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Thread: Beijing Olympic Stadium (the "Bird's Nest") - by Herzog & de Meuron

  1. #31

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    The unseen before oppulence and potemkin village feel of this Olympics reminds me of Berlin 1936 more than anything else.

  2. #32
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ZippyTheChimp View Post

    ... City officials have enlisted the two scholars and other experts to retranslate the bad English translations on signs around the city ... 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.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/triciawang/86438290/

  3. #33

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    I wonder what they call the doctors in English.

  4. #34
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    That article really made me laugh. Thanks, I needed that.

  5. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by BenL View Post
    The unseen before oppulence and potemkin village feel of this Olympics reminds me of Berlin 1936 more than anything else.
    Quote Originally Posted by ZippyTheChimp View Post
    April 17, 2007

    ... “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.... 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.”) ...

    “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.”

    ...

    Beijing’s mangled English signage is not so much a bad local habit as a local institution in the eyes of resident foreigners. ... 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 said one prominent sign had become a regular photo op for foreigners: the Dongda Anus Hospital.

    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
    Darkness and Light. all in the name of showcasing the new China.

    On the Light side, who could have chosen better names than these to deliver these quotes.

  6. #36

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    I love the design for the stadium, but its not quite so impressive seeing it in person - the pollution in Beijing is so bad unless you stand very close you'll hardly be able to see it.

  7. #37

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    December 29, 2007

    Beijing’s Olympic Quest: Turn Smoggy Sky Blue


    Oded Balilty/Associated Press
    Beijing residents in Tiananmen Square, used to pea-soup smog,
    ignored a citywide stay-indoors warning on Thursday.


    Aaron Kuo-Deemer for The New York Times
    ADDED CARS, LOST HORIZONS The rush-hour haze in western
    Beijing one morning this month. An additional 1,200 cars and
    trucks roll into Beijing every day.

    By JIM YARDLEY

    BEIJING — Every day, monitoring stations across the city measure air pollution to determine if the skies above this national capital can officially be designated blue. It is not an act of whimsy: with Beijing preparing to play host to the 2008 Olympic Games, the official Blue Sky ratings are the city’s own measuring stick for how well it is cleaning up its polluted air.

    Thursday did not bring good news. The gray, acrid skies rated an eye-reddening 421 on a scale of 500, with 500 being the worst. Friday rated 500. Both days far exceeded pollution levels deemed safe by the World Health Organization. In Beijing, officials warned residents to stay indoors until Saturday, but residents here are accustomed to breathing foul air. One man flew a kite in Tiananmen Square.

    For Beijing officials, Thursday was especially depressing because the city was hoping to celebrate an environmental victory. In recent years, Beijing has steadily increased its Blue Sky days. The city needs one more, defined as scoring below 101, to reach its goal of 245 Blue Sky days this year. These improving ratings are how Beijing hopes to reassure the world that Olympic athletes will not be gasping for breath next August.

    “We’re definitely hoping for the best,” said Jon Kolb, a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee, “but preparing for the worst.”

    For the world’s Olympians, Beijing’s air is a performance issue. The concern is that respiratory problems could impede athletic performance and prevent records from being broken. For the city’s estimated 12 million residents, pollution is an inescapable health and quality-of-life issue. Skepticism about the validity of the Blue Sky ratings is common. Moreover, the concern is whether the city can clean itself up long after the Games are over.

    Beijing has long ranked as one of the world’s most polluted cities. To win the Games, Beijing promised a “Green Olympics” and undertook environmental initiatives now considered models for the rest of the country. But greening Beijing has not meant slowing it down. Officials also have encouraged an astonishing urbanization boom that has made environmental gains seem modest, if not illusory.

    Beijing is like an athlete trying to get into shape by walking on a treadmill yet eating double cheeseburgers at the same time. Polluting factories have been moved or closed. But auto emissions are rising as the city adds up to 1,200 new cars and trucks every day. Dirty, coal-burning furnaces have been replaced, lowering the city’s sulfur dioxide emissions. But fine-particle pollution has been exacerbated by a staggering citywide construction binge that shows no signs of letting up.

    China’s unsolved riddle is how to reconcile fast economic growth with environmental protection. But Beijing’s Olympic deadline means the city needs an immediate answer. The ruling Communist Party envisions the Games as a public relations showcase and is leaving no detail untended. Scientists are cross-breeding chrysanthemums to ensure that flowers bloom in August.

    Now Beijing is also going to try to manipulate air quality. For months, scientists have treated the city like a laboratory, testing wind patterns and atmospheric structure, while pinpointing local and regional pollution sources. Olympics contingency plans have been approved for Beijing and surrounding provinces. Details are not public, but officials have discussed shutting down factories and restricting traffic during the Games.

    “We are determined to ensure that the air conditions meet the necessary standards in August 2008,” Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games, told the International Olympic Committee’s executive board this month.

    Beijing residents overwhelmingly support the Games and take for granted that officials will do what is necessary to ensure clean air. Last August, the city removed a million cars from roads during a four-day test intended to gauge pollution and traffic. But people also know that any emergency measures have a limited shelf life.

    “Yes, I heard about it,” said an engineer at one factory that may temporarily be shut down. He refused to identify himself because he was criticizing government policy. “It is like you invite some guests to your home, and hide all your children underneath the bed to make the house look nicer. If all the polluting factories are shut down for the Olympics, there will be a major pollution outbreak afterward when all the factories restart, right?”

    Beijing officials say the Olympics will have a lasting and positive environmental legacy on the city. International Olympic Committee officials acknowledge that air quality remains a problem, but they say the air would be far worse without improvements made for the Games. “The general trend is improvement,” said Simon Balderstone, an environmental adviser for the I.O.C.

    But pollution is expected to remain a major, long-term challenge as Beijing’s population may eventually exceed 20 million people. Scientists also say the city will never be able to clean itself up if surrounding industrial provinces are not cleaned up, too.

    Blue skies, in other words, will remain a challenge.

    Growth Offsets Gains

    In July 2001, Beijing won the right to serve as the host of the 2008 Games, a victory that carried a touch of vindication. Eight years earlier, the International Olympic Committee had rejected Beijing’s first bid for a variety of reasons, including the city’s polluted environment.

    This time, Beijing organizers promised a “Green Olympics.”

    “Beijing has come a long way since its last bid in 1993,” said Wang Wei, a senior Beijing Olympics official, speaking at the city’s final Olympic presentation in Moscow in 2001. “The city has taken giant steps to fight pollution caused by industrialization and economic growth.”

    Beijing’s environmental program had begun in 1997 and became the centerpiece of the city’s Olympic environmental commitments. Urban sewage treatment has doubled since 2001. Use of natural gas has jumped 38-fold as city officials have converted thousands of dirty coal-fired furnaces and boilers. Factories have been shut down or relocated to the suburbs. Millions of trees have been planted.

    “For many years, the city had few environmental rules,” said Mr. Balderstone, the I.O.C. environmental adviser, who regularly consults with Beijing officials. “It’s like they are playing catch-up on a lot of these measures.”

    But Beijing’s Olympic bid also intensified a stunning urban boom. Since 2000, Beijing’s gross domestic product has jumped 144 percent, according to Beijing Olympic officials. New office buildings and apartment towers seem to rise every week. More than 1.7 billion square feet of new construction has been started since 2002, most of it unrelated to the Olympics.

    Cleaner Coal, but More of It

    The emerging cityscape is often dazzling, but also energy intensive and polluting. Beijing now requires factories and power plants to burn cleaner, low-sulfur coal, but it had also hoped to reduce overall coal consumption in the years before the Olympics. Instead, the city’s coal consumption peaked at 30 million tons last year. Beijing also has only one office tower that qualifies under international and national energy efficiency standards as a green building. Construction, meanwhile, is expected to continue at a rapid pace.

