It looks like a stadium.
AUG 5, 2004
China suspends work on Olympics 'bird nest'
Fancy stadium to be redesigned to lower costs as part of central government's drive to curb 'white elephant' projects
BEIJING - Work on China's 3.5 billion yuan (S$730 million) national stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games has been suspended, amid calls for a redesign and cost cuts.
The 100,000-seat stadium's 'bird-cage' design would have to be axed, a spokesman for the Games organisers said, as local governments across China scramble to curb extravagance and halt 'white elephant' projects under an ongoing central government drive to prevent the economy from overheating.
Plans to build a towering 5 billion yuan headquarters for broadcaster China Central Television were shelved recently. The 230m high structure would have been the tallest building in Beijing.
Sources said the plan drew the ire of Premier Wen Jiabao, who has tried to rein in investments in real estate, cement, auto production and steel projects to avert economic fallout.
The newly completed National Theatre has also come under fire. Critics said the futuristic look of the building, designed by French architect Paul Andreu, does not fit well with its historical surroundings. The bubble-shaped opera house, built at a cost of US$325 million (S$560 million), was said to be too expensive and difficult to clean.
Builders broke ground last December for the Swiss-designed Olympic stadium, whose latticework of girders is a prominent image of China's Games preparations.
Dubbed the 'Bird Nest' by the Chinese press, the original plan called for up 160,000 tonnes of steel - four times the average for a conventional building, said Mr Peng Peigeng, an architecture professor at Tsinghua University.
Ms Zhu Jing, of the 2008 Olympics organising committee, said work has been suspended for a redesign meant to lower the cost. She said she did not know how long the suspension would last, the new projected cost or other details.
The suspension follows a demand by Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan last month for organisers to be more thrifty.
There have also been reports of concerns over the stadium's safety.
According to Hong Kong's pro-Beijing daily Wen Wei Po, the suspension arose from a report submitted by 10 senior academics with links to the construction sector.
The paper said the group told Premier Wen that the stadium's design focused too much on aesthetics and ignored basic principles such as safety, practicality and environmental protection.
The alarming amount of steel, with no guarantee of stability and safety, was a waste of resources, it concluded.
The central government reportedly heeded the views and set the rule that organisers should not 'have their eyes only on things big and foreign'.
The government regards the Olympics as a matter of national prestige and has said it plans to spend US$24.2 billion on new subway lines and other improvements in Beijing. -- AP, Reuters
Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings
Olympics stadium redesign may save $336m
BEIJING, Aug. 23 (Xinhuanet) -- China could expect savings of up to 1.6 billion yuan (S$336 million) with the redesign of the Beijing Olympics stadium for the 2008 Games, reported foreign agencies, citing China Newsweek as the source.
Work on the project was suspended earlier this month amid a nationwide drive to cut down on "white elephant" projects under ongoing central government efforts to prevent the economy from overheating.
The stadium's new design, which has been endorsed by experts, is expected to slash the construction bill from the original 3.89 billion yuan to 2.3 billion yuan, the China Newsweek reported.
Experts, however, believe costs for the Swiss-designed stadium could be scaled down further.
The original design of the stadium was to feature a latticework of girders which called for up to 136,000 tonnes of steel - four times the average for a conventional building.
A task force for the redesign plans to reduce the amount of steel needed to just 32,000 tonnes, mainly by scrapping the retractable roof and enlarging the size of the rooftop opening.
A report by China Times yesterday said the project's original design featured a retractable roof at the centre of the stadium's rooftop to shelter athletes and spectators.
Under the new design plan, only the spectator stand would be covered.
The deputy chief architect of the China Architecture Design and Research Group, Mr Li Xinggang, explained that the rooftop opening was designed to be small to facilitate the opening and closing of the retractable roof.
He stressed that the aesthetics of the stadium would not be affected by the redesign. Enditem
October 28, 2004
AT HOME WITH
An Exile Ascends China's Big Stage
By CHRISTOPHER HAWTHORNE
REHABILITATED Ai Weiwei helped design the Olympics stadium for China.
THANKS to his work with the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron on the Olympic stadium being built here for the 2008 Summer Games, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei suddenly finds himself with a rising profile in the architecture world.
It's a funny coincidence given the nature of the project, Mr. Ai, 47, said on a rainy afternoon recently, breaking out of his usually stoic mien to laugh at himself. "I'm just not a very sporty man," he said.
He was sitting under a big umbrella in the courtyard of his house and studio complex, a collection of spare, Bauhaus-style light-brick buildings he designed himself and finished about five years ago.
"I don't think I've ever been inside a stadium before," he added.
In fact, his role is even more unlikely than that. While Mr. Ai has helped design a piece of Olympic architecture that seems destined to become a landmark of the new China in the eyes of the world, he is also a former enemy of the state. Or at least the son of one.
Mr. Ai's father, Ai Qing, was perhaps the best-known poet of his generation, and among the most acclaimed Chinese literary figures of the 20th century. But he was caught up in a purge of intellectuals that began in 1957. In 1958, when Ai Weiwei was a year old, the government sent the family away from Beijing, beginning a forced exile from the capital that would last nearly 20 years.
The family was first deposited in a newly built village in Xinjiang, a region in northwest China. As the Cultural Revolution erupted in 1966, when Mr. Ai was 9, he, his parents and his three siblings were shipped even further north, to a quasi-military re-education camp on the edge of the Gobi Desert. There the family lived in a room dug out of the earth, with a leaky roof at ground level made of branches and mud. Ai Qing, by then nearly 60, was forbidden to read and write, and was forced to scrub toilets at the camp every day.
"We were there for five years, and my father never took a day off," Mr. Ai said.
The family was sent back to Xinjiang when Ai Weiwei was 14 and was allowed to return to Beijing five years after that. His father was exonerated in 1978.
Ai Weiwei (pronounced EYE way-way) enrolled in the Beijing Film Institute, where his classmates included Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, who would go on to become two of the best-known filmmakers in China. At the same time he began making art and trying to get it shown, and he fell in with the Stars Group, made up of artists and writers, which the government tried to suppress in the late 1970's. "We became dissident artists without even trying," he said.
By 1980 he was thinking about leaving. His girlfriend at the time had relatives in the United States, and they helped Mr. Ai fly to New York in 1981, where he studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League before settling in the East Village to try to make a living as a conceptual artist.
The biggest change, he said, was that he was alone and completely without restrictions in New York, quite a shift for someone who had grown up as he had.
"It was almost like gravity disappeared, as if I was just floating, that's how much I enjoyed New York," he said.
When his father fell ill with heart problems in 1993, after Mr. Ai had been in New York more than 10 years, he faced a decision. "My relatives all told me just to come back and visit him, but I knew that it was either go back to China for good or stay in New York for good," he said. He moved back. His father died three years later, at 86.
It is a measure of how much China has changed that in the years that followed, Mr. Ai was able to restore the family name to a measure of prominence while still producing sharply political artwork.
But it is not hard to find signs of the same attitudes that sent his family away from Beijing for so many years.
