Beijing, China, 2007

August 17, 2007

Render City

Render City Beijing

The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games are going to be the biggest ever. The city is undergoing a make over of never seen before scale. Although this comes at a cost as old neighbourhoods are destroyed, and as an estimated million and a half people have to move. Baron Haussmanns destruction/renovation of old Paris comes to mind, the old city replaced by a new and modern one. But more importantly the old is also replaced by a new that is more strategically advantageous. Nowadays image building is a strategy to lure capital and business to Beijing and China as a whole. The Olympics are the biggest P.R. campaign possible. The whole city is part of the advertising. Every possible trick up an advertising agencys sleeve has been enabled. Backed up by the will and power of the communist party to make everything happen. This means that apart from the ubiquitous billboards, the city itself is turning into an image.

The White Haze, as the smog in Beijing is called, is not only seen as a hazard to the people living in the city. The white fog, it consists of particulate and toxic fumes, is also a threat for the way the city looks. Officials complain about the poor visibility and the lack of a view. With the Olympic games drawing close it is up most important that Beijing looks like a large modern city. If the ultimate totems of modernisation, forests of skyscrapers, are obscured from sight it would be a major setback for the promotion of Beijing. Also a building project is seen as successful if it looks exactly like the render when it is finished. More and more the Central Business District is looking perfectly like the huge renders hanging in the streets. Except they always depict a series of towers against a clear sky.

Five years ago most office buildings looked like they had been cut from the Las Vegas strip and pasted into Chinese city centres. They might have looked ugly but they had exotic flair. The average of apartment buildings being built now fits neatly into an accepted international modernism as presented in a Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture. The iconic new buildings, the showcases of modernity, have been widely published in the international media. Although they are still being built, the city is so full of them in rendered cityscapes and advertising on billboards, they feel like theyve been there for a long time. This is probably why Beijing doesnt really feel like visiting a future city. It rather feels familiar. But if architecture in China continues to develop at the same speed Beijing might look like science fiction in only five more years.

A trip around the ring-roads of Beijing offers a spectacular view. Most noticeable are the new CCTV building by OMA and the Olympic stadium by Herzog & de Meuron. While CCTV is still under construction, the stadiums outside is finished. The façade at least is ready enough to serve as a photo opportunity. Next to the building site cars continually stop and unload families to have their picture taken with the Olympic stadium. A small unrepresentative questionnaire held under Beijing citizens asked them how they felt about the two icons. Practically all those questioned prefer the stadium over the new CCTV. Some like it because of the complexity that reflects Chinese culture. Others appreciate the traditional meaning that is attributed to the form of a birds nest. CCTV gets less raving reviews, it is called a plastic supermarket. But then most people add that they like the traditional buildings in Beijing the most by far.

more from similar articles: