbidden City, the numerous hutongs," said Hu Xinyu, managing director of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center. "That's the real Beijing."
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Old July 21st, 2008, 05:58 AM   #10
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FEATURE-Beijing Games architecture aims to shock, awe

BEIJING, July 18 (Reuters) - While feats of athletic brilliance may be the main focus of cameras during the Beijing Olympics, the telegenic venues set to host the athletes will draw their own share of gasps from admiring spectators.

Beijing's Olympic construction boom has bequeathed an 800-year-old city with some of the world's most futuristic architectural statements, potent symbols of a resurgent power's desire to showcase its development and mastery of technology.

"I think the venues show a new openness and tolerance among common Chinese people. They also show our amazing achievements," said Zheng Fang, a Chinese architect who worked on the acclaimed National Aquatics Centre, dubbed the "Water Cube" for its shape and bubbly facade.

The Olympic swimming venue, designed by a consortium of Arup engineers, architects from Australian firm PTW and Zheng's China Construction Design International (CCDI), competes with the adjacent National Stadium for the affections of thousands of camera-wielding tourists who flock to the main Olympic Green every day.

The 91,000-seat Herzog & de Meuron-designed National Stadium, known as the "Bird's Nest" for its lattice work of interwoven steel, has made such an impact as to displace late Chinese leader Mao Zedong's face from commemorative Olympic bank notes.

Standing together, the stadium and the swimming venue form "one of the most powerful urban precincts in the world," said John Bilmon, a principal director with PTW.

DRAGON'S BACK

Many Games visitors' first experience of Beijing's building ambitions, however, will start well before they get to the competition venues.

The city's new airport terminal designed by British architect Norman Foster is supposed to resemble a dragon, complete with triangular windows cut into the ceiling as though they were scales.

After touching down at the $3.6 billion terminal, passengers will be able to board a brand new airport train to the city centre, and then ride a new subway link to Beijing's business district, where the vertigo-inducing CCTV building looms improbably over lesser towers.

Designed by Rem Koolhaus' Office for Metropolitan Architecture as a subversion of the traditional skyscraper, the nearly completed headquarters for China's staid state broadcaster joins two towers sloped together with a gravity-defying canopy at 80 storeys' height.

The buildings are not just testament to China's engineering skills, but an authoritarian country's ability to rapidly mobilise manpower and resources, according to Ming Liang, a design professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

"Authorities can simply order 1,000 of the country's best welders to leave their homes and come weld the 'Bird's Nest' together in Beijing," said Ming. "This is what can be done here."

Politics, which have re-shaped Beijing's landscape for more than eight centuries, have also played an undeniable part in the city's modern transformation.

Architects see little coincidence in the Olympic Green's location directly north of the Forbidden City and its modern equivalent Zhongnanhai, where the Communist Party's top leaders live and govern in almost total secrecy.

"No wealth or power can be concentrated in the south as that would be challenging the king. All rich people live behind the king on the left and the right," said Ming.

WORLD'S BEST IN BEIJING

The controversial National Theatre, a shiny half-sphere that looms south of imperial-era Zhongnanhai, is an exception to the rule, albeit one endorsed by opera fan and former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, reportedly the first soloist to grace the stage on its completion last year.

While eye-catching and widely praised, Beijing's new architectural marvels have also weathered a storm of criticism, from academics complaining of a developing country's wastefulness, to environmental experts panning the venues for not living up to the "Green Olympics" pledge.

Chinese architect Ai Weiwei, a design consultant for the "Bird's Nest", last year said he regretted that the stadium he helped inspire had become a symbol of a one-party state's "fake" Olympic smile.

Other architects prefer to focus on the benefits derived from the global skills and technologies concentrated for the Olympic construction.

"In reality, in building these stadiums and other buildings like the CCTV Tower, we brought the world's best technology and masters to Beijing," said CCDI's Zheng.

Criticising China for wanting to showcase its development achievements is in any case misguided, said Tristram Carfrae, a structural engineer for Arup and the mastermind behind the Water Cube's playful facade.

"If you look at Beijing's history of architecture and design as being about monumentalism, about the grand statement, then why should these sport venues be any different?"

($1=6.813 yuan)
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Old August 5th, 2008, 07:12 PM   #11
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Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in old, and new, Beijing

BEIJING, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Beijing has an array of must-see Olympic architecture and an improved public transport system aimed at helping to diminish notorious pollution. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge offer tips for making the most of the city by bike, foot and public transport.

FRIDAY

5 p.m. - Take a walk or pedal a bike back in time in Beijing's disappearing hutong alleyways for a glimpse into the sleepy Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) life the city knew when it became a capital around 1283.

