»Intelligence starts with improvisation.«

Yona Friedman

Blog Comment

No access for Rem?

A successor to CCTV in Beijing revives the dream of a media building open to the public.

  • Shao Weiping, the architect of the Phoenix Media Center, says he aims to create a new cultural icon to compete with those designed by Pritzker Prize winners across Beijing. (All photos: Kevin Holden Platt unless otherwise credited) 1 / 9  Shao Weiping, the architect of the Phoenix Media Center, says he aims to create a new cultural icon to compete with those designed by Pritzker Prize winners across Beijing. (All photos: Kevin Holden Platt unless otherwise credited)
  • The Phoenix Center is the first example of parametric design by a Chinese architect in Beijing. 2 / 9  The Phoenix Center is the first example of parametric design by a Chinese architect in Beijing.
  • The complex includes two towers – one for offices, shown here – and the other for television production studios. 3 / 9  The complex includes two towers – one for offices, shown here – and the other for television production studios.
  • The structure, patterned after a Mobius strip, is a diagrid wrapping of steel and glass. 4 / 9  The structure, patterned after a Mobius strip, is a diagrid wrapping of steel and glass.
  • The envelope of the Center is transparent, to reflect the openness and accessibility of the independent Phoenix TV. 5 / 9  The envelope of the Center is transparent, to reflect the openness and accessibility of the independent Phoenix TV.
  • Though Koolhaas and Scheeren designed the CCTV building as a “democratic loop” of interconnected programs and people, the complex is now guarded around the clock by the People’s Armed Police. (Photo: Reuters) 6 / 9  Though Koolhaas and Scheeren designed the CCTV building as a “democratic loop” of interconnected programs and people, the complex is now guarded around the clock by the People’s Armed Police. (Photo: Reuters)
  • The egalitarian “visitors’ loop”, that the CCTV was originally designed to contain, is depicted in orange in this model. 7 / 9  The egalitarian “visitors’ loop”, that the CCTV was originally designed to contain, is depicted in orange in this model.
  • After winning the government-staged CCTV competition in 2002, Rem Koolhaas has generated so much controversy that he might be blackballed from winning any more state commissions. (Photo: Dezeen) 8 / 9  After winning the government-staged CCTV competition in 2002, Rem Koolhaas has generated so much controversy that he might be blackballed from winning any more state commissions. (Photo: Dezeen)
  • Koolhaas may be out of favour with Chinese officialdom for criticizing the lack of public accessibility of the CCTV building, but meanwhile it has become iconic across China. 9 / 9  Koolhaas may be out of favour with Chinese officialdom for criticizing the lack of public accessibility of the CCTV building, but meanwhile it has become iconic across China.

In a country where censorship reigns, the architecture of a media broadcasting center is inherently charged with political symbolism. With his Möbius-strip-like design for Beijing’s new Phoenix International Media Center, Chinese architect Shao Weiping intends to create a building with not only an inviting shape but a truly inclusive function. Yet, as Kevin Holden Platt reports, this decision might not be up to the architect at all. 

Over the past decade, a vanguard of elite experimental architects – all European Pritzker Prize winners – have dominated the design of new cultural landmarks in the Chinese capital. But now, Beijing-based architect Shao Weiping says he wants to be the first Chinese designer to break this pattern by creating an indigenous icon of engineering and artistic beauty with his design for the Phoenix International Media Center.

By the end of 2013, Shao says he will unveil a work of avant-garde architecture that glows with a creative intensity rivaling that of Beijing’s other mega-buildings like the China Central Television (CCTV) tower by OMA′s Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, or the Olympic Stadium by Herzog and de Meuron. “The Phoenix Center marks a new stage of cool parametric design by experimental Chinese architects, which is helping position them to compete with the globe’s most innovative designers,” says Daisy Guo, project manager for the China Pavilion at the 2012 Architecture Biennale in Venice. The Phoenix – a Möbius strip-shaped cylinder wrapped in a diagrid of steel – was exhibited in that year’s biennale.

The envelope of the Center is transparent, to reflect the openness and accessibility of the independent Phoenix TV.

The Phoenix Center, Shao says, will be the first television complex in Beijing ever to open its doors to the general public. A central element of the design, he explains, is a public trajectory that will allow citizens and tourists to view television studios, interact with reporters, and take part in cultural gatherings.

Sound familiar? Well, it is: this open accessibility was also a central idea in the design of the CCTV complex by OMA. But at CCTV, this accessibility has remained an architect’s dream, as the building is currently surrounded by spear-tipped security fences and a web of surveillance cameras, and guarded around the clock by special contingents of People’s Armed Police – the same forces that stand sentinel over the Communist Party’s headquarters and over Tiananmen Square. Access to this government-run broadcast monolith by ordinary citizens is strictly forbidden. Ironically, when Koolhaas and Scheeren unveiled their design for the CCTV project, they stressed their intention for a constant stream of citizens to be integrated into the complex via an ultra-egalitarian “visitor’s loop.”

