Architecture

Rem Koolhaas and CCTV architecture porn

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Tab and slot

Update (2009.08.31): Rem Koolhaas brushed aside the rumors in an interview with CCTV that did not directly mention the possible pornographic interpretation of the CCTV complex.


Update (2009.08.24): Rem Koolhaas and his firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, have appended a Chinese-language response to the controversy to their website's description of Content (主题内容). The gist: the images were proposed covers rejected by OMA. They were included inside the book but were neither designed nor approved by Koolhaas or his architecture firm. The CCTV building, as he has stated repeatedly, "has no hidden meaning." Architecture critic Fang Zhenning (quoted in a recent China Daily article on the subject), noted the statement on his blog.


**The new CCTV headquarters complex is an unending source of delight for China's netizens. Although the unique shape of the overhanging CCTV building presents an obstacle to standard phallic skyscraper jokes, clever internet users have found no shortage of low-brow jabs at Beijing's most controversial new landmark.

Last November, online forums were abuzz with jokes about the building's resemblance to a figure seated on a toilet. People called it the "Big Underpants" (大裤衩) and joked that one of the proposed nicknames, "Knowledge Window" (智窗, zhichuang) should really be the sound-alike "hemorrhoids" (痔疮). The complex's tendency to burst into flames has made it even bigger target for humor.

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Content cover

Yet it turns out that dick jokes may not be a lost cause after all. It turns out that taken together with the burnt husk of the TVCC annex, the CCTV complex resembles a pair of male and female genitalia. So that's worth a few weeks of fun, right?

There's more: it turns out that while Chinese audiences have been spending the last five years watching construction proceed on this massive erection of glass and steel, completely innocent as to its filthy connotations, architect Rem Koolhaas may have been aware of the resemblance all along, and he might have even done it on purpose.

From today's iZaobao:

An old joke about the new CCTV tower has found renewed interest. A news item on the Sing-Tao website said that images in the book Content, published by CCTV architect Rem Koolhaas, compared the building to male and female genitalia.

iZaobao helpfully links to a gallery of illustrations from Content, a flashy, trippy look at various Koolhaas projects that was published in 2003. The CCTV building, which was featured on the cover (pictured), also appeared inside in a gallery of architecture porn: "Architecture like you've never seen it" and "Models that make you wet" read the captions, and there's an insertion shot of the TVCC annex building.

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Headquarters and hindquarters
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The annex

It's excellent fodder for netizen snark, particularly as one favorite online nickname for CCTV is "CCAV," implying that China's state broadcaster is as tawdry and vulgar as the adult video industry.

Content has been around since 2003. The page scans were posted at the Chinese-language Art 218 BBS in 2004. So why has it taken so long for netizens to become aware of them? And why now?

The catalyst for the present controversy turns out to be an outspoken critic of Koolhaas and the CCTV project. Xiao Mo, a professor of architecture who is retired from Tsinghua University, has criticized the CCTV building and other vanity projects by superstar international architects in print, on the web, and to the global media. In an interview last year, he told NPR, "There is a bird's egg in the South, a bird's nest in the North, a bird's tree in the East, and a bird's cage in the West. They turned our beautiful Beijing into the world's bird capital."

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Xiao Mo

In June, Xiao posted an additional critique to the Tecn academic web portal (Tecn was closed shortly afterward, but the essay has been widely reposted and is currently available on the Architecture BBS) in which he pulled together rumors of the intended "genital worship" aspects of Koolhaas's design with a few page scans from Content magazine. His entertaining blog post was picked up by the mainstream media, which quoted a few choice lines, crediting them to "an architecture industry insider."

Here's a translation of Xiao's piece. He included a few page images from Content but placed yellow dots over the sensitive bits. In the interest of fidelity to the original source, we've taken the liberty of incorporating uncensored images from the Art 218 BBS.

The Structural Similarity of the CCTV Headquarters and Hindquarters

by Xiao Mo

You may have read "A Bird's-Eye View of CCTV from ABBS," which I put together in 2004. That was a summary of the more than 100,000 characters worth of essays, including netizen comments, that were posted about the CCTV building on the Architecture BBS. I say "summary," but I actually inserted my own personal opinions. Truth be told, the piece took quite a lot of time: first to read all of the 100,000 characters, then to excerpt and summarize, and then to consult other materials to make everything crystal clear. Then, after thinking things over carefully, I mentioned my own viewpoints.

