Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Chinese Capitalists outmaneuver architects!

02/03/2009

Remember when Herzog and de Meuron thought they were being subversive in Beijing? They designed the provocative and hugely successful Olympic Stadium:

Herzog: … Our vision was to create a public space, a space for the public, where social life is possible, where something can happen, something that can, quite deliberately, be subversive or — at least — not easy to control or keep track of.

SPIEGEL: Your architecture as an act of resistance? Aren’t you exaggerating?

Herzog: No. We see the stadium as a type of Trojan horse. We fulfilled the spatial program we were given, but interpreted it in such a way that it can be used in different ways along it perimeters. As a result, we made everyday meeting places possible in locations that are not easily monitored, places with all kinds of niches and smaller segments. In other words, no public parade grounds.

Well now comes word from the Shanghai Daily that

The area around Beijing’s National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest,” will be turned into a shopping and entertainment complex in three to five years.

Plans call for the US$450 million stadium to be the anchor for a complex of shops and entertainment outlets in three to five years, according to the CITIC Group, operator of the stadium, which was the showpiece of the Beijing Olympics in August last year.

Tourists now pay 50 yuan (US$7) to walk on the stadium floor and browse a souvenir shop.

It attracts an average of 20,000 to 30,000 visitors every day, according to Beijing tourism authorities.

The CITIC Group will continue to develop tourism as a major draw for the Bird’s Nest, while seeking sports and entertainment events.

The only confirmed event at the 91,000-seat stadium this year is Puccini’s opera “Turandot,” on August 8 – the first anniversary of the Olympics’ opening ceremony. The stadium has no permanent tenant after Beijing’s top football club, Guo’an, backed out of a deal to play there.

According to the company, maintenance of the 250,000-square-meter National Stadium will cost 60 million yuan a year, making it hard to make profit.

From the same pre-Olympics interview with Spiegel:

Herzog: Over the years, we were often completely perplexed, because we couldn’t gauge how our design was being received. What was missing was a clear response. But everything fell nicely into place in the end. … It just happens to be the case that in China, you can never be quite sure how anything will turn out.

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Form Follows Fascists

08/19/2008

I know the


looks like a


which can symbolize rebirth (the egg), freedom (flight) and a place to nurture new “movements.”

But I’ve been trying to figure out what the Beijing “Bird’s Nest” stadium really reminds me of. It’s interesting for its porosity, its irregularity, its non-Euclidean geometry. It recalls the work of artists who enclosed space in a similar way.



Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

“Wrapped bottle” is from 2001-2007. “Wrapped Snoopy House” is from 2004. And “Wrapped Paintings” is from 1969.

But Christo has been sending us packages like this since the late 1950’s. Since soon after he fled his native part of the world- communist Eastern Europe.

“Bird’s Nest” architects from Switzerland Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron worked with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on their stadium, not with Christo.

Ai Weiwei is famously critical of the Chinese government. He told the Guardian,

We must bid farewell to autocracy. Whatever shape it takes, whatever justification it gives, authoritarian government always ends up trampling on equality, denying justice and stealing happiness and laughter from the people.

I like his use of the word “shape.” The “shape” inside the wrapping? The truth is wrapped?

Back to Christo. He grew up in autocratic Bulgaria. He was born in 1935, the Red Army occupied his homeland in 1944. They changed it from an fascist ideological regime to a Stalinist communist one. In 1957 Christo escaped eastern Europe.

Is his art partly about the Communist state “wrapping” the truth? Covering up the true social conditions? He doesn’t deny this.

At the Beijing stadium, does seeing the “wrapping” in such a physical form, and beautiful, which means that what’s inside might be beautiful too, does this architectural statement make us more desirous of unwrapping? Of getting at a truth, (or at beauty)?

In this way Weiwei and the architects could be fomenting social change. No wonder Ai Weiwei said he wouldn’t attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and Herzog and de Meuron were in some ways not credited enough, shoved under the rug by the authorities. (Again, truth hidden?)

Reminds me also of Winston Churchill’s “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

The walls are porous. The truth will leak out


and in.

Even the pavement around the stadium is not a single entity, but is divided into pieces. Individualism. As each of the steel rods supporting this great structure is valuable, and unique. Like the words in a good poem. Like the citizens in a free society.

To end then, more good words from Ai Weiwei

… The “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, which I helped to conceive, is designed to embody the Olympic spirit of “fair competition”. It tells people that freedom is possible but needs fairness, courage and strength.



I’ll ask Ai Weiwei about this when I talk with him on September 17.

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Can anybody beat Beijing? Is the US ready to compete for the 2016 Olympic Games?

08/14/2008

What’s the difference between


and

Between


and

Between

and

Ambition? Vision? Economics? Arrogance? The amalgamated power of the society behind it? If you think it’s all of the above, read this.

I write about it in the Huffington Post. You’re welcome to comment.

These pictures show you the difference. Symbols matter. So does ease of movement. So do first impressions and entries into cities and cultures.

Images in order:

a. Beijing “Bird’s Nest” stadium
b. Proposed stadium for Chicago, for the Olympics 2016 bid

a. Magnetic levitation train between Shanghai and its airport
b. Blue Line train between O’Hare and Chicago

a. New terminal at Beijing airport
b. new terminal at Chicago Midway airport

More from me on China here.

Can anybody beat Beijing? Is the US ready to compete for the 2016 Olympic Games?

08/14/2008

What’s the difference between


and

Between


and

Between

and

Ambition? Vision? Economics? Arrogance? The amalgamated power of the society behind it? If you think it’s all of the above, read this.

I write about it in the Huffington Post. You’re welcome to comment.

These pictures show you the difference. Symbols matter. So does ease of movement. So do first impressions and entries into cities and cultures.

Images in order:

a. Beijing “Bird’s Nest” stadium
b. Proposed stadium for Chicago, for the Olympics 2016 bid

a. Magnetic levitation train between Shanghai and its airport
b. Blue Line train between O’Hare and Chicago

a. New terminal at Beijing airport
b. new terminal at Chicago Midway airport

More from me on China here.

The most beautiful new building in the world ?

06/20/2008


Celestial.

Beijing Airport’s new Terminal Three by the UK’s Norman Foster and Partners is not only perhaps the most beautiful airport in the world, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings of any kind in the world.

Curbside you’re greeted with curves.


That’s quite a cantilevered roof. The longest in the world. Good for a dramatic entrance.
But once inside, the building really takes off.

Inside, the roof floats, light as a bamboo raft, though made of metal.


Sensuously curved. Always in more than one direction (computers used well.) Like flight, like the curve of the sky, like the curves of Chinese roofs, which go up at the end, abstracted. Put it all together it symbolizes China as the center of the world.

From the land that gave us the seemingly endless Forbidden City.

Architect Norman Foster’s office says this airport is the biggest building on the planet. Twice the size of the Pentagon. Interesting we’d compare it to that.

Inside, it’s flooded with natural light.

Always changing.

At times looking Chinese red and gold, as at China’s temples.

Elsewhere, sparingly used, accents of yellow and red.


Again curved. Gently. Which lightens it all. It feels springy, feather light, like flight. Not heavy; or tiresome. And again natural light.

Quiet and calm was the mood when I was there.

The reflective floor also lightens your mental load – a wonderful thing when you’re carrying luggage.


The reflections remind one of the pools in Chinese gardens that reflect pavilions and nature and create the demarcation of heaven and earth. The same occurs in this fabulous gateway of a terminal. An entrance to and an exit from a great civilization.



And as in any good Chinese garden, as you proceed through it and turn your view you’re rewarded with new, different, arrestingly beautiful views.





(click arrow)

The soft curves of the airport roof tell you what path to take.


Follow this


to the escalators down to the trains to the gates.


Once down below, the design continues to flow, out through the walls and outdoors, where we’ll be soon.


At the gate, none of those dark, metallic container-like passages to walk through to board the aircraft. Instead, another light-filled hall.


From the plane’s window- a view of the roof with the windows that let all that modulated serene light in to the main hall.


Dragon-like? Perhaps. It feels local. And the horizontal and vertical in these skylights ensure that the light is always changing.

Another exterior shot. It’s a graceful and curved world.


Then it’s goodbye to China,


and though smoggy, it’s on to sailing. As one was inside the terminal.


Until soon, I hope.

——

Paul Goldberger’s New Yorker piece on new airport terminals.

