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The 'Water Cube': The National Aquatics Center

The facade of the Water Cube can also be highlit and animated

The 'Birds Nest': Beijing National Stadium

China Central TV Headquarters

The National Center for Performing Arts. Called a "floating pearl" by its admirers, its also been criticized as resembling a "fried egg".
Olympic Pride Transforms City, Projects advance architecture to new levels.

In less than a decade, Beijing has transformed itself from a city of gloomy, uninspired concrete cubes to a site containing some of the world's most inspired architecture. While China's new prosperity plays a part, the primary impetus is this year's Olympic Games which are due to start next month in the city. A look at some of the major projects follows.

The surreal "Water Cube", a.k.a. the National Aquatics Center, is covered with sheets of translucent plastic bubbles, which invoke images of a building constructed entirely from water. The bubbles also transmit light and absorb heat, cutting energy usage. The Center is the world's largest polymer-clad building, and will be one of the primary venues during the upcoming Olympics.

The "Bird Nest" is the friendly name for Beijing National Stadium, a 91,000-seat venue with an eye-popping space age design that contains 36 kilometers of unwrapped steel supports. Built for $430M, the stadium will also be one of the Olympics’ primary venues.  It is claimed that as many as 10 people died during the construction of the Stadium.

The hypermodern National Center for the Performing Arts, a gigantic $400 million titanium-and-glass flying saucer, floats like a pearl on its surrounding pool of water. To complete the image, an underwater tunnel provides entry. The Center's lush interior is said to house the most technologically advanced acoustics and mechanical wizardry of any concert hall in the world. The water enclosing the building also acts as thermal mass, to mediate the temperature inside.

There's the China Central TV (CCTV) Headquarters, a massive Escher-like structure that strains the boundaries of what it means to be called a skyscraper. The building's shape is so complex, that computational tools to validate its design didn't exist a decade ago. CCTV Tower's 4.1 million square feet of floor space makes it the second largest office building in the world, after the Pentagon.  The design, which includes a massive unsupported segment, will never be repeated, according to some architectural experts.

Greenpix, a multistory video display wall, is being called a "zero energy video art installation". Built on the wall of a large seafood restaurant, the solar-powered installation will display specially-commissioned videos by renowned artists.

Finally, Beijing has also completed an addition onto its airport: Terminal Three. The two-mile long structure is not only the world's largest airport terminal; it's one of the world's largest enclosed spaces. Built at a cost of $3.5 billion, it has over 100 gates, and covers some 9 million square feet spread over five above-ground and two underground floors. The roof of the terminal is punctuated by raised triangular skylights, meant to evoke the scales of a Chinese dragon.

Beijing is also constructing the world's largest Ferris wheel, in Chaoyang Park.

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RE: world's most inspired architecture
By masher2 on 7/14/2008 9:33:13 AM , Rating: 4
And yet Luxembourg exerts essentially no influence on the world social, political, and military arenas, while nations like the US and the former Soviet Union (whose citizens had one of the poorest standards of living of all) set the tune the rest of the world marches to.

In global geopolitique, size matters, plain and simple.

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By Pops on 7/14/2008 1:32:05 PM , Rating: 2
While I wouldn't go as far to say China will not pass up the US economically. People thought the same thing about Japan in the 80s. It ended up not happening. A lot of things can change in a short amount of time.

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By Solandri on 7/14/2008 2:56:45 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah. I'd even say that as long as China retains its totalitarian political control, the effectiveness of its brand of capitalism will peak at a much lower level than in the U.S. and Europe. So while its enormous population will eventually lead to it becoming an economic superpower and maybe even surpassing the U.S. economy in size, it's not going to reach 4x the size of the U.S. unless they overhaul their political system.

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By Pirks on 7/14/2008 5:51:19 PM , Rating: 2
If you think about it, changing political system in China can actually SLOW them down economically. Right now they have kinda dictatorial system - say if the the Party ordered something like "we gotta build a few advanced fission reactors 'cause we really need cheap power" - the nation replies "yes comrade!" and begins the work right away, hiring EU and US experts to help them to build advanced nuclear plant designs.

Now if China changes their system to a US-like, what's gonna happen? "Oh, noes, comrade, we gotta destroy this rare spider habitat, we gonna kill a few birds, we gonna destroy that DUCK NEST ON THE RIVER, NOOOOO SAY NOOO TO EVIL NUCLEAR!"