A maze of car-less, mostly Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasty hutong lie to the north and south of the central Forbidden City, and around nearby Houhai's three picturesque lakes. Wandering is the best option, as the sometimes nameless alleys are too small to be on maps.

7 p.m. - Rest under shady willow trees, or in a lakeside cafe or bar such as No Name. Said to be Houhai's first bar, it has a range of strong Vietnamese, Irish and other iced coffees and snacks. (Tel: 6618 6061) Across the lake and down another hutong its sister restaurant, No Name Yunnan Restaurant, has a rooftop terrace and South China specialities.

9.30 p.m. - Take a post-dinner stroll around brand-new Games venues the Bird's Nest national stadium and Water Cube aquatic centre. A new subway line leads up to the perimeter fence around the futuristic buildings, which are lit up with glowing colours from 7.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night.

10.30 p.m. - Zip over to Sanlitun, the main bar district, via the new subway line 10 (Tuanjiehu stop). There are bars for all tastes, from the very glamorous such as Q Bar to the rather seedy Kai bar. Take your pick.

SATURDAY

5 a.m. - Early risers can watch the sunrise flag raising ceremony in Tian'anmen, the world's largest public square and a vast concrete expanse dominated by the memory of Mao Zedong, who founded the People's Republic in 1949. (Check Tian'anmen website for exact times http://www.tiananmen.org.cn/flag/index.asp)

8.30 a.m. - Mao's mummified body lies in a free-to-visit central mausoleum, open 8.00 a.m. to 12 p.m. except Mondays, and his portrait hangs over the Tian'anmen Gate, centre of the city's north-south central axis and entrance to the Forbidden City.

10 a.m. - For a newer "new China" monument walk west from the square, past the dark-red walls of government compound Zhongnanhai, and cross the street to "The Egg".

The glittering glass National Centre for the Performing Arts (http://www.chncpa.org) lies inside a shallow moat whose rim, and small surrounding park, have become a popular hang out spot.

12 p.m. - Four blocks away, just south of Tian'anmen (tube stop Qianmen) is the former Legation quarter, home to foreign missions from 1861 to 1959 and Beijing's most significant collection of early twentieth century European architecture.

A handful of buildings remaining, including the more than 100-year old former U.S. Embassy, are being restored by developers who plan high-end restaurants and arts and entertainment venues.

2 p.m. - Head north for late lunch and galleries at Timezone 8 bookshop and cafe, (http://www.timezone8.com) or At Cafe, in 798 Dashanzi arts district off the airport expressway.

Built with East German co-operation in the 1950s, the sprawling state-run munitions factory downsized after 1980s reforms, and since the late 1990s has been overtaken by art galleries, bookshops and cafes. Don't miss the photo gallery (http://www.798photogallery.com).

4 p.m. - China National Film Museum (http://www.cnfm.org.cn) is a few blocks north in newer arts district Caochangdi, a quiet village where Bird's Nest co-designer Ai Weiwei and dozens of well-respected artists and galleries have migrated.

7 p.m. - Hungry? Scruffy and grey by day, central-east Dongzhimennei Dajie, nicknamed Gui Jie or "Ghost Street" glams up at night with hundreds of red lanterns lining its 2-km (mile) stretch of restaurants.

Stylish Hua Jia Yi Yuan in a revamped old "siheyuan" courtyard is walking distance from Dongzhimen subway. Its private rooms, open courtyards and cloistered back garden serve classic but modern Beijing and Sichuan dishes. (http://www.huajiacai.com).

10 p.m. - Karaoke time. Party like the locals do at Partyworld (http://www.cn.cashboxparty.com/) in your own private room. A large selection of English songs, and a positively encyclopaedic selection of Chinese songs, are on offer.

SUNDAY

9 a.m. - Circling the six post-1980s ring roads that loop modern Beijing is a daily ritual for millions. Take the 300 bus around the 3rd ring road to the southeastern antiques mecca of Panjiayuan.

Open from 4:30 a.m. onwards, its 3,000 market stalls sell everything from cheap Mao watches to Qing-style furniture, ceramics, books, trendy lanterns, clothes, jewellery, silks and more. (Tel: 6775 2405).

12 p.m. - Returning north along the third ring, pass the incomplete icon, Rem Koolhaas' "crooked trousers" CCTV Tower, which state broadcaster China Central Television will move to. The vertigo-inducing structure joins two towers sloped together with a gravity-defying canopy at 80 storeys' height.

12.30 p.m. - Jump off at Tuanjiehu station to refuel, refresh and recharge with an ethical (ie: tofu or wheat-gluten-based) lunch of imperial favourite sharks' fin or mock Peking duck in the aesthetic and tasty monk-run vegetarian restaurant Pure Lotus. (Tel: 6592 3627)

2 p.m. - Walk west from Beixinqiao station along Jiaodaokou and then Gulou Dong Dajie to yet another historic centre -- the Drum and Bell Tower first built under Mongol leader Kublai Khan in 1272.

