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Beijing building boom

The Grauniad has a long piece on Beijing's (latest) construction boom, with particular mention made of the new Norman Foster airport and Rem Koolhaas's Central China TV headquarters.

Beijing is the capital of the world's fastest-growing economy, provoking a titanic struggle between a totalitarian political system and the liberalisation that is the presumed product of its economic transformation. By some estimates, half the world's annual production of concrete and one-third of its steel output is being consumed by China's construction boom. The second ring road that marked the city limits until the Eighties has been followed by the building of a third, fourth and fifth ring. The sixth is under construction. Cars move around disconnected clumps of newly completed towers. There are now more than 2m cars in the city - already enough to wipe out all the improvements in air quality achieved by the expulsion of heavy industry from Beijing's centre. The city map looks like a dartboard, with the void of the Forbidden City as its empty bull's-eye. And with the abruptness of a randomly aimed dart, entire new districts appear arbitrarily as if from nowhere. A city that, until 1990, had no central business district, and little need of it, now has a cluster of glass towers that look like rejects from Singapore or Rotterdam. And these, in turn, are now being replaced and overshadowed by a new crop of taller, slicker towers, the product of the international caravan of architectural gunslingers that has arrived in town to take part in this construction free-fire zone. Rem Koolhaas, Jacques Herzog, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and Will Alsop are all building, or trying to build here.

I went to Beijing a few years ago, just for four days or so. The contrast between the rundown, dusty hutongs and the rapidly rising steel and glass skyscrapers couldn't have been more pronounced. The main roads were insane, too: extra-wide boulevards that reminded me of Eastern Europe, built to accommodate all those military processions of truck-mounted ICBM launchers, I think I assumed at the time. And all thronged with the most reckless taxi drivers I have ever had the misfortune of hailing. How we didn't die squashed between a careless bus and the unforgiving concrete of the central reservation, I shall never know.

I'm a fan of cities, really, but despite the excellent sightseeing (Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, yada yada yada) Beijing would be way down my list of places to visit again. Dirty, dusty, polluted, filled with insistent street hawkers. Still, let's just hope that the city planners, with all their shiny new steel skyscrapers, don't repeat the same mistakes that were made with Shanghai's Pudong district, which is slowly sinking into the swamp it was built on. I don't think Beijing's very swampy, so they should be just fine.

Oh - and the article mentions that the Chinese government is rushing to get Beijing's latest crop of towers and sports venues ready by the end of 2007 for the 2008 Olympics. Some other things they might want to sort out by then include:

Wow, don't know where that came from. Blame it on my weakened state; I'm still here on the couch with the duvet.

[Link via Blackbeltjones]

Posted by chris at 06:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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