Do you really want this to happen? You know, looking at the US I'm really enjoying chinese commies, 'cause they just shoot or imprison eco-freaks, unlike stupid US gov't. So while the US can enjoy they great political freedom protecting duck nests and sh1t like that - China will build more great projects that any country ever did, because Chinese eco-freaks get shot (and rightfully so, I wish US people shoot 'em all bastards too)

Hey masher, say I'm wrong or what?

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By masher2 on 7/14/2008 6:13:58 PM , Rating: 3
Whether we like it or not, the people of China are embarking on a great experiment into a new form of government which might be called "managed democracy". Will it succeed? I don't know...but I'll be watching the results with great anticipation.

By Pirks on 7/14/2008 8:49:28 PM , Rating: 2
Managed democracy - sounds very much Putin-like. Yeah, that'll be interesting. Especially after watching Chilean economic wonder happening under a hardline military dictatorship of General Pinochet (by the way backed by the US - what an irony). Looks like US model of democracy is far from ideal no matter what Bush will tell ya ;-)

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By JustTom on 7/15/2008 11:23:59 AM , Rating: 2
I understand the managed part but where is the democracy?

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By masher2 on 7/15/2008 12:40:36 PM , Rating: 3
> "I understand the managed part but where is the democracy? "

In a limited, hierarchal form, it certainly exists. Delegates within the Communist Party vote, during the National Congress, and to elect members to various higher groups such as the Politboro and the People's Congress.

An unkind observer could state the only difference between the US and Chinese political systems is that to have a vote in the latter, one must belong to a single party, while to vote in the former, one must belong to one of two nearly-indistinguishable parties.

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By JustTom on 7/15/2008 1:25:47 PM , Rating: 2
Well, under that criteria the old Soviet Union was a managed democracy.

I've heard the term managed democracy before, the Russians use it along with sovereign democracy to describe their particular political system. I see more managed then democracy though.

By masher2 on 7/15/2008 1:45:56 PM , Rating: 2
> "Well, under that criteria the old Soviet Union was a managed democracy"

Yes...and are the Russians any better off today, with the prima facie appearance of several viable political parties, but United Russia actually controlling everything by hook and crook?

In any case, since the Chinese Communist Party instituted their "Three Representes" policy a few years back, they honestly taken great strides to be more responsive to the will of the people. Is it America? No, of course not...but its a substantial evolution from the old "Great Leap Forward" days.

By Pythias on 7/16/2008 2:25:53 PM , Rating: 2
two nearly-indistinguishable parties

Pretty much. We're hose no matter who is in charge. Sadly, very few seem to realize this.

By maven81 on 7/14/2008 6:47:50 PM , Rating: 2
While this sort of approach can accomplish a lot, it also has it's pitfalls as illustrated by the many failures of the soviets. It becomes much too easy for the government to make unreasonable demands, with unreasonable time frames. Something like:

Politician: We have to build/launch/showcase this project in time for the anniversary of the great _____.
Engineer: We can't finish testing in time for you deadline, there is a chance it will be incomplete, defective, etc.
Politician: Not my problem, make it happen, the country is counting on you.

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By winterspan on 7/14/2008 9:11:35 PM , Rating: 1
note: apology for the length of the post, but I had to vent!

*sigh*... another ignoramus. Have you actually been to China?

Now regarding America I'll give you the fact that certain environmental policies and decisions are very stupid, and that the EPA and other groups can loose sight of the larger goals, and get their priorities screwed up, but a lot of it is political. They really need to let intelligent people makes decisions based on SCIENCE!

They'll stop the building of a renewable energy hydro-dam to save the habit of some rare mollusk or some shit, yet they allow coal power plants to heavily pollute the air not even requiring proper filters and filtration systems they use in Europe nor they do even do ANYTHING about C02 release.

Or Another thing I saw was a small refinery town in Texas where the air is so POLLUTED with toxic chemicals from the refinery that little kids actually get chronic OPEN SORES AND LESIONS ! That's disgusting, AND COMPLETLEY UN-AMERICAN! A very poor part of town (mostly poor minorities) lies in the direct path of the wind and experiences the brunt of the pollution. Obviously they would move if they could, but they are very poor and their property is now worthless obviously. And I'm sure the EPA is focusing on preserving some rare moth or something instead of helping these people and cracking down hard on the refinery.

Now about China. Surely you are not praising China's "environmental policies" . Every sizable city is HORRIBLY POLLUTED! Not LA smog, we are talking not being able to see more than a hundred feet in front of you ALL THE TIME. Particulate levels, nitrogen-oxides, sulfur-oxides, etc are threw the damn roof -- people literally can't even breath and most people wear filter masks!

In many pockets of the country, the conditions are EVEN WORSE. In Linfen , the "coal capital" the sky is dark during the DAY , choked to all hell with unimaginable pollution. The rate of different lung and respiratory disease must be off the charts! It's WORSE than late 19th century Pittsburgh!

In Tianyng, lead levels are 10-100 times normal , with epidemic levels of lead poisoning which has nasty side effects, etc.

Basically, many parts of china are like living in hell, especially for ANYONE with asthma or other lung/bronchial conditions. I can't imagine how many people (and children even) have or will develop lung cancers, chronic pneumonia, emphysema, etc.

Granted, they have been able to live a lot of their people out of poverty, but they could have done it much more responsibly and not made such a disaster out of the environment and their people's health. I think they are becoming much better and investing in a lot of future green technology.

I am not an environmental activist, I am not a greenpeace member, and I disagree with many of them and their policies. But the bottom line for me is that we only have ONE Earth, and it's our responsibility to protect it. There is no reason why the whole world can't grow and develop without having to destroy it.

There is also no reason that we have to suffer economically while cleaning up our act and reverting global warming. Regulating C02 emissions is not going to end the world. In fact, the looming massive investment and production of renewable energy infrastructure, in addition to all the other areas of the economy about to undergo major "Greening" (Commercial and residential construction, automotive industry, commercial and private aviation, etc), should provide an enormous economical boost. We can create a lot of jobs here in America, and I think we can even reverse the trend and start manufacturing these technologies right here. Screw the "outsourcers" - They should be burned at the stake!

It's just going to take smart thinking, good leadership, sound policy, and giving scientists and engineers the resources they need to do the research and develop the technology. "Dubya" has been a *complete failure* on all of those counts. I pray that future leaders, whoever they may be, will embrace renewable energy and environmental conservation.

By grenableu on 7/14/2008 9:50:34 PM , Rating: 2
Yes the air pollution in China is many thousands of times worse than anywhere here in the US. No the people aren't dropping like flies.

While China can certainly stand to clean things up a bit, that alone proves that environmentalists here are overly silly. If they have their way, we won't be able to mine or manufacture anything at all, for fear of some 0.0000000001% chance of someone getting a cancer 50 years from now.

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By emarston on 7/14/2008 6:36:27 PM , Rating: 2
China has several major obstacles they've created by their unbelievable leap economically.

1. Where is the water coming from? The primary population and development is in a more arid area. Due to the recent boom their farming techniques are actually depleting the groundwater heavily and the thirst continues to grow under current economic plans. They are building pipelines from the much wetter south, but will it be enough? It certainly doesn't help that that portion of the country is prone to earthquakes (recent history anyone?)

2. The "One Child" policy is leading to a large imbalance as females are typically aborted leaving a large male population without companionship (generally speaking of course). It should be interesting how that affects the country a decade or two down the road.

3. What's going to happen if/when they do finally float their currency on the market? It should go up against the dollar making Chinese goods more expensive and less desirable to the consumer.

These are just a few thoughts. Who knows, they could take over the world, but then again their massive economic boom could just as easily come to a screeching halt. Only time will tell.

RE: world's most inspired architecture
By Oregonian2 on 7/14/2008 8:35:00 PM , Rating: 2
I know they've built a dam insanely large backing up an insane amount of water that will (if it hasn't already) flood a very large area where a huge number of people (even on a "Chinese scale") have been displaced from. So they've at least that source of water (albiet not the cleanest water one ever did see from photos I've seen).

By emarston on 7/15/2008 7:32:36 AM , Rating: 2
Again, if you note it's location the dam isn't where the people are (it's way south). They aren't even sure if it will have an affect on the earthquake prone area (that is an awful lot of water weight). I must admit though that it is one hell of an engineering feat and it will provide a huge amount of electrical energy.

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