Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

The Olympics are over, and most of the athletes have returned home to be paraded in front of adoring crowds. Now it is Bob’s turn to do the same (minus the crowds), back in Shanghai again now and the UK tomorrow.

However this is not the end of the events in Beijing, or the Beijing Olympics Blog – the 2008 Paralympics will kick off in a matter of days (unfortunately Bob’s 30 day visa does not allow for this to be covered as well), and there is still plenty to digest from the summer, so watch this space.

It’s been another wonderful trip to China – many thanks to everyone who has helped to make it so; friends and colleagues, former students and volunteers, landlords, shop keepers and taxi drivers.

It has certainly been a successful Olympics (as CCTV constantly reminds us), for which the organisers must be commended. The stadia and facilities have been immense, the volunteers have shone and the organisers have mixed security with convenience to ensure everything has worked smoothly and they have largely escaped criticism.

Well organised does not always mean fun, however. And this is one thing that Beijing could have delivered more of. Within the stadiums the atmosphere has mostly been superb, but outside the enthusiasm has been dispersed and diluted in the vastness of Beijing.

The wide roads and large buildings in Beijing can be disorienting, and can give you the impression of an echo, bouncing around in a void. It lacks the local environments which can stimulate spontaneity and excitement. London has these spaces in abundance, as does Shanghai these days, so for this Bob is less sad about leaving Beijing. The ability to create a great atmosphere and spaces for fans, athletes and locals to unite will be key for London if they hope to host a successful Olympics (much as Sydney managed).

Anyway, more on the pro’s and con’s of the Beijing Games, and what London will need to do later…


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Beijing National Stadium

Beijing National Stadium

Beijing is a city reshaped, and the 2008 Olympic Games will leave a lasting impact on the landscape of one of the most historic cities in the world. Coming at a time of huge economic growth and large-scale

rural-urban migration (legitimate and unofficial) the Olympics has come as a spur for adventurous architecture on an ambitious scale.

For an introduction into the new landmarks reinventing Beijing’s identity check out a new interactive guide from NYT (thanks Rusk for pointing this out). Click ‘play audio’ for a succinct analysis of each project.

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The slide show of the National Aquatic Centre (Water Cube) shows how the beautiful bubbles/cells were generated. One other thing that Bob didn’t know was that there is a water park within the Water Cube that will remain in use after the Olympics – a definite must on the Beijing to do list!

Apart from the Water Cube and the National Stadium – aka the Bird’s Nest – the guide also covers the new Airport terminal, the National Theatre and the CCTV tower.

For more information on the Water Cube and comments from one of the architects of the Bird’s Nest take a look at these past posts.

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

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Attending an Olympic Games hosted by China was always going to throw up some interesting challenges for the Taiwanese team, and the China’ Taiwan Affairs office have decided to spice things up. The controversy revolves around the name that Taiwan competes under at the Olympics…

The situation is this: in 1989 China and Taiwan agreed that the latter would be referred to as Zhonghua Taipei (中华台北) which translates as Chinese Taipei. Bob’s understanding is that Zhonghua does mean ‘China’ but is not used to refer to the nation that we know today. This week however “Yang Yi of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has suggested that Zhongguo Taipei (中国台北) is just as valid as an Olympic designator” (via Shanghaiist). Zhongguo being the name used to refer to modern China, as we know it.

The implication of the change in semantics is probably best put; it’s like changing from ‘Chinese Taipei’ to ‘China’s Taipei’.

This is not the first time that the Chinese Olympic organisers have tried to use the Beijing Games as a PR tool for implying Taiwan’s belonging to the mainland. When organising the (fated) Olympic torch relay an invitation was extended to Taiwan: the Taiwanese were very happy to be part of the international leg, which passed through London and Paris along it’s way, but were less pleased to find out that they had been scheduled between Hong Kong and Macao as part of the domestic route (which also climbed Everest and ghosted through Xinjiang). Funnily enough Taiwan refused.

These stunts are clearly lined up to reinforce the official Party line in China that Taiwan is part of the same country. This is an opinion held very strongly within the general population, who will often express a deep wish that Taiwan would ‘come back to its family’. Bob is unsure of who the PR machine is trying to convince; the Chinese population who are already on side, or the ignorant international community, many of whom may not know what Taiwan’s status is.

Bob is not unfamiliar with the complicated way in which the Chinese view Taiwan; a couple of stories come to mind from teaching in China. The first being a polite scolding from a politically aware colleague that we had better go back to Google images to find a different map of China (one that included Taiwan!).

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

The second event being a discussion of landmarks which turned to the subject of the world’s tallest buildings. The students seemed puzzled when Bob suggested that indeed China was already home to the world’s tallest building. “No” they said, “that will be in Shanghai, but it’s not finished yet”. A little confused and cautious of what to say Bob pointed out that Taip – ei was home to the current tallest skyscraper and so of course it was Chinese. At this point the students also seemed confused at whether the tower was in fact Chinese; perhaps it was a Zhonghua tower, but not a Zhongguo tower?

