Back issue for magazine - Werk, Bauen und Wohnen 2008/7

Werk, Bauen und Wohnen 2008/7 Beijing et cetera

2008 is the summer of sporting events. The emotions around the European Football Championships will have scarcely died down before the interest of the world switches to Beijung where in addition to sport a Swiss-designed building plays a leading role. Ai Weiwei, the best known contemporary Chinese artist in the West and a project partner, believes that National Stadium by Herzog & de Meuron in Beijing will be read by the Chinese as a piece of nature and consequently will be highly regarded. As early as the design stage local media in Beijing gave this unique building the name "bird's nest". This is a real term of endearment as in Chinese culture a birds nest is a symbol of birth, the family, protection, and nature. These are all positive, forward-looking things in Chinese symbolism, which is so difficult for visitors, cultural mediators and architects from the West to understand. Less well-informed European architects had bad luck with their entries: the French project for a new Opera House, which consists of three oval buildings with roofs covered with polygonal green areas, reminded the population of Beijing of three "green tortoises", the Chinese term for a burglar. Even brilliant architecture can fail in China on account of these or similar connotations. Through its sheer size and the strength derived from it the National Stadium defuses all negative associations. At the same time however these dimensions are also problematic not least of all in terms of the future use of the world's largest sporting arena. The irrepressible communication machinery makes any other images possibly suggested by its shape, such as a harbour at night, a bicycle saddle or a Chinese policeman's cap impossible. The photographs in this issue show just how impressive the building's presence actually is. The other buildings in this summer issue are also characterised by unusual, potentially symbolic elements. The swimming centre Watercube, the second prestige building of the Beijing Olympics, is fascinating on account of the smart technology with which the structure of molecules was transformed into a lightweight building envelope, that oscillates between hundreds of phosphenes. Parallel to this symbolic buildings from Europe are also presented: the ridged dragon's back of the Kunst(Zeug)Haus in Rapperswil-Jona transforms a former military arsenal into a hall for contemporary art. The new office building on Picassoplatz in Basel meets the demands of urban planning in a discreet, restrained way without losing its individual expressiveness by adopting a clear vertical grid. And the Fondation Victor Vasarely in the South of France is a fascinating Op-Art gesamtkunstwerk. Unfortunately just at a time when Vasarely's work is once more becoming fashionable, it is threatened with decay due to the neglect of those who run it.

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