A Letter to Beijing
A Letter to Beijing
by Ole Scheeren, Dec 28, 2010 [View PDF]
Ten years ago, in Europe and America, we spent this time of the year worrying about how the world could collapse due to the Y2K bug. We focused on the anxiety of how a numeric glitch in the computer lingo could upset the world and turn it upside down. Little did we know – and little was Y2K the issue. However, the new millennium brought about another change: the advent of a shifting world order, a meltdown of the old power structures as we had known them for a century past, an implosion of globalization into a new gravity center that would emerge, first slowly, then rapidly and unstoppably: China. And without realizing at first, my own life followed this course with what now seems historic precision…
With the collapse of the twin towers – a place where I had spent much time while I lived in New York, an almost magical focus of the city’s energy and dominance, but also its mystery – a new chapter had started: the consequences of the loss of an alternative had become painfully and shockingly visible. A world which apparently had no other option (than the capitalist society) only had one option left: to be dismantled from within itself.
It made me wonder what the importance of an alternative generally might be – in what we do, in how we think, in our own work. It made me wonder if there still were alternatives, or if we could imagine them again – in our life, in society, and in architecture. And an alternative suddenly appeared, precisely a decade after I had made my first acquaintance with its culture and its differences: China.
While my first encounter was one of intuitive curiosity (almost twenty years ago I travelled through the country for three and a half months, driven by the realization that I actually knew nothing about this place – and that we westerners had no means of actually getting to know anything about this country other than by actually going there, at a time when it was simply not yet on the ‘international agenda’), the second presented itself as a (as it should turn out for me life changing) choice.
Almost simultaneously, we were invited to two competitions: the redesign of Ground Zero in Manhattan, and to make a proposition for CCTV’s new television station in Beijing. We decided for the latter.
Being invited to design a new headquarters for China’s national broadcaster meant to somewhat dare to imagine China’s future – a future of new structures, new possibilities, a new vision. It not only posed the question of a new architecture, but also what a television station, a media organization, and maybe a collaborative enterprise could be. The competition – without coincidence – happened within a historic framework: China had joined the World Trade Organization, and Beijing had been awarded the Olympic Games. China was finally stepping onto the world stage, and it opened the door for a new symbol of its possible role and contribution.
Soon, since then, ten years will have passed. The building has risen, at the heroic effort of a Chinese work force, at the vision of a dedicated client, and with the continued commitment and imagination of its architects. It has entailed one of the largest collaborations in architecture ever – four hundred designers and engineers have contributed to its reality, across three continents and in a continuous process of twenty four hour production. It stands as a true model of Chinese-Western synthesis. It has brought about a construct that has realized new superlatives, and new ambitions: One of the largest buildings ever built in the world, one of the most complex spatial programs ever accommodated, one of the most challenging structures ever engineered. But it has also manifested a vision for a new organizational logic, for a new collaborative system, for a new public accountability. It is not merely an object and a form, but it is a vision for a new kind of collective, for a way in which people work and interact, and a way how a building could possibly change the way hierarchy lies embedded within architecture. It is an alternative to the skyscraper, not soaring vertically skyward, proclaiming height as its ultimate goal, but folding back in mid air to reconnect to itself and form a loop of interconnected activities, a system without beginning or end, a figure without top or bottom. It invites the public to its inside, and a visitors loop will give people access and insight in the production processes of television and media making. It is a building that addresses its place in the city, the locale of media production, and embeds the making of the virtual within a physical presence. It is a shape that has not a singular meaning, that is not a predefined message, but that explores the complexity of figure and meaning. It challenges the onlooker, and it stands in a dialogue with the city around it.
The project’s turbulent recent history has maybe temporarily cast a shadow over its bright hopes and ambitions. Unexpected and tragic events have maybe temporarily affected its perception. And sometimes change and progress might seem slower than initially anticipated. But I truly hope that the new decade will not only see its joyful completion, but also its acceptance and understanding as the contribution it attempts to make to Chinese society, to the way in which new possibilities can be imagined, to the way in which architecture can be liberated from its sometimes dogmatic straightjackets, and the way in which a society in a process of development and renewal can shape its own vision for an alternative future.
Too often – and more and more – architecture is condemned to its so-called ‘iconic’ status, to its reading as a pure object, without looking deeper and further into its actual contents and meaning. I hope the new decade will move beyond this superficiality and confront both architects and society with a new quest for substance and engage as well as challenge the status quo.