Yet rereading it now, I can't help but laugh at my pedantry. First of all, there was no point whatsoever. Although I was personally aware of a lot of architects and other scholars with a sense of social responsibility who held opposing opinions at the time, and even though there was quite a bit of online dissent, Koolhaas's plan was immovable — the fourteen domestic and foreign architectural experts chosen by the government to form a review group all voted in favor of it. And another gang of fans cheered from the sidelines with pseudo-theories like "fluid context" (流动文脉) and uttered feverish nonsense like "Among Mr. Koolhaas's many theories of cities and architecture, the "large" of S, M, L, XL and a number of ideas in Delirious New York directly brought about the CCTV plan," and as a result, Mr. Koolhaas's true designs, which he left unstated at the time, acquired a layer of color both mesmerizing and frightening. The media for its part passively accepted the order to "minimize coverage," which prevented dissenting opinions from reaching the public and drove them back to architecture websites and professional magazines where they died a quiet death. The public was unaware, the review panel was unconcerned, and officials pretended not to see, as if such opinions were seeking to make trouble!

Second, uninvolved professionals and the general public were entirely ignorant of everything but the officially available data. Even when I was writing that article and trying to make sense of things, it was all in vain. I knew that the cost would be 5 billion, which included 1.5 billion to play around with an overhang more than 100 meters high, and that in itself was shocking enough. Then I learned that the correct figure was 10 billion. Later, someone told me that Mr. Koolhaas's main building and annex were actually an expression of "genital worship." I had a hard time believing this, and at first I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt. But upon repeated appraisal, even someone so thick as myself was able to get a little sense of it. This year, when I reposted the wrap-up article on my Tianya blog, I added a little bit of what I had learned. Just a brief mention, however. Despite hearing how Koolhaas had been especially careful to avoid talking about the subject while promoting his work in China, because a Chinese person had told him that he should say absolutely nothing about it as it was far too salacious and nothing good would come of bringing it up, I nevertheless declined to mention it in that blog post because I did not have any witnesses.

Later I learned that Mr. Koolhaas did indeed hold this view: "The idea was confirmed by one of Koolhaas's disciples, MAD Architectural Office founder Ma Yansong" (China Real Estate Business, 2009.01.07). And more recently, I was shocked to receive some images from a friend that finally proved the case altogether. Evidently, after Koolhaas finished the CCTV building he was still not satisfied, and to prove how smart he was and how he had tricked 1.3 billion Chinese people, he couldn't help but betray his secret. To "expound" on his design "ideals" in the book Content, he included a number of images which readers can perceive for themselves with no interpretation required. The overhang, which I had seriously underestimated as merely a game, actually had a far more profound "implication": the main building is a naked woman kneeling with her rear end facing the audience, and the annex is the form of a phallus! Geez! The 3D animated model we had seen of the CCTV headquarters was actually a giant ass getting larger as it drew nearer to us! I was never able to figure out why the overhang grew higher the further out it went, or why the two verticals were inclined outward at a 6-degree angle, but now I have the answer: it turns out that the problem is because of the structural similarity of the ass and the CCTV headquarters building. Mr. He Qing, an art critic and a professor at Zhejiang University College of Art, said, "These images....first appeared on the Chinese architecture forum ABBS, but have now been deleted." But if you search for "male and female genitalia of the new CCTV building" (新CCTV的男女生殖器), you'll still be able to find a dozen photos. Some are even more flagrant than mine, and you pretty much have to avert your eyes from the raw union of male and female. Some of them even include Mao Zedong — strange, but with obvious ulterior motives. Content can mean both "substance" and "satisfied," and both are perfectly appropriate here. The former refers to that thing of incredibly vulgarity never before witnessed in the history of world architecture, the artistic "contents" of the CCTV building. And while we cannot be certain that the latter refers to the satisfaction of the "union," we can conclude that it represents Koolhaas's own sense of satisfaction. No? His scam succeeded, he made off with a bundle from Chinese taxpayers, he won acclaim with of Time magazine's "architectural marvels," and he's famous. Why wouldn't he be content? As for whether or not he sold out his good-intentioned advisor, or whether he left any dignity for the decision-makers and the 1.3 billion Chinese people, in my own opinion it doesn't deserve a second thought.

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Mao kitsch in Content

In light of prior experience, it's hard to have a serious discussion about serious questions with people who are not serious, so I can't be bothered to do any further "scholarly analysis." Readers may take a look at a wonderful, hilariously angry piece about Zhang Lianggao reposted on my humble blog, and that will be sufficient.

Still, how does one cope with the "aftermath" (if the authorities are self-aware enough to do so)? Mr. He Qing proposed that the main building and the annex should both be blown up because they are a great shame for the Chinese people and cannot be allowed to exist. I basically agree, for I cannot think of any reason not to blow them up. Seize the initiative, is the age-old lesson! May that explosion shake awake those lost Chinese architects and those elite who even now are beating the drum for Chinese culture to fall in line with the west.

Finally, let me close this piece by reproducing a few netizen comments:

"It's truly shameful! Whose disgrace is it for that thing to be standing there? CCTV's? The Chinese governments? The Chinese people's? Or the citizens of China? Probably not. It is a disgrace for the 'parents' of CCTV, the Central Publicity Department!"