While visiting Shanghai on Oct. 27 Mr. Ai was taken into custody after stopping to take a few photographs of a confrontation between police and protesters in front of City Hall. He was led to the basement of a nearby police station, where the police questioned him pointedly and erased the images in his digital camera.
"This is still a society that tries to protect itself from exposure to the truth," Mr. Ai, his normally even voice shaking with emotion, said on the phone just after his release.
The Olympic stadium, known officially as the National Stadium, itself has become a lightning rod for criticism by Chinese architects and academics who are unhappy with the role that foreign firms like Herzog & de Meuron are playing in shaping the new China. Those complaints have found at least a few sympathetic ears in the government.
Over the summer, the stadium's construction was postponed and its budget trimmed to about $375 million from about $425 million, according to news reports here, forcing the architects to give up on a planned retractable roof and to make other changes.
Still, the stadium seems likely to be the most successful of the many ambitious projects commissioned by Olympics officials for the Beijing Games. Behind an innovative and striking facade made up of a tangle of steel trusses, it will hold about 90,000 fans for the opening and closing ceremonies and events including soccer and track and field competitions.
Mr. Ai was introduced to Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the firm's founders, by Uli Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China and a collector of Chinese art.
"We decided to work with Weiwei in a kind of workshop process," Mr. Herzog said in a phone interview from Basel, where the firm is based. Mr. Ai helped shape the gnarled trusses, for example, into an arrangement that would suggest organic forms, like a bird's nest or tree branches, rather than the fanciful experimentation of Western architects.
"We never would have dared introduce this chaotic structure of trusses if we hadn't been encouraged by Weiwei's reaction and feedback, and the way he helped us connect it to traditional Chinese forms," Mr. Herzog said.
Mr. Ai was still living with his extended family in central Beijing in 1999 when he found a patch of land on the outskirts of the city, about 10 miles northeast of Tiananmen Square. He arranged to lease the land for about $1,200 per year.
"I asked the owner if I could build on the land," Mr. Ai recalled. "He said, `I can't say yes, but if you don't ask, it's O.K.' In China there are lots of situations like this."
He hired some local farmers and built his house in 100 days. The total budget for the compound — more than 4,000 square feet of space that includes a double-height studio, an office for Mr. Ai's staff of 10, a dramatic living room with a mezzanine-level library overlooking it, and three bedrooms — was about $40,000, he said.
In a city that is growing with almost unbelievable speed, and where each new building seems determined to be bigger and gaudier than the one next door, the simple, elegant proportions of Mr. Ai's compound, with white interior walls and shiny concrete floors, are something of a radical gesture. Mr. Ai said his goal was to create a group of buildings that were "absolutely functional, with no style and no traces of culture."
The house is filled with a mixture of furniture that Mr. Ai designed — some of it straddling the line between functional and whimsical — and traditional Chinese pieces. Just off the dining area is a spacious studio that on a recent visit was nearly filled with an installation of large wooden columns that Mr. Ai salvaged from a 100-year-old temple destroyed in southern China. He said the installation was in part a commentary on the Chinese government's continued destruction of traditional architecture in cities like Shanghai and Beijing to make way for new office towers and residential developments.
In 2000 Mr. Ai designed a nearby headquarters for the China Art Archives and Warehouse in a style nearly identical to that of his house, with walls of rough-hewn light brick and a no-nonsense, squared-off aesthetic.
As he continues to pursue other architectural projects, including a public park design in Shanghai which will include small buildings designed by Michael Maltzan and Toshiko Mori, among others, Mr. Ai seems determined not to stray from the minimalism that has marked his first forays into the field.
"It seems to me that bad buildings give in to many temptations, and good ones are able to limit temptation," he said. "That's about all I know about architecture, and it seems enough."
Ai Weiwei at his studio and home near Beijing.
Ai Weiwei displays 100-year-old timbers in his house.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
I think I'll reserve judgement until a photo of this thing is posted at completion.
Beijing Olympic stadium :
Venue: National Stadium; Location: Olympic Green;
Total land surface (10,000 sq. m.): 25.8;
Functions during the Games: Athletics, Football;
Post-Games use: The Stadium is to stage sports events at national and international levels, as well as cultural and entertaining activities;
Groundbreaking date: Dec. 2003;
Designer: Herzog & DeMeuron (Swiss) and China Architecture Design Institute;
Status quo: Groundwork has been finished. Following work is underway.
This is a crazy stadium design.
May 21, 2006
The China Syndrome
By ARTHUR LUBOW
Slide Show: Olympic Countdown
A visit to the construction site of the National Stadium in Beijing is as close as you get in the 21st century to seeing what it must have been like to put up the Great Wall of China. At one point, 7,000 workers were toiling on the stadium, dispatched in six-month stints from the countryside and organized like an army into squadrons. When I visited at the end of March, their number had diminished to a couple of thousand: the concrete had already been poured for the huge bowl that will seat 91,000 spectators at the 2008 Olympic Games, and the raising and welding of the steel columns and beams — tasks that require extra training and elbow room — were well under way. Cranes more than 300 feet tall hovered above, hoisting metal pieces as heavy as 350 tons to form a lattice of interwoven steel. Knowing that the nickname "bird's nest" has clicked with the Chinese public, I could imagine the enormous cranes as Godzilla-fied birds and the dangling curves of steel as worms being lowered for the chicks. The 24 main columns are gargantuan — 1,000 tons each, far more than the weight of those in a conventional stadium and spaced in what appears to be a random pattern. "Everyone thinks this is the most remarkable piece of architecture we have ever designed," the architect Jacques Herzog told me months before in Switzerland, where he lives. "To realize that project there is amazing." It defies expectations to see this avant-garde building rising in China, and yet, Herzog had remarked, "such a structure you couldn't do anywhere else."
For architects, China is the land of dreams. The construction statistics tantalize. The Chinese consume 54.7 percent of the concrete and 36.1 percent of the steel produced in the world, according to a 2004 report in Architectural Record. Hungry architects are drawn to China by the abundance of economic opportunities. But Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss firm that designed the stadium, doesn't need to drum up business. It has more work than it can handle. What attracted the firm's leaders to China is an openness to audacious projects, which they attribute to the lack of timidity and inhibition in the people there. "They are so fresh in their mind," Herzog says. "They have the most radical things in their tradition, the most amazing faience and perforated jades and scholar's rocks. Everyone is encouraged to do their most stupid and extravagant designs there. They don't have as much of a barrier between good taste and bad taste, between the minimal and expressive. The Beijing stadium tells me that nothing will shock them."
After Beijing was awarded the Olympic Games, the city authorities, with national encouragement, set out to display the material progress of their society. A euphoric wave of architectural commissions ensued. Most of the recent construction in Beijing is numbingly banal, yet a few projects — especially the headquarters for CCTV, the national television company, which was designed by Rem Koolhaas's firm, OMA, along with Herzog & de Meuron's National Stadium — promise to be modern monuments, a gutsy wager on the figures who are advancing the frontiers of Western architecture. "On the one hand, you have these two projects — CCTV, which could only be built in China, and the stadium — and you have on the other hand thousands of uninteresting projects, like mushrooms," says Pierre de Meuron, who runs the firm with Herzog. The Olympics have galvanized China's imperial impulse to impress the world, by whatever means necessary. "What is probably really amazing and amusing for the Western audience in terms of what is going on in China is this openness in attitude," says Yung Ho Chang, the chairman of the architecture department at M.I.T., who also practices in Beijing. "People start to speculate, 'Do they know what they are getting?' They want to showcase their economic success. In that sense they know. But do they know what Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron are trying to achieve in architecture? Probably no."
On their side, these innovative foreign architects are equally in the dark, frequently blindsided by forces they never anticipate or fully comprehend. Even the identity of the true decision maker can remain mysterious. Everywhere in the world, not only in China, the struggle to realize a design is vulnerable to forces outside the architect's reach: the budget shrinks, the program changes, the financing collapses, the building code alters, the client reneges. In an authoritarian and secretive state that is trying to spur capitalist initiative without relinquishing government control, however, these calamities occur with less warning or transparent reasoning. "It's like two walls in front of each other," Herzog says. "You have no clue what really happens, what are the dynamics really." Both the reigning government bureaucrats, who respond to social and political pressures, and the newly ascendant capitalists, who try to anticipate market conditions, make sudden and seemingly capricious decisions. Their explanations are incomplete and unconvincing.
A year ago, when I began looking into the work of Herzog & de Meuron in China, the firm had six projects there. By the time I began reporting six months later, only two were moving forward — the giant stadium in Beijing and a minuscule pavilion in the provinces. China is the land of disillusionment, not only of dreams. I told de Meuron that I'd heard his experience there had turned his hair gray. He smiled. "It's not only China," he said. But he acknowledged that many times over the last few years, he despaired that even the stadium would be constructed as designed. Herzog & de Meuron's Chinese adventure has two strands that occasionally intersect. "There is the building or project process," de Meuron says, "and parallel, this whole strategic and political process, which is as interesting or thrilling." At any moment, a project could slip through his fingers and smash or vanish without his ever knowing why.
The eye-popping physical transformation of China shimmers even more vertiginously when viewed from small, staid Switzerland, a country best known for discreet banking, precision watchmaking and a beady-eyed civic etiquette in which the candy wrapper that some miscreant (no doubt non-Swiss) has dropped on a train platform cries out as an unfathomable act of vandalism. Herzog & de Meuron, one of the most admired architecture firms in the world, is deeply Swiss. Located in Basel, where its two principals met as 7-year-old schoolboys, the practice first gained an international reputation for the exquisite ornamentation and detailing of its Modernist buildings. In architects' parlance, Herzog & de Meuron was renowned for covering facades with unusual "skins," like woven copper strips or photographically printed polycarbonate panels. The partners began exploring unconventional cladding because, in the steel, glass and concrete universe of Modernist architecture, it beckoned as new territory. Even before they captured the awareness of the general public with their first large-scale project, the Tate Modern in London, which opened in 2000, they were moving beyond simple boxlike structures with gorgeous skins to design formally expressive buildings that somehow manage to be both wildly imaginative and coolly restrained. The National Stadium, daring though it is, constitutes a logical arrival point for Herzog & de Meuron: the basket weave of steel that composes its facade is also its load-bearing structure. Its skin is made of bones.
Excited by the possibility of working in China, Herzog and de Meuron wondered where to make their initial foray. In 2002, contemplating an invitation to compete on short notice for the CCTV commission, de Meuron sought advice from his friend Uli Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China and an early Western collector of Chinese contemporary art. Along with strategic counsel, Sigg provided an introduction to his friend Ai Weiwei, a prominent and very plugged-in Beijing artist. When Sigg called Ai to ask if the CCTV competition would be fair, Ai replied, "Never, from my experience in China, will you have a fair competition." Beset with complicated (and doomed to be unrealized) projects in Abu Dhabi and Moscow, Herzog & de Meuron declined to enter. Upon the victory of their friend and rival Koolhaas, with whom they enjoy a relationship reminiscent of Matisse's with Picasso, they regretted the decision. "Afterward they thought if they participated, they would have won," Ai remarked. He agreed to serve as their artistic collaborator in the next big Chinese trophy hunt — the National Stadium competition.
The rules of that competition laid out certain functional requirements. Beyond the obvious need to provide playing fields and spectator seating, the competition brief emphasized commercial post-Games uses and made an unusual demand for a retractable roof that could be closed in bad weather. In developing an Olympics strategy, the Beijing authorities hoped to avoid the head-splitting hangover that Athens and Sydney woke up to once the 17-day party ended — the obligation of maintaining a costly and impractical stadium. Yet the iconic value of the stadium might also be great, however hard to quantify. In the long months ahead, whenever their design was threatened, Herzog and de Meuron would suggest that if constructed to plan, the National Stadium might do for Beijing what the Eiffel Tower, itself erected for a temporary exposition, has achieved for Paris.
International juried architectural competitions are a novelty in the People's Republic of China. Indeed, only in the last quarter-century have foreign architects established a toehold there at all. Until then, all building plans came from the state-owned local design institutes, which churned out nondescript schemes according to a system that valued speed and efficiency over originality. In 1983, these design institutes lost state financing and were forced to become self-supporting. Still, they initiate most new construction. Furthermore, any private firm working in China is required by law to collaborate with a local design institute, which bears ultimate responsibility as the architect of record. (This system resembles Western practice, in which a visiting architect must cooperate with a locally licensed partner.) A few of the design institutes have the reputation for an enlightened attitude. The China Architecture Design and Research Group (CAG), which Ai recommended to Herzog & de Meuron, is one of the best.
When Ai traveled to Basel to discuss the stadium concept, he was joined by Li Xinggang, a young architect in the CAG. Upon arrival at the offices of Herzog & de Meuron, the Chinese emissaries found that the area set aside for the stadium design was postered with images of Chinese ceramics, baskets, jades and bronzes. Finding new ways to invoke an ancient tradition within a modern context is the intellectual challenge that animates the work of Herzog & de Meuron in China. There are many approaches to the problem, most of them awful. At the onset of the Beijing building boom in the late 1980's, the city's mayor preferred that skyscraper architects tip their hats to the Chinese past. All across town you can see tall buildings capped by absurdly historicist roofs in the style of the Forbidden City. "If you wanted it approved, you had to add a big roof," says Cui Kai, the chief architect of the CAG. "That's a very simple way to connect modern and traditional. Herzog & de Meuron are doing it in a much more interesting way."
To optimize view lines and place spectators closer to the action on the rectangular playing field, the architects designed a bowl that was higher on the short east-west sides than on the north and south. The shape, which reminded them of a Chinese basket or a vase, then had to be fine-tuned. "Two sides high, two sides low — it is not a good thing in China," Li Xinggang recalls telling them. "People will say it is like a baby toilet. This is dangerous. If you give this possibility for a competition in China, it will be enough reason to cancel the scheme." He also thought the stadium's conceptual design bore a risky resemblance to a policeman's cap. Any suspicion I might have had that Li was exaggerating the Chinese propensity for analogy was dispelled a few days after our conversation, when I drove by the headquarters of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Another architect had told me that the sleek building, designed by the Western firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), reminded the Chinese of a snazzy tankless toilet manufactured by Kohler. Sure enough, some cheeky advertising director, playing off that likeness, had placed a billboard for the toilet directly opposite the building. Li was right. What might in Basel evoke a Shang dynasty vessel could have less lofty and pleasant associations in Beijing.
The treacherous symbolic power of buildings in China is demonstrated by the history of another KPF project, this one in Shanghai. In 1993, the Tokyo-based Mori Building Company, which is an important KPF client, announced its intention of erecting the Shanghai World Financial Center in the Pudong District. The architects arrived at a striking abstract form that tapers like a chisel; at the summit, they cut out a circle 150 feet in diameter to relieve wind pressure. Although not the inspiration for the scheme, Chinese mythology represents the earth with a square and the sky with a circle. It made a nice story, and in China, a succinct, evocative subtext can be as important as subbasement pilings in getting a building off the ground. Unfortunately, the Shanghai authorities were discerning an alternate narrative. For them, a giant circle on a Japanese-owned tower unequivocally evoked the rising-sun flag. "They didn't tell us exactly what the issues were, but they said there's concern in Beijing that public opinion is upset about this project and we can't approve it when people are against it," recalls Paul Katz, the KPF principal in charge. The negotiations dragged on for more than a year. "You can't just back down," Katz explains. "Part of the waiting was to see what the real message was." Eventually, they compromised on a trapezoid. "I'm happy with it," Katz says. Construction resumed last November.
In China, nicknames can be important. Of the major projects by foreign architects that won juried competitions and are under construction in Beijing, Paul Andreu's widely reviled National Grand Theater, which borders Tiananmen Square, is insultingly called "the egg." The headquarters of CCTV has been likened to a bench, a person kneeling or a doughnut, despite pains taken by the architects at OMA to emphasize the functional reasons behind its calligraphic swoop. Lord Norman Foster's airport terminal bears an unmissable resemblance to a beast revered in traditional Chinese architecture and folklore. "Norman Foster's airport building looks like a dragon, so of course it wins," says Li Hu of Steven Holl Architects. "If it looks like a snake, it's finished." (Its use of the imperial colors red and gold is just painting the lily.) Li Hu points out that the bird's-nest analogy for Herzog & de Meuron's stadium is a positive one: "In China, a bird's nest is very expensive, something you eat on special occasions." Culinary associations aside, a bird's nest is a harmonious natural object.
When conceiving the stadium, Herzog & de Meuron developed a scheme for practical, not symbolic, reasons. In any project, one or two design issues dominate. For the Tate Modern, the question had been how to take a massive industrial space with the towering Turbine Hall and make it people-friendly. For the stadium, a key issue was finding a way to incorporate the retractable roof inconspicuously. To mask the two large parallel beams that were necessary to support the heavy roof, the architects enmeshed them in crisscrossed steel. Aesthetically, they compared the interwoven steel to the crackled glaze of a Song ceramic vase or the wooden lattices in a Ming window. To explain how the structural steel would compose the visible facade, however, the competition document used the analogy of a bird's nest, in which the twigs that support the shape are right on the surface, devoid of any ornament. Where covering was needed, as in the roof area over the seats, translucent plastic membranes would be stuffed like the grass and leaves in a nest. The public loved it. The stadium looked like a bird's nest! Even though they had come up with the metaphor to describe the building's construction concept, not its visible appearance, the architects saw no need to correct the happy misunderstanding.
Li Xinggang says that when he took the model to the exhibition hall and saw the rival entries, he thought to himself, "We will win this." He was right. The stadium-design jury (which included Koolhaas and the eminent French architect Jean Nouvel) awarded first place to the Herzog & de Meuron scheme. As required, however, the jury also short-listed two others. Rather than a green light, the design victory was to be the first in a string of yellow blinkers that illuminate this cautionary tale.
The very idea of doing something architecturally new in China is itself so new that ambitious architects must surmount novel challenges. The popular mentality, however open-minded, is enmeshed by a web of shifting and inconsistent rules. "It's not that we don't have systems," says Yung Ho Chang of M.I.T. "We have incomplete systems. We have this superprogressive energy code, but a decades-old structure code. It is pretty easy for the bureaucrats to make exceptions, which they love to do. They think every case is unique, so they will break the code. Not you.It's this kind of incomplete changeable system." The Chinese language is itself poetically vague compared with English and more open to interpretation. Winning approval of a design often involves finding a receptive official. "You go to one person who says yes and then another person says no," complains Li Hu, who, with Steven Holl, is building a mixed-use complex in Beijing. "We were almost there, and the person died of a heart attack, and we had to start all over with a new person. No one wants to be responsible."
Li Hu's unconventional Beijing project — which is powered by 600 geothermal wells and features eight towers joined by sky bridges — is called Linked Hybrid in English. The Chinese name translates rather redundantly as "Modern MoMA." "We all know MoMA is the Museum of Modern Art," says Han Fengguo, the C.E.O. of the Modern Land Group, which is developing the site (with 622 apartments, a boutique hotel and a cinema) on the outside edge of the Second Ring Road, where the ancient city wall stood until Mao had it torn down. "We want to make our new buildings as art." Like many Chinese real-estate developers, Han once worked in government and is obscurely well connected. His company procured an excellent site for this project, close to an airport expressway that has sprung up overnight. In the model sales office, a color rendering of Linked Hybrid adorns the wall, part of a sequence that also features the projects of Koolhaas and Foster as well as Herzog & de Meuron, under the shared heading "Future Landmarks of Beijing." (Andreu's unpopular theater is conspicuously absent.) Recognizing the sales appeal of distinguished architecture, the Modern Group has also pumped up the reputation of Dietmar Eberle of Austria, a foreign architect it discovered before finding Steven Holl. "For the Modern Group, Eberle would be perceived as important as Steven to the buyers of the condos," Yung Ho Chang says. "They made this brief history of modern architecture from Mies and Corbu to Eberle. Later on they added Steven." Han was chain-smoking premium-brand Chunghwa cigarettes with black filter tips, as a female assistant poured green tea into disposable cups and coffee into porcelain demitasses. He personified the message he was preaching: the convergence of Chinese and Western tastes at the rarefied level of the luxurious modern lifestyle.
For the Chinese, especially the new rich, a famous architect's imprimatur graces a building with designer-label status. "There is a new luxury beyond Louis Vuitton and BMW," Han says. An even more successful developer, the architecturally savvy Pan Shiyi of SOHO China, who has solicited (but not used) designs from Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid and Toyo Ito, says: "In the past there was a debate whether you could combine avant-garde and commercial. But I think the value of the avant-garde will be recognized in the market. Like Picasso's paintings, which were once avant-garde, and now they are very valuable." Of course, the craze for theatrically expressive schemes by famous architects also exists in the West, where public institutions, particularly museums, vie for the services of a handful of stars. The difference is that Western executives recognize that commissioning an unconventional design from Koolhaas or Herzog & de Meuron will entail a greater outlay of money, time and uncertainty. "In America, if an architect is conceived to be avant-garde, you probably wouldn't ask him to do a big housing project," says Yung Ho Chang. "In China, a developer would think, Avant-garde is a different style, we will try that."
In the months following the stadium competition submission, Ai Weiwei was approached surprisingly often by developers who told him they were looking for "the best architect in the world." He would recommend Herzog & de Meuron. Even before the stadium commission was decided, he escorted the Swiss architects on a drive four hours southwest of Shanghai to Jinhua, a small (by Chinese standards) city that is the birthplace of his father, the revered poet, Ai Qing. In 2002, at the invitation of the city authorities, Ai Weiwei designed a memorial to his father on the south bank of the Yiwu River. The city was so pleased that he was invited to plan a park on a ribbon of land that runs along the river's north bank. At the same time, he was asked his opinion of a master plan that had been commissioned for a new district of the city. "You'd better not build," he told them. "Not to build is better than to build this." The city planner solicited his recommendation. "There is no company in China that can do this," he said. "The education limits their imagination." Prodded for a referral, he said, "I am working with architects who might be interested."
Herzog and de Meuron were very interested. The opportunity to design a new city — not a gated community but a bustling commercial and entertainment district intended to serve as many as 300,000 people — arises rarely in the West. The firm's master plan would transform the former rice fields into three urban precincts, which were dubbed (in the local fashion) the Mountain, the Village and the Field: respectively, a high-rise complex, an entertainment area and a warren of small shops. They were also asked to design all of the buildings. "In Europe, you couldn't do it, because it would feel like a ghetto," says Ascan Mergenthaler, the partner directing the project. "But here they will move in and take the shell we give them and make something out of it. If you don't stop them, they start building rooms on the balconies." Also in Jinhua, Herzog and de Meuron agreed to assist with the mile-and-a-half-long strip of park by the river, where Ai proposed constructing 17 pavilions of avant-garde architecture. Herzog & de Meuron helped recruit young European architects and also agreed to build a pavilion of its own.
In these early days of their China infatuation, Herzog and de Meuron signed on to three other projects through Ai Weiwei. Two were for a Beijing developer. The larger one was a for-profit, adult-education campus at the outer edge of the city; without kitschy quotations, the Herzog & de Meuron architects designed campus quads, featuring interior courtyards and gardens, that evoked the traditional hutong neighborhoods vanishing quickly from Beijing. The other Beijing project was an unusual rental office complex, TPT Tower, which combined three high-rise buildings of different sizes on a common base at the curve of an expressway intersection. In the rendering, it resembles three ruby-colored crystals rising from a red matrix. Almost every one of the 7,000 plates of glass on the faceted facades is a different shape. When Herzog and de Meuron considered a similar scheme for a symphony hall in Hamburg, the high price of manufacture mandated a much simpler version. "Construction costs in Beijing are one-tenth the amount in the West, and in New York or London, it is 14 times as much," de Meuron says. Cheap labor, at least as much as an unfettered outlook, permits the flourishing in China of avant-garde architecture, with its penchant for original engineering, unorthodox materials and surprising forms.
The last of the Chinese projects that Ai delivered to Herzog & de Meuron inspired a design that, aside from the stadium, was their most startling. In the city of Qingdao (famous for its German heritage and Tsingtao beer), one of Ai's college friends was planning to start the first branch campus of the prestigious Beijing Film Academy. As is so often true in China, the program was inchoate. The project team designed spaces for classrooms, dormitories and production facilities in long, rectangular bar-shaped buildings, which could be subdivided according to function at the last minute. Then they piled up the bars in great heaps that looked as casually arranged as tossed pick-up sticks. Where the bars overlap, multistory atriums would encourage mingling and transmit light.
By the time I arrived in China, all of these ventures, except the tiny architecture pavilion — "the smallest project in China," Ai joked blackly — were struggling or dead. They had fallen victim to the bubbling social tensions and contradictions in a state-controlled economy that is trying to fuel growth without triggering social unrest, corrupt cronyism or an unsustainable financial bubble. Another important reason for the collapsing projects was the inexperience of the nascent developer class.
The effort to build an adult-education campus had succumbed to a newly enforced national policy that prohibits private deals between village chiefs and builders — such deals had invited corruption and provoked widespread protests. Instead, land must now be auctioned publicly. TPT Tower was stalled by the developer's need to sell other properties or find investors to pay for new construction, as the central government has tightened bank financing for commercial development. Because of a change in national policy, the city of Jinhua could not bankroll its new district directly but was compelled to auction off the development rights to three private investors, each one with an opinion — indeed, many opinions, depending on the day you inquired. It didn't help matters that the idealistic municipal official who was committed to the project had been promoted, as typically happens in Chinese government after four years. His successor seemed unmotivated to push through someone else's visionary scheme, leaving its fate uncertain.
Worst of all was the situation in Qingdao, with a discordant partnership between the local developer and Ai's old friend. Short of money, the developer of the film academy questioned the unconventional scheme and resisted the design fees. Even Ai's idealistic friend was disconcerted. "He said he wanted the best architects in the world," Chen Shu Yu, an architect who works for Ai Weiwei, told me. "We have a famous story in China. There is a person who likes dragons very much, and he likes to draw the dragon. Finally, when the dragon really tries to visit him, he is scared." In June, Herzog & de Meuron canceled its connection with the Qingdao project. The firm is still owed payment for its work. With a blithe disregard for intellectual property, the developer handed over the preliminary sketches to a local design institute, naïvely believing that the same architecture can be executed more cheaply. They broke ground last winter. "They are damaged by their own craziness," Ai says. "They don't know anything about architecture."
The one Herzog & de Meuron project that has been completed in China is the small concrete pavilion in Jinhua's architecture park. It was designed with the aid of a computer, which generated a gnarled solid out of patterns similar to the openings in brick walls that had been created for Jinhua's new district. The architects liked the pavilion so much that they developed a vertical wooden version for a museum exhibition in Basel: manufactured with a robot saw under the control of a computer program, "Jinhua Structure II — Vertical" was the first Herzog & de Meuron project to be digitally made from conception to execution. For the park in Jinhua, the building technique was worlds apart. To permit the local workers to fabricate the forms for casting the concrete, the Basel office prepared section drawings, sliced every 10 centimeters on the vertical and horizontal axes, and faxed them to Jinhua. The dusky rose concrete of the finished structure has rough edges, and some of the openings are not where the drawings specified. It doesn't matter. The pavilion has a powerful and original presence. And, unlike its Basel cousin, which is sternly marked "Keep Off!" in two languages, "Jinhua Structure I" can be clambered over freely.
It is inevitable that the mortality rate, which is high even in the West for unorthodox designs, will be still greater in China. "You need to start 10 projects to finish 2," Sigg says. The firm can take some of the concepts developed in China, however, and use them elsewhere. For example, the notion of piling up bar-shaped rough containers for the film academy in Qingdao — a scheme that was inspired by an old piece of layered wood in Ai Weiwei's collection — may magically materialize in a refined glass version as an office building for a pharmaceutical company on an orthogonal block in Basel. (The plans are still awaiting the client's approval.) "I'm sure it will look very different than it would in China," says Ascan Mergenthaler, the firm partner, "but you might say it is where the start of the idea came from."
Despite the disappointments, both Herzog and de Meuron say they have no regrets about undertaking these risky projects. "I would rather have this experience than to ask too many questions and be too careful and miss the experience," de Meuron says. "Being confronted by this culture, you mix new experiences in your own work. The ambition is to discover new ways of developing architecture." Ai, however, doesn't share this Zenlike acceptance. He advises Herzog and de Meuron against accepting more Chinese commissions. "I am so disappointed," he told me. "If it was not the National Stadium, I don't think they would get anything done."
A national centerpiece governed by an inflexible due date, the stadium could not be canceled like these other projects. The continuing involvement of Herzog & de Meuron, however, was far less certain.
After the Swiss architects placed first in the design jury, the public had the opportunity to visit an exhibition of all 13 contestants and register their opinion. Thousands cast their votes. "This is a kind of show, for the attitude of transparency," says Huang Yan, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning. An architect who studied at Harvard with Koolhaas, she organized the stadium competition. The Herzog & de Meuron team rallied to the populist call, believing it emanated from the national government. Li Xinggang and his colleagues stayed all day long at the exhibition, explaining the project to visitors and handing out picture cards of their design. "It's like an election campaign," Li says. Sigg and Ai coached him until midnight before he appeared on a popular morning talk show on CCTV. "This is the people's Olympics," Li explains. "We have to win the public vote." Otherwise, the authorities would find themselves in an awkward dilemma. It's impossible to know, in the absence of outside monitors, how accurate the tally was. Whatever the case, the design by Herzog & de Meuron, in collaboration with the CAG and Arup, a Western engineering firm, won again, although by a far narrower margin than with the expert jury. In April 2003, the firm learned it was the official victor of the design competition.
Having survived a juried contest and a public vote, Herzog & de Meuron nervously watched as the city authorities called in yet another jury to select the private consortium that would contribute 42 percent of the stadium financing in return for the construction contracts and a 30-year operations lease once the Games ended. The nod went to a group led by the giant state-owned conglomerate Citic. (The term "private" in China basically means "profit-seeking business.") Citic would take a leading role in construction as well as put up financing alongside the controlling municipal authority, Beijing State-Owned Assets Management Company. Perhaps any private partner would have appeared adversarial to Herzog & de Meuron, too eager to reduce construction expenses and maximize commercial features. But as it happened, Citic had a longstanding relationship with one of the world's largest architecture firms, HOK, which had competed unsuccessfully in the stadium design competition.
It seemed to de Meuron that the HOK losers were trying to backhandedly snatch a victory, promising greater experience and lower fees. "That was the most critical moment of the whole project," he says. "The private investor said, 'We believe in HOK, they are more professional, a bigger company than Herzog & de Meuron, more experienced with sports stadiums.' " To make his case with the city authorities, who were the ultimate arbiters, de Meuron relied on Li Aiqing, the strong-willed director of Beijing State-Owned Assets. Li says de Meuron is exaggerating the threat to the design. "Pierre can be childish," he says. "He is an artist; I like him. He worried in that time if HOK takes over the design work, they would change the original idea. But HOK didn't. I could not permit it to happen. I told the top leaders it cannot happen, because of legal, political, business issues. I report to the government, and the government supports me." On the other side, he advised de Meuron to reduce the design fee, optimize construction costs and speed up the process. Calculated on a construction cost of $325 million, which is in itself about a tenth of what it would cost if it was built in the West, Herzog & de Meuron agreed on a design fee of $20 million — or 6 percent, which is much less than what the firm would negotiate in the West, to be shared with the CAG (which gets a quarter) and Arup.
"In one year I was here 14 times, during SARS and everything," de Meuron told me in Beijing in March. "It was necessary. And for the Chinese people, it was an expression of confidence and respect. They don't want to deal with phantoms or names. They want to eat with you and drink with you." It took six months of tense negotiation before the consortium in charge of the stadium reached a contractual agreement with Herzog & de Meuron. By that time, to meet encroaching waves of deadlines, the firm had already completed its schematic design. In this contest of nerves, inaction counted as a kind of action. "It was a way for me to get to know myself better," de Meuron says. "We had been working without a contract for a long time. It was a risk. Will we get the contract? If not, we won't get money. It was very dangerous. But I knew the time was a factor. The more we worked and weren't out of the project, it was working to our advantage, because there was no time left for them." In November 2003, the contract was signed.
In China, the only two tempos are largo and prestissimo, and when the speed accelerates, there can be missed notes. Now that the protracted delay was over, the client wanted to begin construction immediately. De Meuron was summoned to appear at a groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 24. "I said, 'I can't come, it's Christmas, for my family it's like Chinese New Year,' " he recalls. "They said, 'No, it is the 24th, it's a good day in the Chinese calendar.' " He broke the news to his wife and dutifully flew to Beijing. No one was there to greet him. When he arrived at the stadium site for the ceremony, he went to pick up a shovel and join the official guests. A female security guard pushed him aside. "I said, 'I'm the architect,' but she didn't understand," he recounts. "I don't need the shovel, but I came for that. I thought it was impolite to have someone come all that way and not participate. Then it was over, and it was too late."
Over the next months, as construction proceeded on an unforgiving schedule, the danger was always that the architects and their design could be pushed aside just as abruptly. On their side, they had an internationally famous name and the threat of a P.R. debacle. But how powerful was that in the face of an Olympics juggernaut? The bulldozers began moving earth while the architects at the CAG were cranking out their preliminary drawings for approval. New drawings had to be prepared while the earlier ones were still being reviewed. "Every day, they needed drawings," Li Xinggang recalls. "It was a very difficult time for the design consortium. Liu Qi, the No. 1 party secretary of Beijing, took part in a meeting at the construction site. The construction company said they don't have enough design papers. I stood up and said we had provided the necessary drawings and every party should cooperate. Liu Qi understood."
In the spring of 2004, two momentous events occurred to slow the process. First was the consolidation of national power by President Hu Jintao. The central government, questioning whether the 2008 Olympics projects were too costly, ordered a financial review. Then on May 23, a new terminal collapsed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, with two Chinese citizens among the four dead. The terminal was designed by Paul Andreu, the architect of the National Grand Theater in Beijing. Construction on the stadium paused for six months at the end of May, while the designs of high-profile projects were studied by panels of experts to reduce costs and enhance safety.
Andreu's National Theater is generally seen as a grotesquely inappropriate building on a supremely sensitive site. It has fueled a simmering hostility on the part of the architectural establishment against outlandish foreigners capturing coveted state contracts. That resentment sputtered to the surface in a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao by senior academics, questioning the safety and sanity of all these avant-garde designs. "They couldn't do this in their own country, so they are taking advantage of the Chinese psychology that European thinking is better," Peng Pei Gen, a senior professor of architecture at Tsinghua University, told me. "They are using the Chinese as their new-weapons test field." On the stadium review panel that the city planner Huang Yan assembled, experts in engineering advised that changing the structural system of the stadium so that a few large columns and beams (supplemented by decorative steel members) bore the weight would significantly reduce the cost and difficulty of construction. Unfortunately, it would also nullify the design. Referring to the old-guard architectural opposition, Ai Weiwei says: "They never tell the truth but always try to build up this so-called nationalism against foreigners who open up society. They lost prestige when society opened up. For 50 years they never made a single object that is countable as valuable."
From his allies Li and Huang, de Meuron learned that the construction budget, originally set at $500 million and already lowered to $325 million, had to be reduced even further, to $290 million. The steel, which the designers had slimmed from an unofficial estimate of 80,000 tons to 50,000, needed to come down to 40,000. Value engineering, in which architects shave away construction costs, could no longer accomplish the task. "When they cut the budget by that much, you can only delete features," de Meuron says. There was an elephant in the room — or, more precisely, on the roof — that he dared not mention. "We never said, 'We want to delete the retractable roof,' " he explains. "That would have been quite dangerous. They might have said, 'Your brief was to bring a retractable roof.' We were very patient." He would keep coming back with alternatives, none of which sufficed. "This was a very enriching personal experience," he says — but like many such experiences, it was also exhausting and painful. "I am the sort of person who tries to find a solution," he explains. "You bring me problems, and de Meuron tries to solve them. It is too much money, or you can't do it for this building code, or the client wants concrete, not wood — I find another way. This is how it worked for me up to now. In China, it was very different. That was a challenge for me, not only as an architect but as a person. To have someone on the other side and they are experts in misleading you or trapping you. It is never one to one when they say if they like it or don't like it. They played with me."
As time was running out, he waited and waited, until finally the government requested that he remove the retractable roof. The decision saved 15,000 tons of steel. Strangely enough, the desire to mask the support structure of the retractable roof had been an initial link in the chain of thinking that eventually led to the "bird's nest" design. The roof would have been an engineering triumph, but without it, the overall form became more graceful. And beyond the money saved, which Li Aiqing estimates at $50 million, abandoning the retractable roof saved construction time, even more crucial after the six-month hiatus. Li says he worried about finishing on schedule if the roof had been kept. When I wondered in late March if de Meuron shared that concern, the architect said: "If you asked me before, I would have said it would be a problem. Now that I have been on the site this morning, when I see what they did in 11 months, I think it is amazing. They are capable of doing almost unpossible things."
Because de Meuron and Herzog are committed to hands-on involvement in their projects, they cannot decentralize their firm. All the important design is done in Basel under their direction. To propel and control the stadium project, however, an associate, Mia Hagg, established a Beijing office in the late fall of 2003. The office also facilitates the asking of a vital question that shadows every choice: How Chinese is it?
During his three-day visit to Beijing in March, de Meuron met with the firm's local architects. At this advanced stage of the process, the design of the steel structure and the concrete bowl was already determined. In the gap between the two, the architects have inserted a hotel, a shopping mall, a convention center and some areas intended to be open at all times to the general public. "What we think is the strength of this project is the space in between, the concourse, which is to be filled with life," de Meuron told me. "In Beijing, even in this harsh climate, the people use the public space — to dance, to play cards — unlike in Germany or Switzerland." Between the red-painted concrete and the silver-painted steel, he envisioned a continuous pageant.
Most of the unresolved issues pertained to the design of the stadium interior. The stadium architects had set up lighting prototypes and tile samples for de Meuron to examine. The most elaborate model was an undulating wall section, projecting several inches and covered loosely with red silk. It was under consideration for the V.I.P. reception room.
"We have many V.I.P.'s," Tobias Winkelmann, the design project manager, explained. "V.V.V.I.P.'s, about 20. About 700 V.V.I.P.'s. About 10,000 V.I.P.'s." In a finely calibrated social ranking, during the Olympics this reception area would welcome only the V.V.V.I.P.'s and V.V.I.P.'s, who were to arrive in cars through an underground entryway, while the mere V.I.P.'s, along with hoi polloi, traveled across the landscape. "Originally in our brief we had 1,500 V.I.P.'s," Winkelmann said. "China is a big country. They kept adding numbers. Now we are up to a total of about 11,000." After the Olympics, the numbers would collapse like an accordion, and this reception area would admit V.I.P.'s of all stripes.
Winkelmann flipped through a book of images, looking at V.I.P. rooms in stadiums. "This is typical, in the Nanjing stadium," he said.
De Meuron examined the picture. "But this is a meeting room," he said. "What is typical Chinese is the U-shape of the seating plan." A symmetrical and hierarchical arrangement around a focal point evokes the court of the emperors, whose spirit palpably persists, especially in Beijing.
During the discussion, de Meuron would interrupt to ask, "What do the Chinese think?" And often, the Chinese architects who worked in the Beijing office would express harsh thoughts. They were skeptical of the red silk wall, for example.
"For me, it is very strange," a Chinese architect said, once de Meuron reassured her that he wanted a frank opinion. "The design is too Western. And if we have this on the wall, it is too heavy. We don't put very complicated things on the wall."
"I think this is maybe too expressive in this depth," a Chinese man said. "In Chinese traditional design the surfaces are more neutral."
"And also the color," the woman said.
"Not the right red, or should not be red?" de Meuron asked her.
"In China, we don't make public areas red," she replied.
"But we made the whole stadium red," said Stefan Marbach, a young Basel-based partner at Herzog & de Meuron, who, when he began working on the stadium project, was not even an associate. China has been good to him.
"The outside is different from the interior," the Chinese architect said.
"If you have something red, it is jumping at you," de Meuron concurred.
Besides, in a red room there would be no way to roll out a red carpet or display a Chinese flag.
"You know, Tobias, we will do this somewhere else, outside China," de Meuron said to Winkelmann. "This will be our Chinese influence."
In this windowless hallway in a nondescript Beijing district, I felt perched on a hinge of history. By taking on the Olympics, China committed itself to demonstrating that it is a world-class power. Acknowledging that their architects were not yet up to the challenge, the Chinese had imported the best the West could offer, and now young local architects were collaborating with and learning from Western masters. By marrying Chinese tradition with a modern outlook, Herzog and de Meuron were helping to raise the bar for architecture in China. Even the unrealized projects, which have been widely published, can influence younger architects. Cui Kai of the CAG says that his protégé Li Xinggang has recently designed a building that reflects the work of Herzog & de Meuron. In a few years, as the junior Chinese architects become more sophisticated, foreign practitioners will be less needed and perhaps less welcome. This period of intense mutual enlightenment may be brief.
De Meuron asked if the V.I.P. welcome room was sufficiently constructed for him to experience its dimensions during his forthcoming site visit.
"Yes," Winkelmann said. "When you walk through the area, you get a sense of the size of the steel and the opening."
De Meuron turned reflective. "We are Swiss," he said. "Switzerland is a very small country. The first big-scale project we did was the Tate, the Turbine Hall. For us, it was a big step. Will it function? I think it functions very well. It is not oppressive. I think the same goes for this stadium, so this huge structure is not oppressive. The way we accomplished that was with the membrane and the bird's-nest idea." He favored a similar approach for the V.I.P. welcome room. "It is a large space; it should remain large, but we don't want to be oppressive," he said. "I am not sure the walls will be that important."
