Sunday, August 17, 2008

Melting of cultures in the new architecture

Since the 1990s, China has obviously speeded up its steps to open the architectural field to the outside world. That is fully testified by its extensive adoption of the competition mechanism, introducing international bidding for some important constructions. As a result, visions of domestic architects have been expanded, their mentality updated, and a number of prominent masterworks created.

The successful bidding for quite a few major projects by foreign architects marks the beginning of China's integration into the international community in the architectural sector.

Just like the country's accession into the World Trade Organization, which originally provoked controversies among some Chinese people who worried about the fate of domestic enterprises, only a temporary sacrifice of domestic architectural sectors can create chances for their future success in ever-increasing international competitions.

We still remember the words sighed out by a participating Chinese group of architects after the first round of review of the designing bidding for the National Center for the Performing Arts. "We admit our inferiority to foreign competitors," they said.

Paul Andreu, a renowned French architect, finally won the tender of the project. In its following layout improvements and construction, a lot of Chinese architects were involved. Such kinds of interactions and cooperation with foreign architects are undoubtedly helpful for our domestic counterparts.

The Water Cube, the National swimming center especially built for the Beijing Olympics, was also the product of cooperation between Chinese and foreign architects. But the designing inspiration of the marvelous building originally came from our Chinese architects and it won a prize in the 2004 biennial architecture exhibition held in Venice. This was a persuasive example that Chinese architects, once integrated into international environment, can also come up with world-class works.

Another example is the Tianjin-based 350 meter-high Sinosteel International Plaza. Chinese architect Ma Yansong overpowered competitors in the competitive international bidding for the building.

Architecture is a kind of art, which knows no national boundary. The successful tenders for Chinese projects by foreign architects in recent years are mostly the world's first-class ones. Just like artists, modern architects hate to imitate others' works. Creativity and uniqueness are the ultimate pursuit for world's top architects and duplication is regarded to be the work of commonplace craftsmen.

There is no doubt that the beauty of the modern arts, including architecture, is not the synonym for a new, unique or bizarre appearance, but modern aesthetics often contains these elements.

The well-known Sydney Opera House is the paramount masterpiece among a lot of excellent post-modern architectures. Its new-type architectural style and inspiring shape have received encomiums from across the world. The 30-year-old architecture was listed by the United Nations as a human heritage, marking itself as the youngest human heritage among the world's architectures.

Over the past decade, hundreds of China's architectures have been erected with the designs of foreign architects. Among these high-rise constructions, some are worth praising. They include the towering Jinmou Mansion in Shanghai's Pudong New Area. The inspiration for the skyscraper comes from the shape of Chinese ancient pagodas.

Rem Koolhaas, chief designer of the China Central Television twin towers, like Jacques Herzog, designer of the Bird's Nest, the National Stadium as the venue of the Beijing Olympics track and field items, is a winner of the renowned Pritzker Architecture Prize. The successful connection of the twin towers' heavy cantilever steel-structure can be a new breakthrough in the history of human architecture.

The construction of the National Center for the Performing Arts once caused great controversies, which mainly involved its egg-shaped, round exterior. Some critics thought this kind of shape is in disharmony with neighboring buildings.

However, it creates a contrasting visual effect with the surrounding historical architectures, such as the imposing Great Hall of the People, mysterious Zhongnanhai, which accommodates the headquarters of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, and the serene Rear Lake, Shichahai, and Beihai Lake, all historical spots yards away.

The Water Cube is one of the high points of the sprawling Beijing Olympics constructions. The square architecture was also built in an aesthetic, visual perspective. Lying in a lower profile with the more imposing and higher Bird's Nest, the Water Cube leaves more room to the more marvelous steel construction, thus achieving a kind of harmony between the two.

The Bird's Nest can be considered a symbol of the new architectures built in the capital. Its marvelous, complex steel structure has also created a wonder in architectural history. It will forever stand in Beijing like a resplendent jewel for people to visit and appreciate after the end of this summer Olympics.

The author is a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Source: China Daily

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