Two Chinas: Spectacles in Beijing, Ruins in Sichuan

I read Paul Goldberger‘s architecture column in The New Yorker today and appreciate his take on Beijing’s spectacular Olympic Green. He writes:

“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.

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.”

What I really appreciate is Golberger’s ultimate point, which makes up part of his subtitle: “….but what message does it send?” It seems that the image of progress (something contemporary architecture is increasingly called upon to conjure) — rather than actual sociopolitical progress — is the administration’s goal. He critiques:

“…there’s no mistaking the old-fashioned monumentalist approach behind it. This is an Olympics driven by image, not by sensitive urban planning…

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.

Finishing Goldberger’s article, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between Beijing’s futuristic facilities and the post-earthquake ruins of schools, hospitals, and factories in Sichuan province, where the death toll now hovers around 70,000. The dialectical tension between these two Chinas sadly testify to the transiency and fragility of human constructions and fabricated utopias.

TOP: Photo from Goldberger’s New Yorker column on Beijing; BOTTOM: Photo by Shiho Fukada for the New York Times, two girls at the ruins of Juyuan Middle School
twochinas
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