Scheeren, who now heads his own studio, wrote in an essay posted on the studio website that the co-designers of the CCTV complex aimed to create some kind of new utopia: “The many publicly accessible functions of the new building program,” he mused in anticipation of CCTV’s 2012 opening, “point towards a possible democratization of the institution.” But by now it seems rather unlikely that the party-appointed officials who head CCTV will ever open the complex to the masses. Some young Chinese reporters say that prying open the gates of CCTV would depend on the democratization of the entire country.

The egalitarian “visitors’ loop”, that the CCTV was originally designed to contain, is depicted in orange in this model.

The architect of the Phoenix Center says the openness and transparency of his design, as well as the enforced isolation of the CCTV complex, reflect the different nature of each site’s client. Phoenix Satellite Television is based in the former British enclave of Hong Kong, which still enjoys a high level of freedom of speech despite its return to Chinese sovereignty. Phoenix is a Hong Kong-listed media outfit that derives its profits from individual consumers, and will naturally welcome past and potential viewers to survey its new headquarters in Beijing.

Although CCTV has taken slight steps toward becoming interactive via its website, would-be critics know that negative feedback generated by malcontents about the government can end in imprisonment. With a ban in place on access to satellite broadcasts by CNN, Deutsche Welle and the BBC, the government channel is ensured a captive audience of 1.3 billion citizens.

Phoenix TV, one of the only satellite stations to secure Beijing’s permission to broadcast inside the Chinese mainland, “will never ever close off access to the visitor’s pathway,” Shao pledges. Intending to reflect its openness to world culture, the design of Phoenix complex will also accommodate speaces for a new media gallery, art exhibitions, fashion shows, record releases, and press conferences.

Meanwhile, “Rem Koolhaas has generated so much controversy [inside China] with his comments on CCTV that he is unlikely to win a competition staged by the government for a landmark building in Beijing ever again,” says Tang Keyang, an architect and advisor to the National Art Museum of China in its contest for the design of a new museum. 

Yet Koolhaas continues to march through the political minefields that have been created around CCTV while steadily beating the drums of publicity about his utopian ideals on egalitarian entry into the new broadcasting center. In interviews, articles, his own website, and lectures across Chinese architecture schools and global forums, Koolhaas has always underlined the goal of making CCTV a work of architecture for the people, and continues to do so.

In his contest with the leaders of CCTV over the future of the complex, Koolhaas has essentially become a broadcaster; in terms of triggering a debate over democratic access to the CCTV center, Koolhaas might already have achieved one of his primary goals. 

 

Kevin Holden Platt writes about architecture and art for the Paris-headquartered International Herald Tribune and for the Berlin-based magazine Spiegel Online International.

 

 

 

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Advertisement

RECENT POSTS

more

Recent Magazines

25 Apr 2016

Magazine No. 43
Athens

  • essay

    From the Bottom and the Top

    Powering Athens through collectivity and informal initiatives by Cristina Ampatzidou

  • photo essay

    Nowhere Now Here

    A photo essay by Yiorgis Yerolymbos

  • Essay

    Back to the Garden

    Athens and opportunities for new urban strategies by Aristide Antonas

  • Interview

    Point Supreme

    An interview by Ellie Stathaki

>

03 Mar 2016

Magazine No. 42
Walk the Line

  • Essay

    The Line Connects

    An essay on drawing and architectural education by Wes Jones

  • Essay

    Drawing Attention

    Phineas Harper sketches out new narrative paths with pencil power

  • Essay

    Gotham

    Elvia Wilk on a city of shadows as architectural fiction

  • Interview

    The (Not So) Fine Line

    A conversation thread between Sophie Lovell and architecture cartoonist Klaus

>

28 Jan 2016

Magazine No. 41
Zvi Hecker

  • essay

    Space Packers

    Zvi Hecker’s career-defining partnership with Eldar Sharon and Alfred Neumann by Rafi Segal

  • Interview

    Essentially I am a Medieval Architect

    An interview with Zvi Hecker by Vladimir Belogolovsky

  • viewpoint

    The Technion Affair

    Breaking and entering in the name of architectural integrity by Zvi Hecker

  • Photo Essay

    Revisiting Yesterday’s Future

    A photo essay by Gili Merin

>

17 Dec 2015

Magazine No. 40
Iceland

  • Viewpoint

    Wish You Were Here

    Arna Mathiesen asks: Refinancing Iceland with tourism – but at what cost?

  • Photo Essay

    Spaces Create Bodies, Bodies Create Space

    An essay by Ólafur Elíasson

  • Focus

    Icelandic Domestic

    Focus on post-independence houses by George Kafka

  • Essay

    The Harp That Sang

    The saga of Reykjavík's Concert Hall by Sophie Lovell & Fiona Shipwright

>

more

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST Close

Uncube is brandnew and wants to look good.
For best performance please update your browser.
Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 (or higher), Safari, Chrome, Opera

×