    “I think there will be another 20 to 30 years of urbanization,” said Wu Weijia, a professor at Tsinghua University’s Institute of Urban Studies. “The scale of construction in Beijing will not slow down after the Olympics.”

    Meanwhile, an explosion of car ownership has wrought gridlocked traffic and a halo of auto fumes. Beijing now has more than three million vehicles and is adding more than 400,000 new cars and trucks each year. The city’s reliance on cars and trucks leaves its air with few reprieves. As in other Chinese cities, heavy trucks can only enter at night. Diesel exhaust is so severe that Beijing’s levels of PM 2.5, a tiny particulate deemed potentially harmful to health, is highest between midnight and 3 a.m., according to one survey.

    Beijing is fighting auto pollution by instituting China’s highest vehicle emissions standards. Nearly 79,000 new taxis with lower emissions have replaced older, outdated models. But Beijing has been unwilling to discourage private car ownership by instituting exorbitant fees as Shanghai has done. Depending on the car, license plates in Shanghai can cost as much as $7,000; as a result, Shanghai adds about one-fourth as many cars per year as Beijing.

    Beijing’s problems are compounded because its public transportation system was neglected for years. Now, the city is expanding subway lines and finishing a rail line from the airport to downtown, but car ownership is expected to keep rising.

    “If you discourage people from having a car, the public transportation system would be overburdened,” said Mr. Wu, the Tsinghua professor.

    Taking Pollution’s Measure

    Mr. Kolb, the Canadian Olympic official, spent much of August in Beijing trying to answer the question hanging over the city as the Games approach: Has air quality actually improved?

    An environmental physiologist, Mr. Kolb visited several stadiums, and sneaked into a few others, to measure pollution with a small monitoring device. On Aug. 5, his measurement of fine particles pollution, or PM 10, reached 200, roughly four times above the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

    “We’re worried,” Mr. Kolb said. Of Beijing air pollution, he added: “There’s no doubt about it. It’s off the charts.”

    A decade ago, Beijing introduced the Blue Sky program to measure sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM 10. Under the system, monitors take regular readings of each pollutant and then calculate a 24-hour average for each. The daily Blue Sky rating is determined by whichever pollutant has the highest 24-hour average.

    For China’s authoritarian government, the system represented a breakthrough. But it is less stringent than air-quality indexes in the United States. Indeed, a day that rates “good” in Beijing would usually be rated polluted in the United States.

    In 1998, Beijing recorded only 100 Blue Sky days. Each ensuing year, the city has improved the number until reaching the current 244 and pending. Cleaner coal has helped reduce sulfur dioxide by 25 percent since 2001. Nitrogen dioxide is also down. But Beijing’s biggest problem is PM 10 and other particulates, which are attributed to construction, industry and cars.

    Average daily levels of PM 10 exceed national and W.H.O. standards. In 2004, the concentration of airborne particulates in Beijing equaled that of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Atlanta combined, according to the United States Embassy in Beijing. Earlier this year, a report by the United Nations Environment Program concluded that “air pollution is still the single largest environmental and public health issue affecting the city.”

    “Particularly worrying are the levels of small particulate matter (PM 10) in the atmosphere, which is severely deleterious to public health,” the report stated.

    The Blue Sky system sets a maximum rating of 500, meaning that on the worst days the actual pollution level could be even higher. “Good” air in Beijing is any Blue Sky rating below 101. But even good air is often not very good; this year, Beijing has had 65 days that rated between 95 and 100. That bulge just inside the break point has attracted attention on Web sites and even at one foreign embassy, which compiled a statistical analysis casting doubt on the Blue Sky results, though the embassy’s officials refuse to discuss the findings.

    Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau, said the ratings were not manipulated. “People used to ask me if the ratings are scientific, or if we are playing any tricks,” Mr. Du said. “But this is most advanced equipment in the world.”

    Mr. Kolb said Olympic athletes were worried about ozone, which can inflame the respiratory tract and make it more difficult to breathe. But Beijing’s monitoring system does not measure ozone, nor does it measure the finer particulates known as PM 2.5.

    This year, a team of Chinese and American scientists analyzed air quality issues for the Olympics and found that Beijing’s daily concentrations of PM 2.5 rated anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent higher than American standards. Their study, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, also found that ozone regularly exceeded levels deemed safe by American standards.

    Studies are under way to assess the health impact of pollution in Beijing. One 2003 study warned that air pollution could be a major contributor to premature deaths related to chronic pulmonary disease, especially in the winter. Another study showed that visits to hospital emergency rooms rose on days with higher pollution levels.

    On a recent afternoon at Beijing Hospital, Dr. Li Yi, a respiratory specialist, said he now saw 50 patients a day for respiratory problems compared with about half that a decade ago. He said asthma cases had increased sharply, as had the number of patients with nonsmoking-related lung cancer.

    “You can’t say that pollution is the only reason,” Dr. Li said. “But nonsmoking-related lung cancer is now increasing more quickly.”

    Beyond the Olympics

    In August, Beijing marked the one-year countdown to the Games with a celebration at Tiananmen Square and several test competitions at different sites. Jacques Rogge, president of the I.O.C., applauded Beijing’s preparations, but also cautioned that pollution might force the postponement of some endurance sports.

    Hu Fei, director of the Institute of Atmosphere Physics in Beijing, said any concern was misplaced. “Don’t worry about the Olympics,” Mr. Hu said, expressing confidence that contingency plans would produce clean air for the Games. “We need to be concerned about the long term.”

    Mr. Hu said finding a long-term fix is difficult because of Beijing’s geography. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Beijing depends on strong winds to disperse pollution. Yet winds also draw pollution into the city. The study in Atmospheric Environment estimated that as much as 60 percent of ozone detected at the National Stadium could be traced to outside provinces.

    “Beijing is a pollution source itself, and it is surrounded by other pollution sources,” Mr. Hu said. “When you have wind, it brings in pollution from other sources. When you don’t have wind, the local pollution cannot disperse.”

    Xu Jianping, 55, a business consultant, does not need to be told that Beijing is overrun with cars and construction. He is an avid in-line skater who enjoyed skating to work until pollution left him spitting out black phlegm. He went online and ordered a gas mask.

    “But I don’t want to wear it,” said Mr. Xu, fearing his mask would be misinterpreted as a protest against the Olympics. “It would hurt China’s image.”

    So until the Games are over, Mr. Xu is taking the bus to the office. He plans to vacation outside the city during the Games. Then, when life in Beijing returns to normal, he plans to resume skating to work — with his mask, if necessary.

    Zhang Jing, Ma Yi and Huang Yuanxi contributed research.




    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

  8. #38
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Out of the Blocks

    Beijing’s Olympic architecture is spectacular,
    but what message does it send?


    Photograph by Iwan Baan.
    The steel lattice surrounding the Beijing National Stadium looks like a
    gigantic sculpture, but most of the beams are structural, not decorative.

    The New Yorker
    by Paul Goldberger
    Photographs: Iwan Baan
    June 2, 2008

