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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 14:30, April 25, 2005
Beijing is dying; Many are crying
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Many would have thought that lessons had been learnt after the wholesale destruction of old Beijing in the latter part of last century, when imperial waterways were filled in, many historic buildings and even the old Beijing City Wall were demolished to make way for Russian-style monstrosities and Goliath edifices that impressed at the time.

With the 2008 Olympic Games approaching, the Beijing government, naturally, wants to project their best image as not only will hordes of representatives of every country flock to the city in 2008 but television stations worldwide will focus on it before, during and after the month of the games.

So every amenity is now being upgraded. New buildings to house the various sporting activities, to entertain and overawe the world, rolled off the world's most famous architectural drawing boards with monotonous regularity and many architects and design firms were falling over each other to present ever more startling designs.

It has come to pass that most of the buildings that have been approved or are in the building phase would be a picture perfect fit in Boston or Berlin.

But is it so highly desirable that Beijing, the crown-jewel of 5,000 years of continuous Chinese civilization, must look the same as any other modern city?

What is the point of having different but essentially similarly styled structures of glass and steel bordering on the limits of what engineering and technology of today can provide? Why must a Chinese Olympic stadium look like a concrete and steel birds' nest?

The world is coming to see the Olympics and sample some of China's typical building styles, developed over several thousands of years.

How exciting it would have been for the world's spectators to enjoy the sights of a stadium seating 100,000 revellers built in the traditional Chinese style.

With modern materials and computers, these outwardly traditional designs can be made just as efficient and comfortable as modern buildings.

Then there is the "water-cube" with its "bubble cladding" costing more than US$100 million housing the swimming pools.

Both the birds' nest and the water-cube are, in my opinion so totally un-Chinese that it begs belief that these designs actually passed the post.

Is it necessary for the expensive new CCTV building (US$700 million by latest estimates) to tower over the whole of Beijing, destroying the beautiful and low skyline with a design that looks like it can break in the middle and collapse on the unused void?

A building of such startlingly modern and controversial design would probably be all right in Sydney or even in Shanghai Pudong. But does it fit in historic Beijing? Chinese-born architect I M Pei called many moons ago for the preservation of the low skyline in Beijing. It appears that Pei's words got blown away by the Olympic wind.

The new National Theatre is another sad US$300 million example. Sure, Beijing was badly in need of a comfortable and up-to-date performing arts centre but it could have been constructed just as easily with a typical Chinese cachet.

All these architectural atrocities could have been prevented by the Beijing city powers if they had only attached a little clause to the design competition: "All designs must reflect traditional Chinese building styles, while saving energy and affording all comforts of the 21st century."

Many Chinese are crying because of the architectural crimes that are being committed in front of their eyes.

Like Pei, I too would have preferred to see Beijing devoid of ultra high-rises. There is no economic need for skyscrapers in most Chinese cities. There are acres of six storey workers' apartment blocks, erected in the 50s and 60s that can be demolished and give way to medium high office buildings and new apartments.

I have come to the sad conclusion that the world's leading architects and design firms have been doing an excellent PR job and managed to cajole the Beijing government into accepting their self-idolizing ultra-modern and technically challenging designs in the name of modernizing China and restoring its former glory.

Sadly, long after the world has left Beijing in August 2008, Beijingers and the citizens of China will have to live with these modern monstrosities.

Indeed, Beijing is dying and many are crying...

Source: China Daily


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