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The most scandalous skyscraper in modern history

1 August 2012 No Comment

Whilst the familiar appeal of skyscrapers has wained in places where they are ubiquitous such as NYC, the same cannot be said for cities experiencing bursts of high rise construction, where the urban landscape is expanding drastically in it’s dimensions and growing a new identity far beyond it’s traditional boundaries. Leading the way is Beijing’s CCTV building.

It has been a rollercoaster ride, but after ten tumultuous years of construction, the CCTV is finally complete.


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The brains behind the tower

Rem Koolhaas – one of the leading and most influential thinkers in the world of architecture since the 1970s – was the brains behind the tower, along with his former Beijing partner, Ole Scheeren. The pair were offered the commission in late 2002, around the same time that Mr. Koolhaas was asked to play a part in the redevelopment of ground zero in New York.


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Due to the political and emotional furore that was heating up around the plans in Lower Manhattan, Koolhaas speculated that it would be difficult to create anything of real architectural value there. Coupled with this was the fact that New York was no longer the place of imagination and innovation that it had once been. But luckily for him, Beijing was experiencing a major modernisation push.

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Construction process fraught with problems and tragedy

Koolhaas focused his efforts purely on the CCTV building, which acts as the headquarters for China Central Television, though he had no way of knowing at the time that it would turn out to be just as controversial.


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The building was just months from completion when, in 2009, a devastating fire at the site nearly burned down a neighbouring hotel. The disaster severely delayed construction and landed the project leader and 19 others in prison for negligence after a fire fighter was killed.

Most innovative architectural creation of the 21st century?


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Despite the surrounding scandal, the CCTV building has been regarded by some as the most innovative architectural creation of the 21st century. It comprises of two L-shaped 50-storey towers connected by a 13-storey bridge, jutting at peculiar angles and reinforced by an irregular network of criss-crossing steel.

Nicknamed ‘big boxer shorts’

According to local legend, a taxi driver came up with the CCTV building’s now-famous nickname that can be roughly translated as ‘big boxer shorts’.


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The architecture suffered a second blow when, shortly after the fire, a Chinese critic published an article which suggested that it was modelled on an image of a naked woman. Whatever your views are of the CCTV building, it is undeniabley a force to be reckoned with.


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It stayed on the front page when a story of an abandoned BMW outside the tower went viral on the Chinese internet. A brand new X1 from the German car manufacturer, worth approximately $80,000 was left outside of the CCTV building for a full year before being removed by Beijing police. One proposed explanation is that a wealthy tycoon bought the car as a gift for a CCTV host, but the host wouldn’t accept it and so it was abandoned at the roadside. Others see the wasted car as another sign of China’s growing income gap.

Second largest office space in the world


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Beijing CCTV Complex

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The CCTV building is the second largest office space in the world, beaten only by The Pentagon. Though the sheer scale of the building has led to it being described as imposing and menacing, upon closer inspection there is a certain element of fragility in the design due not only to it’s complicated and radical shape, but the fact that construction has taken place in a seismic zone.


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Not a traditional tower, but six horizontal and vertical sections covering 473,000 m (1,552,000 ft) of floor space, creating an irregular grid on the building’s facade with an open center.

Standing at a (relatively short) 234m, what the CCTV building lacks in height it makes up for with a highly unusual shape, described as a ‘three-dimensional cranked loop’. The building is formed by two leaning towers, bent 90° at the top and bottom to form a continuous tube.

Unquestionably reinvented the skyscraper…?


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As OMA’s largest project ever, the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing has unquestionably reinvented the skyscraper in a puzzling display of perspective.


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The energy-efficient tower features local and environmentally-friendly materials. It has set a new standard in urban landscaping which begs the question: what next?

Author: Caroline Gough    Date Written: 31 July 2012

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