Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sneak Peking at Olympic Sized Failure

There is a real problem with the architecture of the Olympic Games. It's always hyper-modernist, and it always sucks.

I was in Athens in 2003, a year before the Olympics returned home to the cradle of Western Civilization for the 2004 games. I was completely and utterly shocked to see the Temple of Athena Nike removed from the Acropolis for 'reconstruction'. NB: the reconstruction was required because the previous 'reconstruction' in 1940 was very poor. The temple was dismantled completely to replace the corroded concrete floor and the iron beams that were installed just 60 years earlier. It lasted for 2300 years, just for us to ruin it by assuming our building practices must be better than those then. Unfortunately, this was not the worst problem for the architecture of the Athens games. Santiago Calatrava designed a compound of modernism that physically and symbolically slapped the historical and classical face of Athens. Not that the Athenians really would understand that anymore, but that would be a longer story...

This summer's Beijing Games are going to be no different, with the possible exception that you can now add that it's dangerous to be inside sucky hyper-modernist buildings.

Far be it from me to want to compare the 6th to the 7th ring of Hell, but the 'worst' design of the Beijing Olympic Sports Complex is that of the Bird's Nest.

It has earned its nickname because it really does look like a nest made out of strands of steel. But there’s nothing featherweight about it. The weight of its roof as a proportion of total building weight is 76.3 percent — which puts it between 'very poor' and 'dangerous' based upon international standards for structural safety.

Take a look again at that Bird's Nest zoomed in for scale. Um. Duh? Can somebody please remind the starchitects that art imitates nature, it doesn't copy it blindly and then put it through a xerox with a 12000% magnification?

Granted, I would (very hesitantly) acknowledge that one might hold a good argument for the ideology of the International Style and its banal and indistinguishable bastard offspring being used for the Olympics--of all human endeavors, this is the one activity that historically and symbolically eliminates the distinction between regions and their national characters. But that's just not the way it is anymore. The Olympics have become, in one sense, the way for individual countries to brag about themselves to the world. This year, China is using the Olympics to show the world that not only are they growing into a major player, but that they are just as wealthy, hip, and important as...America.

You may complain that I'm indulging in too much hyperbole with all this, but in reality I truly believe that the modernist architectural establishment must be...over-thrown.

For now, it is very unfortunate that Beijing, a city both beautiful and ancient, full of eastern classical architecture and a rich cultural history, is being bulldozed so that it can look just like Houston.


Ignoramus said...

All VERY depressing. I understand this urge to ugly so little that I feel that much the more disconnected from it--and so from much of the world.

The Vitruvian Duck said...

In many ways we live in a dystopic nightmare.

It's been on my 'to read' list for too long...I think it's time that I finally pick up 'That Hideous Strength', and the rest of the Space trilogy.