    The Sky Line

    To understand just how important the Beijing Olympics are to China, you have only to look at where the Olympic Green has been built. During Beijing’s first building boom—six hundred years before the current one—the city was laid out symmetrically on either side of a north-south axis. As in Paris—where the Louvre lines up with the Tuileries, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs-Élysées—Beijing’s most symbolically important structures have fallen along the main axis. In the center is the former imperial residence of the Forbidden City. North of this is the Jingshan, a park surrounding an artificial hill where the last Ming emperor is said to have hanged himself, and, beyond that, the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower, which for centuries helped Beijing’s inhabitants tell the time. In 1958, when the Communists expanded Tiananmen Square, at the southern gate of the Forbidden City, they placed the Monument to the People’s Heroes on the same axis, in the center of the square. Mao Zedong’s mausoleum, also in the square, is on the axis, too. And now, spread over twenty-eight hundred acres at the opposite end of the axis, is Beijing’s Olympic Green. If Tiananmen Square is a monument to the Maoist policy of self-sufficiency, the Olympic Green, ten miles and fifty years away, is an architectural statement of intent every bit as clear—a testament to the global ambitions of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.


    Outside the National Stadium.

    At least two of the buildings on the Olympic Green—the National Stadium, by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the National Aquatics Center, by the Australian firm PTW Architects—are as innovative as any architecture on the planet, marvels of imagination and engineering that few countries would have the nerve or the money to attempt. The Chinese, right now, have plenty of both. These buildings, some of the most advanced in the world, are made possible partly by the presence of huge numbers of low-paid migrant workers. When I visited the stadium with Linxi Dong, the architect who heads Herzog and de Meuron’s Beijing office, he told me that the construction crew for his project numbered nine thousand at its peak.


    Inside the V.I.P. entrance of the National Stadium.

    The National Stadium is already widely known by an apt nickname, the Bird’s Nest. The concrete wall of the arena is wrapped with a latticework exterior of crisscrossing columns and beams, a tangle of twisting steel twigs. The lattice arcs upward and inward over the stadium’s seats (there are ninety-one thousand), supporting a translucent roof and forming an oculus around the track. The center of the roof, over the field, has been left open. The engineering required to keep all this metal in the air is highly sophisticated: the building may look like a huge steel sculpture, but most of the beams are structural, not decorative. The drama of the Bird’s Nest is even more arresting than that of the Allianz Arena, the Munich soccer stadium, which Herzog and de Meuron sheathed entirely in billows of translucent plastic, in 2005. Much of the spectacle derives from the interplay of the steel lattice and the concrete shell underneath. The outer wall of the concrete structure is painted bright red—one of the building’s few overtly nationalistic touches—and when lit up at night it shines through the latticework, an enormous red egg glowing inside its nest. On leaving, you experience the excitement of the knotted metal in a new way, looking out over Beijing through the wacky frame of the slanting columns.


    A view of Beijing National Stadium. “For all the sleek modernity of much of the construction,
    there’s no mistaking the old-fashioned monumentalist approach behind it,” Goldberger writes.

    Next door to the Bird’s Nest is the Aquatics Center, known as the Water Cube, a rectilinear building with a blue-gray exterior of translucent plastic pillows set in an irregular pattern intended to evoke bubbles. John Pauline, who is the head of the Beijing office of PTW Architects, told me that the design emerged from a desire to find a way of expressing the feeling of water. “We started out with ripples and waves and steam,” he said. “We basically looked at every state of water we could imagine. And then we hit on the idea of foam.” Working with the engineering firm Arup, which also collaborated on the Bird’s Nest, PTW developed cladding made of variously sized cells of ETFE, or ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a translucent plastic somewhat similar to Teflon. Among architects, ETFE is the material of the moment—Herzog and de Meuron used it for the façade of their Munich stadium and for the roof of the Bird’s Nest—and it has many practical virtues. It weighs only one per cent as much as glass, transmits light more effectively, and is a better insulator, resulting in a thirty-per-cent saving in energy costs. Furthermore, the pillows don’t just evoke bubbles; they are bubbles, twin films of ETFE, eight one-thousandths of an inch thick, placed together to form a cell, which is then inflated.


    The National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube.

    The real achievement of the Water Cube is less its technical wizardry than the transformation of the faintly trite idea of a bubble building into a piece of elegant, enigmatic architecture. The architects decided that, to play off the oval shape of the Bird’s Nest, the Aquatics Center would have to be square, and the constraint of straight lines seems to have insured that the bubble metaphor didn’t get out of hand. The Water Cube’s walls suggest the soap foam on a shower door—or perhaps, since some of the bubbles are as much as twenty-four feet across, on the slide of a microscope. From the outside, the almost random arrangement of cells establishes a kind of correspondence with the irregular struts of the Bird’s Nest. When you are inside the main hall of the Water Cube, the pattern of cells above and the green-blue tinge of the pool give you the feeling of being under water yourself and looking up toward the surface.


    A view of the National Aquatics Center, as seen from the National Stadium.

    Although China’s burgeoning wealth owes much to its export industries, for the Olympics the country has been content to play the reverse role, buying the most futuristic architecture that the rest of the world has to offer, rather than showcasing native talent. The work of Chinese architects has largely been relegated to a jumble of functional but uninspiring buildings. (There are thirty-one Olympic venues in all.) An important exception is Digital Beijing, a control center on the Olympic Green, designed by a Chinese firm, Studio Pei Zhu. Like the Water Cube, Digital Beijing steers dangerously close to a kitschy conceit. It consists of four narrow slabs set close together in parallel to resemble a row of microchips or, perhaps, hard drives. Some of the walls have glass cutouts in a linear pattern clearly designed to evoke a circuit board—they light up green at night. Yet the finished building has a dignity that is surprising. This is due in part to Pei Zhu’s choice of materials—the walls are clad in a sober grayish stone—and in part to the proportions of the four slabs, whose narrowness and lack of adornment give the building an austerity that is the opposite of kitsch.

    Pei Zhu may be Chinese, but his building is thoroughly international in style. (He was educated at the University of California and has worked both in China and abroad.) Indeed, apart from the red of the Bird’s Nest, there is little that is traditionally Chinese in any of the Olympic developments. The scale and ambition of the project is an unmistakable statement of national pride, yet China, strangely, has been content to make this statement using the vocabulary of the kind of international luxury-modernism that you might just as easily see in Dubai or SoHo or Stuttgart—dizzyingly complex computer-generated designs, gorgeously realized in fashionable materials. The message seems clear: anything you can do, we can do better.

    The first Olympic Games of the modern era, in 1896, were held in an ancient stadium in Athens that the Greeks refurbished for the occasion. The swimming events took place in the Aegean Sea. The next Olympics, in Paris in 1900, had no stadium at all. The track-and-field competitions were held on the streets of the city and on the grass of the Bois de Boulogne, which the French did not want to disfigure with a proper track. Swimmers were left to cope with the currents of the Seine.

    The idea that cities could attract the Olympics by promising lavish facilities probably began after 1906, when the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius put an end to a plan to have the 1908 Games in Rome. The British saw Italy’s misfortune as an opportunity and offered to build a stadium big enough to hold a hundred and fifty thousand people, in Shepherd’s Bush, London. The White City Stadium, as it was called, was the first stadium to be erected specifically for the Olympics. Soon, countries were openly vying with one another to host the Games. (What is the Olympic ideal, after all, but national rivalry dressed up as global amity?) The apogee of triumphalism was reached, notoriously, in Berlin, in 1936, when Hitler, who wasn’t yet in power when the Games were awarded to the city, embraced the Olympics as the way to show off the might of the Nazi regime. Architecture was as much a part of his vision as the gold medals, though his taste ran to the turgid and overblown. He tore down a perfectly good, barely used stadium, replaced it with the largest stadium in the world, and then built a hundred-and-thirty-acre Olympic Village, with a hundred and forty buildings laid out in the shape of a map of Germany.