Foster has done for airports what the architects Reed & Stem did for train stations with their design for Grand Central…

And the New York Times:

$3.8 billion and can handle more than 50 million passengers a year. The developers call it the “most advanced airport building in the world,” and say it was completed in less than four years, a timetable some believed impossible..

And high-speed rail connects it to the city.

(Other posts on China from me here).

The most beautiful new building in the world ?

06/20/2008


Celestial.

Beijing Airport’s new Terminal Three by the UK’s Norman Foster and Partners is not only perhaps the most beautiful airport in the world, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings of any kind in the world.

Curbside you’re greeted with curves.


That’s quite a cantilevered roof. The longest in the world. Good for a dramatic entrance.
But once inside, the building really takes off.

Inside, the roof floats, light as a bamboo raft, though made of metal.


Sensuously curved. Always in more than one direction (computers used well.) Like flight, like the curve of the sky, like the curves of Chinese roofs, which go up at the end, abstracted. Put it all together it symbolizes China as the center of the world.

From the land that gave us the seemingly endless Forbidden City.

Architect Norman Foster’s office says this airport is the biggest building on the planet. Twice the size of the Pentagon. Interesting we’d compare it to that.

Inside, it’s flooded with natural light.

Always changing.

At times looking Chinese red and gold, as at China’s temples.

Elsewhere, sparingly used, accents of yellow and red.


Again curved. Gently. Which lightens it all. It feels springy, feather light, like flight. Not heavy; or tiresome. And again natural light.

Quiet and calm was the mood when I was there.

The reflective floor also lightens your mental load – a wonderful thing when you’re carrying luggage.


The reflections remind one of the pools in Chinese gardens that reflect pavilions and nature and create the demarcation of heaven and earth. The same occurs in this fabulous gateway of a terminal. An entrance to and an exit from a great civilization.



And as in any good Chinese garden, as you proceed through it and turn your view you’re rewarded with new, different, arrestingly beautiful views.





(click arrow)

The soft curves of the airport roof tell you what path to take.


Follow this


to the escalators down to the trains to the gates.


Once down below, the design continues to flow, out through the walls and outdoors, where we’ll be soon.


At the gate, none of those dark, metallic container-like passages to walk through to board the aircraft. Instead, another light-filled hall.


From the plane’s window- a view of the roof with the windows that let all that modulated serene light in to the main hall.


Dragon-like? Perhaps. It feels local. And the horizontal and vertical in these skylights ensure that the light is always changing.

Another exterior shot. It’s a graceful and curved world.


Then it’s goodbye to China,


and though smoggy, it’s on to sailing. As one was inside the terminal.


Until soon, I hope.

——

Paul Goldberger’s New Yorker piece on new airport terminals.

Foster has done for airports what the architects Reed & Stem did for train stations with their design for Grand Central…

And the New York Times:

$3.8 billion and can handle more than 50 million passengers a year. The developers call it the “most advanced airport building in the world,” and say it was completed in less than four years, a timetable some believed impossible..

And high-speed rail connects it to the city.

(Other posts on China from me here).

Upscale China

06/07/2008

There it is, through the grey Beijing dust and smog, Steven Holl’s “Linked Hybrid.” Housing for Chinese, or anyone, who can drop about a million bucks on a place in the Chinese capitol.

Through the construction gate you see a typical Chinese construction site. Teeming with activity, messy, dusty, and a combination of the latest technologies and underpaid, (very) manual laborers. They often live on or near the site. In cramped, and worse conditions. The developer will pay a penalty if many units are not ready for people to move in in two months! Hire more low-paid workers. Holl’s office says the units will be ready.

The colors are going up in the window frames. That’ll look good even from the highway – look for “Linked Hybrid” when you drive in from Beijing airport – it’s on your right, about three-quarters of the way into town. Beijing’s smog makes everything look dirty quickly, but Holl’s office says these panels will be washed frequently, and automatically. The colors, he says, are based on the bright yellows and reds and blues at Chinese temples- (do watch this video. of Steven Holl talking about this project. It’s really great.) -such as the newly repainted for Olympic visitors Temple of Heaven in Beijing.


The palette may be based on those temples, but it also bears strong resemblance to a previous Holl project, one I very much admire, Simmons Hall, a dormitory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Still, the colors should look nice and open and close and change and merge as you move past the building on bicycle, or more likely for now until China comes to its senses- by car.