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

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There are just one hundred (and ten) days left before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. Typically highly organised and publicised the 100 day count down for the Beijing Olympics has been announced ten days early. To mark this ‘occassion’ a song has been recorded and released; it includes the voices  of 100 artists and is entitled ‘Welcome to Beijing’.

BOCOG have also announced that 364 cheerleaders have been selected to ‘wecome to Beijing’ athletes and spectators at 10 venues around city.

Beijing Olympic Cheerleaders

One of these 10 venues will be the Birds Nest – the national stadium – which has been official unveiled. Tim Johnson was one of the journalists allowed in to see, and describes it in some detail.

Photoes from Inside the Bird\'s Nest (Beijing National Stadium)

This is the final venue to be completed, a month after the organisers of the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Village opened that. According to the China Economic Review “Anyone who has visited say it is a delight and environmentally friendly design although, sadly, the loos are Asian rather than Western style”. Fascinating. Well this week (at least since Bob’s last post ‘Olympic Torch Protests – Who Says What?‘) Chen Zhili was named as the ‘Mayor of the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Village’. Ms Chen is clearly a busy woman, also  Vice-Chairwoman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and BOCOG Vice-President, so it is unlikely she will have time to fix the toilet situation.

Olympic Village
Speaking of Olympic mayors, it is just 11 days until the Mayor of the next city to host the summer Olympics and Paralympics will be elected. Already labelled the ‘Genocide Olympics’ (by many Chinese bloggers at least) London will host the Games in 2012, but who will be the Mayor between now and then, Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson?

From ‘Wecome to Beijing’ to Boris Johnson, via cheerleaders (apologies, but the BOCOG has been banging on about the cheerleaders so many times BOB had to given them at least one mention) seemlessly linked. Finally, apologies for the absence of posts in the last week, the Beijing Olympic Blog is most definitely back in action now.

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Beijing International Airport unveiled it’s new terminal (terminal 3) this weekend. This is yet another huge piece of architecture built in time for the Olympic Games this summer. But this is not just any airport terminal (as BBC’s James Reynolds notes):

It’s more like a small country than an airport terminal.

“Its architects, Foster and Partners, describe it as the biggest building in the world, and it is larger than all the terminals of London’s Heathrow airport put together.”

The story of this new super-structure is covered extremely well by the CDT, with links to some excellent articles. The low-down being:

This final point has caught the attention of the British media particularly, as it contrasts fantastically with the new terminal (terminal 5) at London’ Heathrow. Terminal 5 is due to be unveiled next month, it is designed by the same architect – Lord Foster – and yet it has taken 20 years to build and has cost twice as much as Beijing’s terminal 3.

The reasons seem to be two fold:

1. The Chinese work force – nuff said

2. Public planning enquiries – The enquiry for Heathrow’s terminal 5 took longer than the entire construction of ‘the dragon terminal’

“Most airport projects take a decade or more to complete and usually involve lengthy reviews, detailed assessments, planning committees, public hearings and environmental impact statements…” but not so in China it seems. The pro’s and con’s of this system are clear, and an illustrative fact mentioned by James Reynolds:

the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, says that 1.25 million people have been moved from their homes to make way for construction.”

This is a particularly relevant discussion in a week when protestors against Heathrow’s expansion have grabbed the British headlines by finding their way onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament.

For an eloquent discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the Chinese attitude to construction see Hamish McRae’s article in the Independent:

“It would be extremely arrogant of us not to note what China is doing, both to set in context our own economic debates and also to try to see what we can learn from Chinese experience”.

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The Water Cube

The Water Cube, less commonly known as the National Aquatic Centre, was officially unveiled today in Beijing. The building will undergo its first test by hosting the China Open swimming championships from Jan 31 to Feb 5.

Things you might like to know:

  • The building boasts an LED system with 16.7 million color tones
  • It has cost the best part of 100 million Euros and taken over 4 years to build
  • It is also the only Olympic venue that is financed by the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan compatriots
  • It will hold up to 17,000 spectators

The official home page is really actually quite good, so check it out for videos and info on the WC. Alternatively try this rather abstract video on youtube for some extra ‘insight’.

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Ai Weiwei is one of the most prominent artists and architectural designers in China, and colaborated with Swiss firm Herzog de Meuron on design of the structural icon of the 2008 Olympics, the Birds Nest, the Beijing National Stadium.

Given this connection with the Games, it may be a little surprising to head him speaking openly and frankly in his blog about state of China in 2008, and with particular contempt for the goverment. The post has been translated by the China Digital Time.

Ai refers to growing inequality in the country, political corruption, inflation, pollution and lack of human rights.

Of the 2008 Games he says that: “An Olympics far from the will of the people and the spirit of freedom, a national ceremony without the inspiration of the citizenry, a myth so far away from modern civilization, the end result will be endless nonsense and a bore.”

How many people Ai Weiwei’s words speak on behalf of is unclear. However it is perhaps in a perverse way a positive reflection on the changes taking place in China that this voice can be aired. For better or worse it seems the Olympics are certainly destined to play their part in these changes.

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