Friday, April 13, 2007

An observation or two about a building

I posted the following here - In reply to an article about
Rem Koolhaas' design of the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing. (I should be more diligent checking for typos before hitting "post".) Actually, I quite like his other buildings, and in fairness the only images I've been able to see of this building don't show much in the way of context.

If don't appreciate some finer points of modern architecture, in consequence I may also lack appropr
iate reverence for it's 'A' list names. So... Enquiring minds do want to know: Is it a wonky salute to Stonehenge? A stylized Chinese character? Does the shadow of the V in the roof line trace a particular and meaningful line on the streets below in the light of the full moon on Chinese New Year?

Averaged over the life expectancy of a building, the amount of steel and glass that go into it's construction, I think, must be a fairly insignificant largely an irrelevant consideration beyond the financial contstraints of paying for the materials. No matter how efficient you are, if you build something that shouldn't be built, every ounce of materials is wasted.

Not that this building should not be built... After all, it's not just another glass-box office tower, but a glass-box office tower that has broken out of it's rectangular mould - and into a more oddly shaped one. The building is simply not attractive, and appears to be about style for the sake of style? Different to be different... Not much different from the empty visual calories of a frilly new Easter bonnet -- Except an advantage enjoyed by viewers of Easter bonnets is that no matter how lovely or gaudy it is, you only have to look at it for a day or two. In this way, I think Koolhaas' CCTV Headquarters is the opposite of good design. Particularly for a prominent public building. All images I've seen of it are from the same angle as that shown at the head of this article, where essentially, it looks like an angular donut. Rotate it 45 degrees to the right and, if the renderings are drawn correctly, and I have to assume they are, it is a radically backwards-slanted letter 'z'.

There is something very unsatisfactory about that, as with what you'd feel looking at half a bridge that ends abruptly part way across a river. Nice as a sculptural statement, perhaps but only if there is something that explains or resolves the implied instability. It poses a visual question about balance and purpose that goes unanswered.

Are the exterior walls not vertical simply because, given enough steel, some good engineering and buy-in from the client, you can build walls at any angle you like? I don't think that's a good enough reason to impose such a large and improbable looking building on the people of Beijing. Will they think back with affection on the monotonous architecture and shapeless olive-drab hats of the Cultural Revolution as they look up uneasily at the over-hanging upper floors?

Just a thought.

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