China's Architecture of Control

<p>For China, the Olympics represent a struggle between letting people in and controlling what they see and do. This is a problem, writes Andrew Yang, that implicates the Olympics-related architecture in a bad way.</p>
August 4, 2008, 8am PDT | Nate Berg
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"For China, the Olympics has been both a galvanizing force and an exercise in pride, partly deserved, partly not."

"Recently, however, the exercise has not gone entirely according to plan. In spite of their inevitability, the mass protests in Tibet, Xinjiang (the Muslim part of Western China), and Mongolia still caught the government off their usually rigid guard. Even more unpredictable has been the tumultuous time the government has had trying to control the coverage of these events. And when widespread public sympathy during the Sichuan Earthquake led to a huge demand for news, the state could no longer reasonably control the local and foreign media."

"The Olympics have laid bare the illogic behind the government's approach. It invites the world in, but then restricts entry for fear that a bunch of Teva-wearing hippies might show up and disrupt the games. Of course there will be controversy-China is a totalitarian state, after all-but in courting the public stage, China is also courting widespread scrutiny of its atrocious human rights record."

"Above all, what I blame most on the Olympics is how it implicates architecture in the fabrication of this whole spectacle, and even uses it to mask real urban problems confronting Beijing. Without a doubt, OMA's CCTV and Herzog and de Meuron's Olympic Stadium will remain masterpieces in the landscape of the city. But within its Soviet-inspired planning fabric, with its concentric highways lapping outward from the hub of the Forbidden City, huge monolithic-style building threatens to add to the isolation of Beijing's vast alienating stretches. Anyone who has traveled through rush hour there, where it routinely takes 60 minutes to budge five miles, will have contemplated the poor planning implicated by this level of congestion."

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Published on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 in The Architect's Newspaper
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