The skybridges are supposed to be for the public. With cafes, a pool, etc. I wonder how long public accessibility will last there, in this project for the wealthy?

When Holl was given the project, he was told to design for a previous scheme of eight towers, eight being lucky for the Chinese. He added the skybridges. His office says they showed the Chinese developers their designs and expected some “dumbing-down” or cost-cutting, instead they were told that construction would start quickly, and if Holl could make his moves any more radical to go ahead and do so. China – the land of ‘anything goes.’ Also in this high-end multi-use project are cinemas, a Montessori school, public parks, and more. Steven Holl already has more work in China, bigger projects than this one. Four of his are planned to open between now and 2010. The mixed-use “Linked Hybrid” in Beijing, “Chengdu Project” in Sichuan, and “Vanke Center” in Shenzen (near Hong Kong), and the Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture. And he’s gone green in the land of grey air. He incorporates green roofs, natural light, high-performance glass, energy-efficient technologies, geothermal energy and large ponds to harvest recycled rainwater. Grasses and lily pads create a natural cooling effect.

But don’t count on the wealthy residents using much natural ventilation since the Beijing air is so bad- polluted, dusty, windy, hot and cold. What more could you ask for?


While I think these projects are exciting, and I applaud the green features, it must be said that China ought to preserve more of its traditional housing forms. The lower, courtyard buildings. Some preservation is going on, but more could be saved rather than all the bulldozing of them that I see. The remaining ones should be renovated. And then, some new, profitable, grand-scale model for housing is needed, rather than towers; something closer to traditional Chinese life.


A very thin man I met in this Shanghai courtyard


took me into his home,


proud of his original tile floor.



“Why would you take anyone into this dump?” his wife scolded him.


While not romanticizing, I think I’d rather look out from their terrace than out a window at “Linked Hybrid,” even onto the planted roofs than Holl’s firm is designing.

Maybe the early German modernists were right,


and the world, like Beijing, will become


That’s from a pedestrian and bicycle overpass right near “Linked Hybrid.”

Clearly Steven Holl is putting a lot more art into his project than you find in most of what’s going up in China. As usual, it’s not the “starchitects” we should criticize, but the Banal Builders.

In the end, we are like cockroachs. We adapt. A man, on that same overpass.


Would he wish to trade places with his kite?

Will the people who inhabit the new tower blocks of China alter them to make them more hospitable?

Why don’t megaprojects provide places, as in the old courtyards



Looks like they’re designing a Steven Holl project, doesn’t it?

What will the children of today’s Chinese ‘boomers’ will think about living in the sky, loss of community, anonymity, isolation…. lack of true color


For today’s Chinese, Holl’s project may be the new “Temple of Heaven.” I’m curious to see the backlash, as China continues on its riotous run.

————————————————-

June 8 Update: The New York Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff on “The New, New City” such as those in China. Of Holl’s “Linked Hybrid” Ouroussof says,

“In America, I could never do work like I do here,” Steven Holl, a New York architect with several large projects in China, recently told me, referring to his latest complex in Beijing. “We’ve become too backward-looking. In China,
they want to make everything look new. This is their moment in time. They want to make the 21st century their century. For some reason, our society wants to make everything old. I think we somehow lost our nerve.”

Holl has reason to be exhilarated. His Beijing project, “Linked Hybrid,” is one of the most innovative housing complexes anywhere in the world: eight asymmetrical towers joined by a network of enclosed bridges that create a pedestrian zone in the
sky. Yet this exhilaration also comes at a price: only the wealthiest of Beijing’s residents can afford to live here. Climbing to the top of one of Holl’s towers, I looked out through a haze of smog at the acres of luxury-housing towers that surround his own, the kind of alienating subdivisions that are so often cited as a symptom of the city’s unbridled, dehumanizing development. Protected by armed guards, these residential high-rises stood on what was until quite recently a working-class neighborhood, even though the poor quality of their construction makes them seem decades old. Nearby, a new freeway cut through the neighborhood, further disfiguring an area that, however modest, was once bursting with life.