He cast another fond look toward the wavy red silk model. "I think this is beautiful," he said. "Maybe we will use it somewhere else."
Arthur Lubow, a contributing writer, last wrote for the magazine about the Leipzig School of painters in Germany.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
"Everyone is encouraged to do their most stupid and extravagant designs there. They don't have as much of a barrier between good taste and bad taste, between the minimal and expressive. The Beijing stadium tells me that nothing will shock them." — Jacques Herzog
I think this is going to be a knock-out. I'm particularly interested in the play of light emanating through the negative space created by the trusses.
I found a great site with all the proposals for the olympic stadium in Beijing. Some of these are just weird. I like the first one though.
Also if you click on the pictures they have great close ups.
April 17, 2007
No Spitting on the Road to Olympic Glory, Beijing Says
Doug Kanter for The New York Times
Ahead of the Olympics, China is trying to improve its citizens’ public manners and curb
behavior that might offend foreigners. Beijing officials are also trying to improve the
English of some ads. A better translation of the sign above might be,
“Find something new and be pleasantly surprised.”
By JIM YARDLEY
BEIJING, April 16 — For all the expectations and civic pride that Beijing has attached to being the host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, the event is a source of civic anxiety, too. What if traffic is terrible? What if the weather is bad? These are worries for any host city, but Beijing also has a few more:
What if foreign visitors are forced to navigate a minefield of saliva left by local pedestrians spitting on sidewalks? What if lines at Olympic events dissolve into scrums as local residents jump to the head of pack? What if Chinese fans serenade rival teams with the guttural, unprintable “Beijing curse”?
China’s ruling Communist Party has never been very comfortable with the question, what if? While Olympic visitors will undoubtedly be greeted with ecstatic hospitality, local officials are worried about some local habits. So as Beijing is building new sports stadiums, subway lines, futuristic skyscrapers and public parks for the Games, city leaders are also trying to rebuild Beijingers.
Citywide campaigns are trying to curb public spitting, discourage public cursing and littering and also promote lining up. There is even a campaign to rectify the often hilariously bad English translations on signs and restaurant menus. Given that Chinese leaders regard the Olympics as a milestone event to showcase China to the world, they obviously do not want to be embarrassed.
“Public awareness of manners needs to be improved,” said Wang Tao, the soft-spoken, exceedingly polite civil servant who has become a local celebrity for his efforts to curb public spitting.
Last week, the city commemorated “Queuing Day,” an event held on the 11th of every month because the date symbolizes an orderly line. Volunteers wearing satin Queuing Day sashes shooed rush-hour commuters into lines at busy subway stations, while hospital administrators and a few city officials handed out long-stemmed roses to patients who stood in line to pay their bills or pick up medicines. Local news media swarmed the event.
“This is to encourage people,” said Zhang Xin, 30, an expectant mother, clutching her flower as she left Beijing Hospital after her pregnancy checkup.
Chen Chunfang, one of the hospital administrators, summed up the purpose succinctly. “The Olympics are coming, and everyone wants to show their best,” she said.
Beijing, of course, is a sophisticated city that is the cultural and political capital of China. Nor it is alone is being accused of public boorishness; some people have even accused, say, New Yorkers of occasional displays of foul language and unflattering public behavior.
Still, some Communist Party officials have publicly fretted that Beijing may not measure up. One delegate at the country’s annual political meetings in March recommended heavy fines and a public education campaign to curb spitting, cutting ahead in line, smoking and foul language.
“They are stubborn diseases that stain the image of the capital city,” Zi Huayun, the delegate, told the country’s English-language newspaper, China Daily.
In fact, Beijing had already announced that people caught spitting in public before the Olympics could face fines up to 50 yuan, or about $6.50, hardly small change in China. Mr. Wang, the anti-spitting activist, said the Olympic spirit inspired him to begin his campaign. “I felt I must do something to contribute,” he said.
He chose a very dirty task. Public spitting is a frequent practice in Beijing and even more common elsewhere in China. (The sinus-clearing, phlegmy pre-spit hawking sound is so common that one foreigner wryly dubbed it “the national anthem of China.”) Health officials, worried about communicable disease, have long tried to curb public spitting, with limited success, given that many people do not consider it unacceptable behavior.
“I spent six months trying to figure out how to stop people from spitting,” Mr. Wang said. “I first wanted to wipe their spit up myself, but just how much could I wipe? So I decided the best way was to ask the spitting person to stop.”
He chose to begin in May 2006 in Tiananmen Square, which might qualify as an official venue if spitting were an Olympic event. “The first person I came across was a thin man, not very tall,” Mr. Wang recalled. “I said, ‘Mister, please wait a second!’ But he walked away and I couldn’t keep up.”
His campaign has since gained momentum. He has attracted hundreds of volunteers for his group, known as the Green Woodpecker Project. They carry tissues, which they offer to people as an alternative to spitting on the ground, and try to convince the offender, usually male, to change his ways. Mr. Wang himself carries a small camcorder and posts spitting action shots on his Web site.
“Woodpeckers pick up worms and clean up the forest,” Mr. Wang said. “I want to clean up the city the same way.”
Beijing’s mangled English signage is not so much a bad local habit as a local institution in the eyes of resident foreigners. English translations on signs are considered fashionable and good advertising, as well as a gracious gesture to foreigners baffled by Chinese characters. But until recently, the attention paid to the accuracy of the translation was, at best, uneven. Consider that a local theme park about China’s ethnic minorities was initially promoted in English as “Racist Park.”
David Tool, an American who teaches analytical thinking at Beijing International Studies University, recalled attending a Peking Opera performance in 2001 that offered a running digital translation in English.
“They had this line that should have said ‘auspicious clouds in the sky’ but it read ‘auspicious clods,’ ” Mr. Tool recalled. He said a group of foreigners in the audience erupted in laughter, which he found offensive, even though he was also offended by the bad English.
Mr. Tool and a prominent retired professor, Chen Lin, are now at the vanguard of Beijing’s English police, an effort emboldened by the Olympic self-improvement campaigns. City officials have enlisted the two scholars and other experts to retranslate the bad English translations on signs around the city. Last week, Beijing announced new standards and official translations that can be used on more than 2,000 different types of signs, as well as on menus.
Mr. Tool said he spent his weekends visiting different businesses as if he were a detective in a linguistic vice squad. “I go in and I say the Olympics are coming and this sign is wrong,” Mr. Tool said. He then sends an e-mail message with a correct translation or has a printout delivered.
He is writing a book on the subject, and no wonder: regular blunders include typos on menus in which the ‘b’ in crab becomes a ‘p.’ Some translations are trickier, like describing pullet, which is a hen less than a year old but appears on some menus as Sexually Inexperienced Chicken. Mr. Tool said one prominent sign had become a regular photo op for foreigners: the Dongda Anus Hospital.
Mr. Tool intervened. It is now the Dongda Proctology Hospital.
Score another gold medal for Beijing’s self-improvement campaign.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company