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Beijing A "houston On Steroids"

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Without doubt, Beijing has some of the best architecture sprouting up for and after the Olympics such as the Watercube, Birds Nest and the upcoming CCTV. Beijing is a collection of work from the world's best architects. With that said, is Beijing turning itself into a "Houston on Steroids", an unlivable city with pretty icons everywhere? What of the hutongs? Compare that to the massive redevelopment projects of Barcelona (which is an amazing city to visit!).

I found this article from the Chicago Tribune. Disregard the "Chicago wants to be more like Barcelona" bits but should the IOC reconsider "legacy"?


Behind Beijing's icons...and how what we see on TV will be different than what Chicago wants to build for the 2016 Olympics

The Olympics are a real event in a real place, but they are also a high-voltage television show, capable of conveying powerful—and possibly, distorted—messages about the host country through the buildings that frame the contests of “faster, higher, stronger.”

Never will be that more apparent than next Friday, with the opening of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, where spectacular architecture will play a leading role on a stage set that differs dramatically from the one Chicago proposes to erect for the 2016 Summer Games.

If the smog that has shrouded Beijing in recent days mercifully deigns to lift, television cameras will have a clear shot at some of the most eye-popping new structures on the planet.

The National Stadium (left), popularly known as the Bird’s Nest and designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, enfolds a bright-red concrete seating bowl in a criss-crossing web of exposed structural steel. The National Aquatics Center (below), nicknamed the Water Cube and designed by the Australian architecture firm PTW, resembles a box of bubbles, with pillows of advanced plastic enveloping a space frame of welded steel.

These instant icons face each other across the imperial axis that reaches northward from the walled precinct of the Forbidden City, the round Bird’s Nest symbolizing heaven, the square Water Cube representing earth.

“I think that Beijing will try to communicate a character of substance and innovation to the world,” said Chicago architect Adrian Smith, who designed Shanghai’s 88-story Jin Mao Tower, a pagoda-inspired skyscraper. “Between 15 years ago and now, there’s just a sea change of quality in the way people are living and working with one exception—that’s the air. The air quality is their Achilles’ heel.”

The smog-filled skies are not Beijing’s only problem. Striking, stand-alone buildings may make for good TV, but they do not necessarily make up a livable city.

Some American architecture critics have remarked that, despite its wealth of avant-garde design, Beijing now feels like Houston on steroids, a sprawling mess of concentric ring roads and mediocre high-rises. The logical extension of this view is that Beijing’s “wow-chitecture” amounts to little more than a dazzling deception, a variation on the theme of the Potemkin village.

The new buildings “mask real urban problems confronting Beijing,” the Shanghai-based writer Andrew Yang observed in the current issue of The Architect’s Newspaper, published in New York. Huge, monolithic buildings, he continued, threaten “to add to the isolation of Beijing’s vast alienating stretches. Anyone who has traveled through rush hour there, where it routinely takes 60 minutes to budge 5 miles, will have contemplated the poor planning implicated by this level of congestion.”

Rest of article here (mostly about Chicago bid though): The Skyline

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