Published May 16, 2012
| Associated Press
BEIJING – The futuristic building — with two leaning towers linked with a 90-degree twist at the top — has attracted much controversy since the day its design debuted a decade ago.
Now, it is ready for occupation by China's staid state TV broadcaster, China Central Television.
Construction of CCTV's new headquarters officially concluded Wednesday — 10 years after Dutch architectural firm OMA envisioned a skyscraper that would symbolize China's rise on the world's stage.
Like the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube — signature venues for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games — the CCTV building is part of a new architectural wave that is redefining the landscape of Beijing — a city that is transforming from drabness to vibrancy.
Officials from the powerful CCTV, inspectors, engineers and architects did a final walk through the 54-story, 234-meter (772-foot) structure on Wednesday, chief architect Ole Scheeren said.
Nestled amid a cluster of skyscrapers in the city's central business district, the CCTV building has two leg-like structures that lean toward each other, meeting in mid air with a right-angled deck-like connecting body that hangs 160 meters (528 feet) above the ground.
Its bold design has drawn praise and detractions and earned the nickname of "big boxer shorts" from local residents. Scheeren — a German who co-designed the building with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas — said the building is designed for interconnectivity crucial for a media giant like CCTV.
"One thing this building has done is it has asked a lot of questions. It has questioned what is architecture, what can architecture be, what can it do," Scheeren told The Associated Press. "This question can be answered far more deeply and interestingly now that the building will start to live and will start to be utilized."
CCTV looked worldwide for the design of its new headquarters building in 2002, shortly after China joined the World Trade Organization and won its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. That forward-looking momentum explains China's embrace of an unconventional design, Scheeren said.
China "was set to appear on the world's stage in a new era," Scheeren said. "That psychology of a very future-oriented moment was very important to make this project possible."
Construction began in 2004. By summer 2008, its exterior was completed, just in time for the world to view it during the Olympics.
But then disaster struck. A fire in February 2009 engulfed an adjacent 159-meter (520-foot), 44-story building in the CCTV complex that was to house a luxury Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which was only weeks away from opening. An illegal fireworks display arranged by CCTV to mark the end of the Lunar New Year started the blaze. One firefighter died and eight others were injured.
The disaster became an embarrassing episode for CCTV. The head of CCTV, Zhao Huayong, was replaced amid a high-level investigation and 20 people were sentenced to prison. That building is now being repaired, but the blaze prompted mocking from some Chinese who resent CCTV for producing dull propaganda-style programming while spending lavishly on grandiose projects such as its new headquarters.
Scheeren declined to reveal the project's cost, though outside estimates have put it at hundreds of millions of dollars.
He said the architects hope the building can be a force of progress in China's development.
"It's mainly the end of our work, but it's actually the beginning of its life," Scheeren said. "From here on, the building finally will be what it's made for."