This year, after having moved to China more than 6 years ago, I decided to renew my commitment to this country by establishing my own architecture office in Beijing. While CCTV gave me the urge, as its co partner in charge and chief architect of the building, to relocate to Beijing and be here to take daily responsibility for its ongoing design and construction, I felt that China was not simply an opportunity to generate an unusual piece of architecture, but for me it was a vision of being a place where I would live and work, a context to not only become involved with but to become also part of, an environment to not only produce and build but inspire and stimulate. With the new studio, we have started to work on designs across the country but we have also taken things further and are looking at the wider region, at Asia, to develop new prototypes of architecture from this base in Beijing. We are looking at a future to reverse the old paradigm of knowledge transfer from west to east, and will attempt to be part of a generation that will spearhead the creation of new ideas in the east that will begin to transform the west. We are looking forward to project our experiences made here back to Europe and America to test what the old worlds can learn from the rapidly changing constellations of China and Asia. But we are mostly looking forward towards deepening our engagement with this country and culture, with what we can bring to it and learn from it and to make a contribution to its incredibly interesting and stimulating future.
美国世贸双子塔 —— 一个我旅居纽约时曾长呆的地方，一个几乎神奇地象征着这个城市的力量和地位、甚至其奥秘的焦点，它的倒塌开始了一个新篇章：这是二元对立以一种痛苦的，骇人眼目的方式将其失败呈现出来的的后果。一个明显没有其他选择（除却资本主义）的世界只遗留下一个选择：内部自我消解。 它让我从做什么、思考什么、如何工作这些方面探询另外一种方式的重要性；它让我探询是否在我们的生活、我们的社会、我们的建筑中还存在着另外一种方式，或者我们能否再重新想象一个世界。而另外一个世界就在此时突然出现，恰好是十年后，恰好是在我第一次探寻其文化和差异后的十年后：中国。 我与中国的第一次接触源自好奇（大约二十年前，我曾游历中国三个半月，被一种发现我实际上对这个地方一无所知的感觉所驱动——作为一名西方人，在那个中国还没进入“国际版图”的年代，除了亲走一遭，没有其他更好的办法来了解这个国家），而第二次接触（十年前，对我而言是生活的转折）却是一个巨大的决策/另外一种方式的呈现。 几乎是同时，我们被邀参加两个竟赛项目：重新设计曼哈顿世贸遗址(Ground Zero) 和设计中央电视台新台址。我们选择了后者。 被邀请为中国的国家电视台设计新台址某种程度上意味着邀请你大胆想象中国的未来——一种新架构的未来，一种新的可能性，一种新的视野。它不仅是如何设计新建筑的问题，也是一个电视台，一个媒体组织，也许可能是一个合作型企业可以怎样运作的问题。此次竞争 ——绝无巧合——是在一个历史性的框架内发生：中国已经加入世界贸易组织；北京已经获得奥运会主办权；中国终于踏入了了世界舞台，她需要一个符合其将来角色以及贡献的新象征。 从那时至今，转眼十年将过。中国庞大的工作力量，客户对远景的专注，加上建筑师们不间断的付出和和对建筑的想象，大楼拔地而起。它是建筑史上最大的合作工程之一 —— 四百名设计师和工程师鼎力合作，人员横跨三大洲，每天24小时不间断的工作投入。它可以被视为一个中西合璧的典型之作。它在建筑上成就斐然：世界上最大的单体建筑之一，最复杂的立体空间载体之一，最具挑战性的结构设计之一。与此同时，它又宣告了一种新的组织架构逻辑，一种新的协作方式，一种新的公众介入模式；它不单是一个物体或一种框架，而且为一种新的集体协作开拓了领域，为人们在此工作和互动中提供另一种方式，为如何改变建筑中天然带有的等级观念提供了另一种方式。 这也是摩天大楼的另一种方式：垂直向天，高耸入云不是它要彰显的，而是从半空中折回自身，形成一个自我连接，一个无始无终的系统，一个无底无顶 的形象。它邀请人们走入其中，参观流线将让人们参观了解电视制作和媒体传播的过程。这是一个肩负对外传播功能的大楼，一个媒体制造场所，它在一个实体建筑内制作传播虚拟信号。 它的外观没有所谓的非凡意义，也没有一个先入为主的主题，但是它探讨了外形和内容的复杂性。它挑战旁观者的视觉经验，与城市周边环境展开对话。