BEIJING (Reuters) - The much-delayed but striking steel, concrete and glass headquarters for Chinese state television is expected finally to fully open in the new year, said Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, whose firm designed the building, on Thursday.
The skyscraper, described by its chief architect Ole Scheeren as a “loop folded in space,” is two towers sloped together and joined by a gravity-defying canopy equivalent to 80 stories in height.
Dominating the skyline of Beijing’s central business district, the building was among several projects the city undertook to reinvent itself for the 2008 Olympics, along with Norman Foster’s $3.6 billion new airport terminal and French architect Paul Andreu’s egg-shaped National Grand Theater.
But the Olympics came and went and the state television building failed to open. Instead it sat hulking by a main road, its grounds blocked from view by massive screens as the edifice gathered dust, the occasional light flickering inside.
Koolhaas told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a China-European Union cultural forum that a 2009 fire at a hotel being built next to the television tower had caused the delay.
“The fire delayed a lot of things, but some parts are open. It’s not officially open yet but it will be at the beginning of the year,” he said.
“What was complicating things was that it was treated as the scene of a crime, so it needed to be kept for a long time without interference,” he said of the hotel fire, caused by fireworks in which one firefighter died. Twenty people were jailed for causing the blaze.
The television tower has divided public opinion. While many people love it, others hate it, and Beijingers have taken to referring to it as “the big long johns.”
Koolhaas said he was confident it would win people over, especially now that the screens are finally coming down, giving people a better idea of how the whole complex will look.
“One should wait until it is finished. They are now taking the wall down, and you can see that there is public territory in the building and therefore the building is much more accessible and friendly than people think,” he said.
A pathway planned to be open to visitors will follow the loop of the building up to the canopy — where the glass-floored overhang will allow a view over the city from a dizzying 160 m (525 ft) — before looping back down through the second tower.
“It’s a building that people have to get used to probably, but I hear actually a surprising amount of very positive feelings,” Koolhaas said.
While Koolhaas’s firm is working on other projects in China, including the new Shenzhen Stock Exchange, he would ideally next like to get involved in preserving some of the classic architecture from the early part of the Chinese communist era.
Beijing and most other Chinese cities are still dotted with examples of these angular, Soviet-esque buildings, though many have been demolished in the rush to modernize, while others languish in obscurity, crumbling and unmourned.
“I would actually love to do a preservation project here, preserving a worthwhile building of the ‘50s or ‘60s as a kind of prototype,” Koolhaas said.
“What I think should happen is that we don’t only look at old buildings or at historical buildings, but that we also begin to define the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s as historical ... so that the things that really define the character of a city like this one — and of course a lot of the character has been defined by its communist period — are kept.”
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie