Architects "reinvent skycraper" with Beijing tower

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BEIJING, Nov 19 (Reuters) Building a skyscraper should be challenge enough. Ole Scheeren wants to reinvent the concept.

The chief architect behind the new headquarters for China's state broadcaster has created a project that is a both a feat of engineering set to dominate Beijing's skyline and a radical social statement.

''We wanted to think of a skyscraper that would not fall into the trap of racing for height, of trying to dominate the skyline by being the tallest,'' Scheeren told Reuters.

''We thought against the verticality of the needle, against this very simple principle of hierarchy,'' he said from his Beijing offices, overlooking the massive construction site.

What his firm, Rem Koolhaas's Office for Metropolitan Architecture, created instead is what Scheeren describes as a ''loop folded in space'' -- two towers sloped together and joined by a gravity-defying canopy equivalent to 80 storeys in height.

The building is among several projects in Beijing as the city reinvents itself for the 2008 Olympics and gains a reputation in the process as a playground for architectural ambition.

Norman Foster is behind the city's new 3.6 billion dollar airport terminal, French architect Paul Andreu has created its National Grand Theatre, a futuristic, dome-shaped bubble, and Swiss architects Herzog&de Meuron are building the main Olympic stadium, dubbed the ''bird's nest'' for its interlaced steel beams.

China's emergence as the world's fourth-largest economy, and the recognition that came with being awarded the Olympics, created a momentum that allowed for the projects, Scheeren said.

The Olympics ''was really a catalyst that I think propelled ambition and development in a very particular way''.

''I think these are also buildings that might not have been possible anywhere else in the world, starting from their magnitude, but also to their actual architectural formation and expression,'' said the 36-year-old German.

SOCIAL AMBITION The project for China Central Television (CCTV) will incorporate 475,000 square metres in a single structure, making it the largest in the world after the Pentagon.

The design is so complex that a decade ago computational tools were not sophisticated enough to support the engineering.

For Scheeren, it's not the architectural tricks that count.

''It's easy to look at the building as an accomplishment of engineering,'' he said. ''But for me, what is more important than that is the social ambition this project pursues in the way it brings people together.'' The finished building will incorporate all the elements of television-making in one structure, from production studios and newsrooms to executive offices.

A pathway 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.

The radicalism of a project that aims to do away with traditional hierarchies and open itself to the public seems surprising for a state broadcaster more known for staid programming than innovation.

But Scheeren says the project is being driven in a part by a desire within CCTV to use it as a tool to develop and change the company, which will be broadcasting from the building by the time the Olympics open on August 8.

The firm has assembled a 400-person team for the project that is 50 per cent Chinese and 50 per cent international, a decision that Scheeren says grounds the building in its cultural context of Beijing.

It also sets the stage, he says, for more to come.

''While there are a series of these large projects being designed by foreign architects, I think we also see simultaneously a new generation of Chinese architects that emerges with an incredible education and an incredible ambition from their side to reformulate their own beginnings.'' REUTERS SYU BD1445

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