Checking out the latest New Yorker online, I came across a slideshow on work by Arup, a prominent engineering firm. They’re constructing new buildings all over the world that defy materiality and make you ask, ‘How did they do that?’ The image of the CCTV building going up in China wowed me. (For what the building will look like finished, click here).
Building such buildings is like sending things into space. Nobody has do it, and in light of global warming, wars, diseases and all else, it makes you wonder sometimes why we do. Sure, we do these things because ‘we can’, but is that reason enough?
I don’t know much about CCTV, except that its construction budget is the equivalent of 600 million US. It will house the broadcasters for the 2008 Olympics, and the designer, Rem Koolhaas, has been a known icon-maker since the 90s. He designed the Prada store in Soho, which cost 40 million dollars and had the biggest circular elevator at the time, traversing between its two floors. (Yes, that’s two, which is one more than one).
China’s gesture is huge – hiring a renowned architect to design an icon, and putting 600M into a single building. It’s a gesture that says, yes, we have faith that this thing is going to stand up. Yes, we have enough money and optimism to throw at one building. And yes, we’re concerned with how you guys over there see us.
Sometimes I wonder about the meaning of architecture. It’s easy to lose sight of things when you’re working on 10,000 square foot houses for wealthy couples. My daily focus is not to impress the world, but how the steam shower works, whether the fake beams are wide enough, and how the endless list of details will get done on time.
Humans are adaptable. If we had to, we could live in grass huts or glass cubes. The difference between buildings and architecture, of course, lies in symbolism, which elevates the mundane to the sublime. Buildings have the potential to gesture to our neighbors: the future is coming, it’s going to be good, and mine is so much bigger than yours.
Photo by Shapeshift. For more great images, click here.