If you take Venturi’s ideas about the city,” Holl said, referring to Robert Venturi’s groundbreaking work, “Learning From Las Vegas,” which called on architects to reconsider the importance of the everyday (strip malls, billboards, storefronts), “and put them in Beijing or Tokyo, they don’t hold any water at all. When you get into this scale, the rules have to be rewritten. The density is so incredible.” Because of this density, cities like Beijing have few of the features we associate with a traditional metropolis. They do not radiate from a historic center as Paris and New York do. Instead, their vast size means that they function primarily as a series of decentralized neighborhoods, something closer in spirit to Los Angeles. The breathtaking speed of their construction means that they usually lack the layers — the mix of architectural styles and intricately related social strata — that give a city its complexity and from which architects have typically drawn inspiration.

Olympic Stadium Beijing – "Bird’s Nest" photos

05/25/2008

My first post from China should be of something more traditional, such as the gardens and pavilions I saw at Suzhou


but I’m just back from visiting the new National Stadium (for the upcoming Olympics) in Beijing by Herzog and de Meuron, called “The Bird’s Nest,” and I couldn’t be more jazzed.

First, a little background. Knowing I was coming here I emailed the architects and everyone I know who works for them or used to. No luck. I was told that after the recent Tibet troubles that the stadium was closed and no one could possibly get in.

Two days before leaving, I walked into the Chauhaus, the cafeteria at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and who should I see but the men themselves. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the architects of the “Bird’s Nest.” I postponed packing and sat in on their design studio critique (a project on Nairobi) for two days. At the end I told them that I was leaving the next day for China and I absolutely had to see their stadium. “No chance” they told me. “Locked down. By the state. We can’t even get in,” they told me dejectedly. Well, Herzog told me, because de Meuron doesn’t speak much. Not even in the studio crit.

I kept writing emails and finally, yesterday, I received this response

Dear Mr. Lifson

I am the assistant of Dr. Wu. He is on business travel and I will arrange your lovely trip in Beijing. Actually, one open athlete games named “Good Luck Beijing” is being held at China National Stadium (Bird’s Nest). … This game may be the only chance you can enter into the stadium because all the facilities remain in testing phase. So it will be closed after this Sunday. If you have any problem, please contact me. I will try my best to give you my favors.

Of course I went to this pre-Olympic test of the stadium, and here’s what I saw:


I love this detail, the glass side panels along the walkways are designed with the Bird’s Nest motif to mirror the structure.

I emailed Herzog and de Meuron from inside the stadium, “I got in, it cost me a $5.00 ticket. Just me, and about 30,000 of my closest Beijing buddies.”

Looking up,
you get a nice feel of being outside, and yet protected. It seems it would not work well in winter, but that depends on the post-Olympic retrofit. It also seems like this stadium could get very hot in summer. Beijing in August can be brutally hot.


Red everywhere. It’s good luck here. Remember , these are the games that will open on 8-8-08 at 8 pm. 8 being a lucky number for the Chinese.

The interior


lets the games take over. You hardly notice architecture. The games are the thing. Reminds me of Frank Gehry’s rather standard galleries at Bilbao. As they should be. There it’s about the art, once you’re inside the gallery. Here, it’s about the sport. Every seat in this 91,000 (!) seat stadium seems to be a good one. I walked to the very top (though the top seats were not open tonight and that level is not quite finished.) The sight lines and acoustics all over are superb.

Night was falling, and the nearby National Aquatics Center lit up.


Those are video screens on those buildings behind it. And the Aquatics Center parking lot has LED lights in the ground that change colors and move! Those lamp posts do too. These are not the only new buildings in China to sport bright red and blue lights.

The locals I talked to love the Bird’s Nest, and many (many!) were taking their pictures with it.


Outside, it’s all designed.

Gorgeous. Absolutely stunningly gorgeous. No other stadium has ever seduced me. (I do love Wrigley Field, but that’s from childhood!)

Just imagine the fireworks the Chinese will shoot off to open the Olympics. I’ll bet it’ll be the most spectacular fireworks display ever. And the Chinese will be ready for their games.

12/17/2006

Wicked!

Having flooded the global home-improvement market with inexpensive fixtures, Guzhen Town, China decided to build itself an appropriately mighty icon.

You think I’m joking?

Courtesy Cui Chaoren/Guzhen Town

12/17/2006

Wicked!

Having flooded the global home-improvement market with inexpensive fixtures, Guzhen Town, China decided to build itself an appropriately mighty icon.

You think I’m joking?

Courtesy Cui Chaoren/Guzhen Town