    Since the Second World War, host countries have avoided such bombastic excess, but they have usually seen the Olympics as an opportunity to pin a gold medal on one or more of their leading architects. There was Pier Luigi Nervi’s innovative, seemingly floating concrete dome on his stadium for the Rome Olympics, in 1960; Kenzo Tange’s swooping, sculptural gymnasium for Tokyo, in 1964; Günter Behnisch and Frei Otto’s canopied stadium for Munich, in 1972. For the Barcelona Olympics, in 1992, the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was enlisted to build a communications tower that would serve as an Olympic symbol. Calatrava’s angular, precarious-looking design, inspired by an arm holding the Olympic torch, established his world-wide reputation and remains one of the city’s most visible structures. But the Barcelona Olympics also marked a new approach to Olympic architecture, one that placed as much emphasis on the relationship between the city and its facilities as on the sports venues themselves. Barcelona used the Games as an occasion to redevelop its waterfront and design a series of new parks, fountains, and works of public art to attract tourists after the Games were over. Since then, cities have been keen to use the Olympics to leverage other civic improvements, on the premise that if you’re spending billions to refurbish a city you should at least invest in buildings that have long-term utility. That’s why the legacy of the 1996 Olympics, in Atlanta, isn’t any of the athletic buildings but a major new park and housing for athletes that became new dormitories for Georgia Tech.

    The plan for the 2012 Olympics, in London, takes this idea a step further. Although there is one flashy commission for a British architect (an aquatics center, designed by Zaha Hadid, in the form of a giant wave), the London Olympics are distinctly short on architectural extravaganzas. The main stadium, to be designed by a large American firm that has had a lock on football and baseball stadiums for years, will be dull compared to the Bird’s Nest. When I talked to Ricky Burdett, a professor of architecture and urbanism at the London School of Economics, who is an adviser to the London Olympics, he told me that London did not feel the need to prove itself through spectacular works of Olympic architecture. “We had a big debate over whether we should build a new stadium at all,” he said. “We were much more interested in how an intervention on this scale will affect a city socially and culturally.” The British government plans to invest roughly nineteen billion dollars in an Olympic site, in the East End of London. When the Olympics end, much of the area will become a park, and sales of private development sites around it are expected to enable the government to recoup much of its investment. Burdett said, “London has always been poor in the east and rich in the west. The London Olympics can rebalance London.”

    Beijing, evidently, has other priorities. For all the sleek modernity of much of the construction, there’s no mistaking the old-fashioned monumentalist approach behind it. This is an Olympics driven by image, not by sensitive urban planning. It’s true that there has been a much needed and well-executed expansion of Beijing’s subway system, but most of the impact of the Olympics has been cosmetic—the trees planted along the expressway to the airport, for example, or the cleanup of some of the roadways leading to the Olympic Green. Bordering one stretch of congested elevated ring road, stone walls, like the ones surrounding the old Beijing hutongs, or alleyway neighborhoods, have been erected. But, with not much behind them, they are little more than a stage set—Potemkin hutongs designed to distract visitors from the fact that so many real hutongs are being demolished for high-rise construction. In today’s Beijing, forcible eviction is common, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced to make way for the Olympics. The brightness of the Olympic halo gives Beijing’s relentless expansion a surface sheen, but it’s only a distraction from the city’s deeper planning problems, such as air and water pollution and overcrowding.

    In general, the Chinese authorities have been less interested in solving these problems than in keeping the construction engine going at full throttle. Still, the Olympic site did require some planning and, in 2002, a competition was held to create a master plan. It attracted entries from ninety-six architects around the world, and was won by a Boston firm, Sasaki Associates. Despite its straight-line connection to the Forbidden City, the Olympic Green lies in a district that, in recent years, has become a forest of undistinguished high-rise apartment buildings and commercial towers. (The site also includes a mundane athletic compound erected for the 1985 Asian Games, and these leftover structures are all being refurbished for the Olympics.) Dennis Pieprz, the president of Sasaki, who was in charge of the scheme, explained to me that the firm struggled for a long time with the question of how to treat Beijing’s axis. The Chinese tradition of aligning important public buildings created “a huge temptation to put the stadium right on the axis,” he said. “But we decided that in the twenty-first century we were beyond that, and that we should, instead, symbolize infinity, and the idea of the people in the center, not a building.” So Sasaki placed the stadium just to the east of the axis and the Water Cube just to the west; the space directly on the axis was left open.