Reconstructed hutong Nanluoguxiang's trendy collection of boutiques and bars is signposted off to the right, half-way along the tree and music shop-lined Gulou.

The beat from the drum tower (gulou) kept time during the Yuan Ming and Qing dynasties, waking the city as early as 5 a.m. At dusk the bell tower opposite rang to announce the city walls' closure.

Rebuilt many times, both are open to the public; though just as popular are nearby alleyways harbouring cafes and bars such as the rooftop Drum and Bell (Tel: 8403 3600), and courtyard bar with a twist, Bed Tapas and Bar (Tel: 8400 1554).

6:30 p.m. - If it's a clear day, trek south a few blocks to imperial remnant Jinshang Park for an unbeatable panoramic view over the metropolis.

Climb to high-point Wanchun Pavilion and watch the light fade over the golden roofs of the 600-year-old Forbidden City.

7.30 p.m. - No Beijing visit would be complete without Peking duck -- try the real deal before you leave and Da Dong is a good bet, not too touristy and as popular with the locals as it is with visitors. (Tel: 6582 2892)
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Old August 27th, 2008, 06:08 AM   #12
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Water Cube brings Chinese architect Olympic glory
20 August 2008
Agence France Presse

Zhao Xiaojun may not have won a gold medal, but the Shanghai architect who helped create the iconic bubble-clad Water Cube is already reaping the rewards of Olympic glory.

The record-breaking exploits of US swimmer Michael Phelps turned a global spotlight on Beijing's National Aquatics Center, which was built with an exterior that looks as delicate as soap bubbles.

And for Zhao, the Olympic Games have brought very welcome attention.

"People tell me it is a magic swimming pool because swimmers broke so many world records in these past few days," the 41-year-old architect told AFP.

Zhao's firm China Construction Design International teamed up with Australia's PTW Architects and London-based engineers Arup to build the award-winning building.

Initially, the Australian architects suggested the building should have a wavy design, conveying the sense of water in motion, but after weeks of discussion Zhao said his team won the case for a very Chinese reading of water: calm, serene and untroubled.

"It may not appear stunning at first sight, but if you take a second look, you will feel peace and a profound sense of beauty," he said.

In his four-story concrete office surrounded by a green bamboo grove, Zhao, dressed in a black Mandarin collar suit, performed a tea ritual as he explained how the Water Cube has led to an unexpected bonanza.

A combination of sports fever and regional governments eager to show their economic achievements has led provincial cities to court Zhao's services for stadium projects in the hope he can repeat the Water Cube's success.

They include Jinan Olympic park in east China's Shandong province, the venue for China's national games next year, Taiyuan sports centre in Shanxi province and Hohhot sports centre in Inner Mongolia, both in north China.

His firm has grown dramatically from 200 people five years ago to more than 1,800 today with revenues rising about 80 percent annually, and turnover expected to top 800 million yuan (120 million dollars) this year.

Zhao said the firm put so much work into the Water Cube -- which reportedly cost 1.35 billion yuan and was mostly paid for by donations from overseas Chinese -- that it actually incurred a loss on the project.

But that work has more than paid off in other ways.

The Water Cube's prestige has helped attract top talent and the experience of working on such a massive project has been invaluable, Zhao said.

"It's the best card you could play in business," Zhao said. "Even your competitors understand how much hardship you have to endure to finish a mega-project like that."

The approval process for the Water Cube was not easy, Zhao said.

The venue's key component is the translucent polymer ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, or ETFE, that forms the 3,065 pockets that cover the steel structure.

The material is said to be 100 times lighter than glass, while allowing in more light and insulating better. Before the Water Cube, it was most famously used in the Eden Project in Cornwall, England.

But to convince the jury that the plastic facade could withstand Beijing's tough weather, Zhao's company spent heavily on trials to test the materials.

The environment inside was designed with swimmers and speed in mind, from the air temperature to tiny bubble in the pool to break surface tension and depth and gutters designed to reduce waves.

After the Games end, the building will begin it's new life as the 17,000 seats will be cut to 6,000 and the extra space will be converted into a community recreation centre, Zhao said.

There have also been some surprising spin-offs building on the Water Cube's brand. Zhao said he heard a Canadian company had won a contract to sell glacier water with the Water Cube's distinctive bubbles moulded into the bottle.

Wang Ming, one of Zhao's former designer partners, had already started her own workshop to develop accessories and furniture lines echoing the Water Cube's distinctive bubbles.
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