"To talk about 'harmony' and 'civilization' and to promote a 'scientific concept of development' inside of a blatant sex toy is the height of irony! And for such an device to be standing in the capital of an ancient civilization brings shame onto our ancestors! I strongly call for the decision-makers to be pursued through all legal mean!" I also suggest finding that "good-intentioned" individual and sue him and Koolhaas for conspiracy to defraud the Chinese people.

I've heard people say that the Lantern Festival fire burnt the wrong building, that it should have consumed the main building and then moved to the annex, or that the fire department should not have turned out to fight the blaze during which it sent someone to an utterly pointless death. It would have been better if it all burnt down. Someone even suggested selling tickets and organizing the Chinese people to receive an education by negative example. China has enough people that we might be able to make enough money to rebuild it.

Are they all speaking purely out of schadenfreude?

Ah, me! Why are we always running up against this sort of thing?


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WTC and CCTV

From certain angles, World Trade Center Tower III, Beijing's tallest building, is a much better fit than the TVCC building for the genital worship interpretation, only with the CCTV building as a squatting figure rather than Xiao's and Koolhaas's kneeling figure.

Netizens have been circulating this photo, shot by the China News Service, in lieu of the Content images, which may be too risque for many blog and forum hosts.


Update (2009.08.21): We've been informed by Bert de Muynck of an essay that he wrote for Archis magazine in 2004. Titled "The end of the skyscraper as we know it: from CCG to CCTV," the piece is a look at the evolution of Koolhaas's work leading up to Content's conclusion: "Kill the Skyscraper."

In it, he offers the following analysis of the CCTV building:

Koolhaas’s intervention in China is CCTV, a formalist–functionalist architecture, not phallic but vaginal, one that contributes both to the modernization of communist culture and to the definition of architecture.

‘An explicit ambition of the building (CCTV) was to try to hasten the end of the skyscraper as a typology, to explode its increasingly vacuous nature, loss of program, and refuse the futile competition for height. Instead of the two separate towers of the WTC, there was now a single, integrated loop, where two towers merge. (Rem Koolhaas, Content, Cologne (Taschen) 2004, p. 44.)

The entire piece is available on the Moving Cities website.

Update (2009.08.26): The China Daily reported on the story over the weekend, and the Global Times has covered Koolhaas's response in today's edition.

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There are currently 9 Comments for Rem Koolhaas and CCTV architecture porn.

Comments on Rem Koolhaas and CCTV architecture porn

I am actually quite surprised that people should be so worked up about this. Should it be true, it really is good creativity. Human endeavor has always been closely associated with sexuality and a structure that celebrates human reproductivity and grand vision should be praised by all and it really shows the avante garde nature of Beijing architectures, the only comparable structure that comes to mind is the Egg in the City of London. In a dodgy city like New York, you cannot imagine such creativity, and where they are given a chance, they build this politically correct and tame Freedom Tower. In San Francisco, there has been years without any structure going up at all.

I knew there was a reason I love that building!

There was a Bernard Madoff in the US.

Now there is a Rem Koolhaas in China.

Bernard Madoff has scammed billion of dollars from his clients.

Koolhaas has screwed the Chinese people.

The sad thing is nobody has noticed until Koolhaas has declared his true intention in his magazine.

The Bert de Muynck explanation is correct. It is not a joke on the Chinese people--it is indeed a reaction against the skyscraper typology.

It's probably time for the Chinese public to develop a sense of humor.

I think the Chinese attitude toward sex and sexuality is still deeply shamanistic: an insatiable prurient interest + an irrational superstitution of some supposed potent magic associated with sex. The indignation that China is somehow wounded by the alleged sexual symbolism is not unlike the practice of Boxer rebels who tried to ward off mortar fire with rags drenched with menstrual blood.

Art provokes all kinds of feelings, thoughts and hidden desires from people. These criticism probably reflect more what's going on in the mind of the critics than in the mind of Koolhaas.

And even if the design was premeditated, isn't it fitting for the capital of a country that for decades encouraged "hero mothers" (英雄妈妈)to have as many children as possible? How else do you think you get all those children? How else do you get the largest population in the world?

Correction: "hero mothers" (英雄母亲)was a Soviet accolade that got invented to encourage new births so that the war-torn USSR could recover a little from the devastaion of WWII.

As far as I know, China never used this particular honorary title to stimulate birth. The closest thing I could think of was Mao's
“人多力量大”。

回复:一个结构工程师眼中的奥运建筑之CCTV新楼
From the common sense of scholarship, an author should be responsible for his/her own publications. As a so-called “professor” at Harvard, Koolhaas should be shame of his CCTV design and his silly writings.
从学术的常识来看,一位作者因对其出版负责。作为所谓的哈佛的“教授”,裤儿哈撕(Koolhaas)应对其cctv新楼设计及其有关写作感到可耻。

It is a shame that the so called civilized western architect is being fuxked hard this time in deed as Chinese now know the true face of a barbarian dressed in modern costume.

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