Theory
BJG 02 - 28 - 2010

There has been some interesting and relevant conversations and criticisms surrounding some of the modern buildings and sites that we've seen so far. Advancements in computer-generated designs, especially in the field of patterning, have allowed for the creation of unique (for honest lack of a better term) facades and structural designs. Two examples from Beijing: OMA's CCTV tower in the urban downtown center and the 2008 Olympic Stadium, the "Bird's Nest." Both represent remarkable feats of patterned structural design, scale, and unique geometry. Now, it could just be the shock-value from our normal heavily-historical tours, but when we approach these buildings, I can't help but to question whether they truly speak of the Chinese people or culture. Admittedly, the Bird's Nest was designed as an Olympic stadium which is the largest global cross-culture event I can think of, but it is still supposed to be symbolic or representative of the people who will drive by this everyday after. (As for the CCTV tower, I think it's pretty clear to see where the creative vision of television execs is going). The form of OMA's design is inspiring. The converging, cantilevered arms shoot up out of the ground and suspend a mass in a way that doesn't seem possible. My main thought though, is that this building could exist in any context and nothing about it would change. It would look, feel, and respond just the same if it were next to the Bird's Nest in the Olympic Stadium, rising up out of the tree canopy of some jungle, or sitting alone in the center of a stark field. An example of a building that relates wholly to its site and culture: the Parthenon. This classic is immovable and can only exist in Athens (despite the Earl of Elgin's attempts to preserve it in London). To criticize then, these types of heavily-patterned designs often feel alien in unique skylines or city centers. I think that I can safely say that some big money architects seem to have lost site of site planning and relating their pieces of art to any surrounding context or existing cultural identity. Now I have to allow myself to play the devil's advocate and bring up the main driving point behind this theory topic. Even despite the many criticisms that can be made towards these projects (which are often offset by the equally many praises gained), is it possible for these buildings to seemingly ignore an existing cultural identity but stand and change contemporary perception of this cultural identity? That is, when I think of the many skylines and uniquely Chinese buildings that I've seen, will I eventually come to think of the CCTV tower as being wholly "Chinese" -- as their attempt at or take on a modern office building and unique form? Something that could only exist in and because of Chinese mentality and influence? I don't think the answer will come to me anytime soon, but all theory is working, tentative, and undefinable.

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