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Four Great Buildings to Shape Olympic Beijing

Beijing has both excellent and classical architecture but few distinguished modern buildings. Now such world famous architects as Ram Koolhass, de Meuron, Paul Andrew and PTW Architects are to display their skills here. With the speeding up of China's urbanization and the challenging concept of the 2008 Olympic Games, almost all famous design consortiums from around the world have found that China is one of the few countries which provides not only imaginary space but also abundant funds for modern architecture today. Therefore, Ram Koolhass's "door", Herzog and de Meuron's "bird-nest", Paul Andrew's "eggshell" and PTW Architects' "water cube" are just a small part of the skills displayed by famous architects in China.

National Swimming Center--exquisite and exciting "Water Cube"

A semi-transparent "cube", with "bubbles" spread out all over its surface, is a shape very similar to the structure of  "H2O", the outlook for the National Swimming Center at the 2008 Olympic Games. After the games, it will become a recreational water park open to the public.

In Chinese culture, water is an important natural element. It creates a calming atmosphere and inspires happiness. Taking full consideration of the functions of water in recreation and bodybuilding, designers have explored many ways for people of different age groups to appreciate its function. The design is called "Water Cube". Many creative designs have been employed in the creation of the swimming pools at the swimming center. Other high-tech facilities including optical devices used to define positions of athletes, and multiple-angle, three-dimensional screening systems are provided to help spectators enjoy competitions.

The National Swimming Center, one of the three landmark buildings for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, is located inside the Beijing Olympic Park. Covering a total floor space of 50,000 square meters, it has 17,000 seats. The project costs about US$100 million. The center will be a venue for swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water-polo games during the period of the Olympic Games. After the games, the center will become a large water recreational center open to the public.

In January 2003, Beijing started to solicit design schemes for the National Swimming Center. The international competition settled on "Water Cube" as the winning scheme. It is designed by the design consortium consisting of the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, China State Construction International (Shenzhen) Design Co Ltd, PTW Architects (Australia) and Ove Arup (Australia).

The National Swimming Center will be the only landmark Olympic venue that is constructed by donations from compatriots from Hong Kong and Macao. The construction of "Water Cube" began in 2003 and hopes to be completed before 2006.

National Stadium--natural "Bird's Nest"

"Bird's Nest" is jointly designed by Herzog and De Meuron Architekten AG, Switzerland, and China Architecture Design Institute. It gained high praise and also aroused most controversy.

Some people think the design is too avant-garde and trendy, and not in keeping with acceptable traditional ideas. However, insiders think "Bird's Nest" has properly expressed a new architectural vernacular. Such schemes can not work out without an understanding of Chinese philosophy and the Chinese idea of good timing, geographical convenience and harmonious human relations.

According to designer De Meauron, first, it is a contemporary Chinese building; second, it has close links with Chinese culture; third, it is reliable in its use of techniques. The architecture of the 20th century emphasized technology. In the new century it will reflect the contemporary culture of the Olympic Games. The stadium is designed for its people; the "gentle" environment shows respect to its athletes.

The stadium is a bowl shape with a red stand. It looks like a nest structure. It is made of gray mining steel covered with a transparent membrane. "Bird's Nest" is an original creation, with a fresh and unique appeal, an exciting example of global architecture.

As the main stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games, the National Stadium is located in the Olympic Park, northeast of the city axis line, covering an area of 204,100 square meters and forming a construction area of 258,000 square meters. During the 2008 Olympics, the National Stadium is designated to host the opening and closing ceremony, the track and field competition and the soccer games, etc.

The National Stadium accommodates 100,000 spectators of which 20,000 are with temporary seating. After the 2008 Olympics, the National Stadium will be converted to an 80,000-seater stadium suitable for large-scale sport competitions and other non-competitive events. The National Stadium will become a large-scale venue for sports, recreation and entertainment for the people of Beijing.

The construction work will be completed by 2006.

New CCTV site--unconventional "Z crisscross"

While elaborating on his design concept, Ram Koolhass, designer of "Z crisscross" said: "It's the architecture that China needs -- I bring it to you now!" Wu Yaodong, vice general architect of Tsinghua Architecture Design Institute, pointed out "The open attitude shown in selecting design schemes of this high caliber has surpassed the architecture itself."

A member of the review committee said, "the designer of the new CCTV (China Central Television) site changed from a domestic master to an international master. The pressure it brought is not whether the scheme is backward, but rather the futurist design may not be accepted by the general public."

The design of the new CCTV site started from invitation biddings from 10 architecture design organizations, of different styles, from around the world, to the final selected scheme. Hong Kong architect Rocco Yim, a member of the review committee, said, "The design scheme selection of the CCTV competition was very professional," compared with other appraisals he has taken part in.

After discussions and polling, the three schemes shortlisted were the Metropolitan Architecture of the Netherlands, Japan's Toyo Ito Architecture and the Shanghai Xiandai Architecture Design Group. The design scheme of the Metropolitan Architecture of the Netherlands impressed most members of the committee, not only for the design itself but also for remarks made by its designer, Ram Koolhass. Later, Koolhass's scheme became the final selection.

With a 230-meter high major building, the new CCTV site will be a landmark in the heart of the Central Business District (CBD) in eastern Beijing. The project, which will cost around US$600 million, has 550,000 square meters of floor space. The  space will be divided into several construction areas in accordance with the operational requirements and functions of various departments.

The project, which started in March 2003, will be completed in 2008.

National Grand Theater--Paul Andrew's "Eggshell"

According to French architect Paul Andrew, after the construction is completed, the Grand Theater will look like a huge green park with an oval and silver grand theater encircled by green water. The shell, made of titanium metal and glass together with day and night lights will add radiance and beauty to each other, and have fast-changing colors. The surroundings of the Grand Theater are semi-transparent, golden netted glass walls. People can see the sky inside the building through its dome. Some people describe the complete Grand Theater as "a crystal drop of water", other people call it a "big egg shell" or "boiled egg".

The Grand Theater project was approved by the State Council in April, 1998 and formerly put into construction on December 13, 2001. It is expected to be completed before October 1, 2005 and to present its first performance during the latter half of 2005.

It will be China's top arts performance center and a first class art palace.

Covering a total area of 118,900 square meters, the Grand Theater has a total floor space of 149,500 square meters. It is equipped with accessory facilities including halls for opera, music, drama, art exhibitions, as well as an art exchange center, and audio and video store. Opera, dancing and ballet will be mainly presented in the opera hall, which can accommodate an audience of 2,416. The Music Hall, which can accommodate 2,017, will mainly present large orchestral work and folk music. Drama and local opera including Peking opera will be staged in the drama hall.

At the northern side of the Grand Theater there will be an underground parking lot, which can hold almost 1,000 motor vehicles and 1,400 more bicycles. It can be used as an accessory facility for the Grand Theater and as a public facility in the Tian'anmen Square area.

Beijing joins world architecture trend

Wang Mingxian, deputy chief of the Environment Art Committee of the China Construction Culture and Art Association, said: "In recent years, Beijing has taken big steps in introducing modern architecture at a high level."
"People hold different opinions about whether the large-scale introduction of variously styled architecture from global competitors will make Beijing an experimental area of foreign architecture. In regard to the underdeveloped modern architecture of Beijing, we first have a welcome attitude. However the needs of city planning as well as historical protection require combining old with new."

(China.org.cn by Wang Qian and Daragh Moller, January 16, 2004)


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