    Pieprz told me that he felt that considering the long-term use of the site was essential. “We needed a plan that could accept other civic, cultural, recreational, and commercial uses, so the place would become a major destination,” he said. Sasaki envisions the Olympic site as becoming a large park, with each of the major buildings taking on a public function. The Bird’s Nest will remain as the national stadium, its capacity reduced to a more practical eighty thousand by the removal of several tiers of seats; the Water Cube will lose almost two-thirds of its seventeen thousand seats, the upper tiers to be replaced by multipurpose rooms. “You are making a city, not a spatial extravaganza that will be interesting just for sixteen days,” Pieprz said.

    But, whatever the architects feel, it’s not clear that the Chinese are really that interested in long-term uses. The focus is on August, and on confirming before the world Beijing’s status as a modern, global city. However well the buildings are refitted afterward, it’s hard to see how the Olympic park will relate to the rest of the city, beyond being a welcome piece of green space in an increasingly built-up, sprawling metropolis. The success of what China has built for the Olympics will ultimately be measured not by how these buildings look during the Games but by the kind of change they bring about in the city. The billions of dollars spent on the Olympic site, after all, are only a fraction of the money that has been invested in construction in Beijing since the Games were awarded to the city, in 2001. The city, however, has yet to build a public space as inventive as that of post-Olympics Barcelona, or to think of the impact of the Olympics in terms as sophisticated as pre-Olympics London. In both conception and execution, the best of Beijing’s Olympic architecture is unimpeachably brilliant. But the development also exemplifies traits—the reckless embrace of the fashionable and the global, the authoritarian planning heedless of human cost—that are elsewhere denaturing, even destroying, the fabric of the city. ♦

    Copyright © 2008 CondéNet

  9. #39

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    That looks FANTASTIC!


    WOW.

  10. #40

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    Beijing Olympic Bird's Nest ready



    The IOC is worried about Beijing's air pollution

    The main venue for Beijing's Olympic Games - the "Bird's Nest" stadium - is complete and fully operational, Chinese officials have said.

    The 91,000-seat stadium will host the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies as well as athletics events.

    A network of steel girders gives the stadium its nest-like appearance. All 37 venues for the Games are now ready.

    The International Olympic Committee has praised Beijing's preparations, but said air quality was a concern.

    The Bird's Nest - or National Stadium - was designed by award-winning Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron and Chinese architect Li Xinggang.

    The design beat dozens of other entries in a worldwide competition held in 2003.

    "The Bird's Nest is the last completed Olympic venue but the best," said project manager Tan Xiaochun.

    The project was completed at a cost of $500m (£250m).

    "You can imagine yourself to be an athlete, standing at the centre of the venue attracting thousands of eyes," said Li Xinggang.

    "You will be turned on by the audience's cheers, feeling at the centre of a stage. It will lead you to final success."

  11. #41
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Damn -- that air quality is below bad

    Hope we don't have to watch athletes collapsing on the race trcks.

  12. #42

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    Id be worried, the way athletes suck in alot of air really cant be good. That stadium would be doing well to be enclosed.

  13. #43
    Forum Veteran Tectonic's Avatar
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    New York's been looking like those smoggy pictures lately. I think its the weather more than the pollution though.

  14. #44
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    That ^ is what they say in LA, too:

    "Oh, it's just haze. It's natural for here."

    Right ... smoke + fog + particulates = haze

    = smog

    When I was out in CA in May I couldn't believe how terrible the air LOOKED.

    At least here in NYC the buildings hide it

  15. #45
    Forum Veteran Tectonic's Avatar
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    was trying to be optimistic, lol.

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