Architecture

CCTV and Koolhaas deflect rumors about an obscene building

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The controversy over the supposed "dirty joke" behind the new CCTV headquarters building hit the mainstream press this week.

Both the China Daily and the Global Times sought responses from the architecture community as well as China's Internet users, and yWeekend splashed a suggestive illustration across the cover of its Thursday issue.

There's been enough widespread coverage that even if the CCTV complex wasn't actually intended to look like genitalia, Beijingers may never be able to look at the buildings the same way again.

CCTV itself responded: its website interviewed Rem Koolhaas on August 26. The questions and answers stressed the uniqueness and creativity of the CCTV building, but did not actually mention the pornographic interpretation that has the Chinese media all riled up.

Here's a transcript (the reporter's questions are translated from Chinese; Koolhaas answered in English):

Reporter: Mr. Koolhaas, there have been rumors recently surrounding the design of the new CCTV building. I wonder what reaction you had when you first heard or read about the rumors?
Koolhaas: My first reaction has been that it's categorically untrue, the rumors. I didn't have any intention with CCTV except to do the best possible headquarters for CCTV, the company, and to make the best possible contribution to the city of Beijing. Another response is that I'm extremely sad that the best intentions, the best work of so many people, literally thousands of people, from the architects to the company to the workers, is compromised by this rumor, which as I said has no truth whatsoever.

Reporter: We know that a few days ago you issued a statement of clarification about the matter on the OMA website. Could you explain it in more detail for us?
Koolhaas: The images are simply not our work and they don't represent in any way my feelings or my intentions for CCTV.

Reporter: The design of the new CCTV building attracted widespread attention from the start. We'd like to hear about how your design concept and how you arrive at it. Could you share that with the public?
Koolhaas: I think that in the CBD there are going to be 300 skyscrapers, and since we work for CCTV we wanted to do a building that was different. CCTV is a very complex organization in which every part is related to every other part, so the main philosophy of the building is to create a loop in which this interconnection between all the parts is represented. That was our organizational ambition. And in terms of an object, an icon, or a piece of architecture, I wanted to do an architecture that does not have a single impression or a single image, that moves as you walk around it and that assumes a different identity every moment.

Reporter: We'd also like to know what you were thinking when you took part in the CCTV design competition? How did you incorporate some of the elements of a state media entity into your design?
Koolhaas: 2002 was an interesting year. China had just joined the WTO organization, and it was an opportunity to contribute to the modernization of China. That was our ambition and it was an expression of a longstanding interest in China, where I first came as a Harvard professor to study the Pearl River Delta. I myself have experience in media, and so therefore I have a particular affinity I think for the complexity of a media organization, so we looked very meticulously and very functionally at how every piece should fit together and which of the components of CCTV were best located in which place. My only comment is that I hope that this disappears as quickly as possible and we can go back to the issue of completing the two buildings.


Koolhaas's answers aren't anything new: his description of the concept behind the design for the CCTV building is basically the same one that appears on the OMA website:

Instead of competing in the hopeless race for ultimate height and style within a traditional two-dimensional tower 'soaring' skyward, CCTV proposes a truly three-dimensional experience, culminating in a canopy that symbolically embraces the entire city. CCTV consolidates all its operations in a continuous flow, allowing each worker to be permanently aware of her colleagues - a chain of interdependence that promotes solidarity rather than isolation, collaboration instead of opposition.

Meanwhile, Xiao Mo, the architect whose comments sparked this round of controversy, has issued a clarification about his use of "genital worship" (生殖崇拜) in connection with the CCTV building. In a recent blog post, he regrets the offhand manner in which he introduced the idea into his discussion of the CCTV building:

"Genital worship" once flourished among primitive man, and is a major topic in anthropology, ethnology, folklore studies, religion, ethics, and even art history. It is not as simple as we might imagine. The term "genital worship" merely describes this phenomenon and is neither a positive or negative judgment, much less the heart and soul of Mr. Koolhaas's design concept. Nevertheless, certain tedious literati have muddied the waters and have made the term into a major opportunity for Koolhaas to escape.

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Forbidden ideas: Koolhaas and CCTV

And in a twist anyone could have predicted, the search phrase "Koolhaas CCTV" (库哈斯 央视) is now a sensitive term: Baidu returns no results, claiming violation of national laws and regulations.

Update (2009.08.31): Jim Gourley, who frequently blogs about the CCTV building at Absurdity, Allegory and China, has posted about the latest controversy. He's also of the opinion that the entire project is an immense joke, just not the juvenile snickering sort of joke that Xiao Mo and China's netizens are enjoying at the moment.

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There are currently 7 Comments for CCTV and Koolhaas deflect rumors about an obscene building.

Comments on CCTV and Koolhaas deflect rumors about an obscene building

Critics of the building who believe Koolhaas was trying to humiliate China show a level of paranoia that suggests they would benefit from psychiatric treatment. Nevertheless, if Koolhaas didn't want anyone to make the sexual connection, he should have allowed the pictures to be included in his book.

Rem Koolhaas can spin whatever he could. His phony architectural rhetoric simply cannot hide his true intention to the Chinese people as illustrated explicitly in his own REM KOOLHAAS CONTENT.

Perhaps to Koolhaas, architecture is a game. But this time, he should have kept his game in his bedroom LOCKED.

He should act like a politician and apologize to the Chinese people......only if he wants to play one more game in China.

No wonder I love looking at this building. :)

Why should RK apologize? What has he done wrong? Even if his intention is to build a giant vagina. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Chinese people is so fragile. Stop being crying baby!

If Koolhaas had been given a sufficiently large program, he would have built this building anywhere in the world. It just hapened that China was where he had a design brief large enough to build this building. Ayhow, i think the shape of the building is a commentary on the skyscraper, not a hole for itself.

Why is the architecture more scandalous and outlandish than the fact that CCTV set it on fire twice?

Who cares about this, really?

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