Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Olympic Ambition; Beijing Has Chosen Two Stars of European Architecture to Design Its Stadium and TV Centre for the 2008 Games - and Their Plans Are Revolutionary

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Olympic Ambition; Beijing Has Chosen Two Stars of European Architecture to Design Its Stadium and TV Centre for the 2008 Games - and Their Plans Are Revolutionary

Article excerpt

Byline: ROWAN MOORE

THE Olympic Games, that festival of global grandiosity, has long been an occasion for the extravagant architectural gesture - from the brute might of Hitler's Berlin Olympics in 1936, to the more benign nomadic tent that the engineer Frei Otto erected over the Munich stadium in 1972, to the makeover of the city of Barcelona in 1992. Communist China, in both its Maoist and its newer, business-loving phase, also likes to build big. Wed the two, and you would expect to breed buildings that are neither shy nor retiring.

The newly revealed designs for the two main monuments of the 2008 Beijing Olympics confirm these expectations. One is a bird's nest scaled up to a 100,000-seat stadium, the other is like a Chinese character, made into a five million sq ft, 230 metre-high, pound sterling350 million headquarters for Central China Television, or CCTV. The City of London's Swiss Re tower, aka the Erotic Gherkin, contains about 700,000 sq ft, so one CCTV equals seven gherkins.

What is startling is the choice of architects for these projects: for the stadium, the Swiss Herzog and de Meuron; for the TV station, the Dutch Office of Metropolitan Architecture, led by Rem Koolhaas.

These two practices are the twin towers of European art-house architecture, noted for their sophisticated galleries and exotic private houses.

Both have been employed by Prada to design sumptuous stores in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo. Both have built big, including Herzog and de Meuron's Tate Modern, but nothing in their CVs suggests that they would design the principal icons of the world's most populous country.

China has been engaged in a huge building boom over the past decade, but until now it has been typified by crude knockoffs of brassy American office blocks. It is as if Disney had hired Wim Wenders.

"It's really amazing," says Jacques Herzog, "that we, with our boutique mentality and intellectual approach, should be doing this." According to Rem Koolhaas, there is a "new spirit" in China, and a younger generation who are looking much more to Europe than to the United States.

What's more, neither architect has compromised. They bring to these colossuses the same conceptual audacity that attracts clients such as Miuccia Prada and Nicholas Serota.

The result, in the case of the stadium, is revolutionary. For years new stadia have used the same increasingly weary cliches of soaring roofs hanging off straining wires, with the vast concourses underneath treated with all the panache of airport departure lounges.

The new Wembley, with its McDonald's-style giant arch is the latest in this line. The Beijing design makes Wembley and its ilk look so last century.

Those hoping for a London Olympics in 2012 should take note.

ITS bird's-nest structure of criss-crossing struts is spectacular, and rather more imaginative than other recent examples, but it is not the beginning and end of the design. …

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