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Concerns over CCTV headquarter construction
By Jiang Jingjing (China Business Weekly)
Updated: 2004-09-30 15:05

Constructions of the controversial luxurious CCTV (China Television Centre) headquarter, which had been halted for nearly one and a half years, finally started last Wednesday despite the country's macro-economic control that has resulted in officials axing plans for five proposed sports venues in the Chinese capital.

The 230-metre building, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, with a total construction area of 550,000 square metres will cost about 5 billion yuan (US$602.4 million), according to CCTV's official website.

But the Economic Observer, China's mainstream economic newspaper quoted an insider as saying the budget has grown to 10 billion yuan (US$1.21 billion) in order to make the building much safer.

Fang Zhenning, a famous cultural critic involved in the design of the building, said the added input is to increase the anti-earthquake magnitude from 7 to 9.

Insiders say it is necessary for CCTV to set up a new building, since the existing one, which was built up in 1980s cannot meet the increasing demand.

"Many departments have to move to other office buildings, which brings much inconvenience to the business," said Zhao Xiaobing, president of Global China (Beijing) Media Consulting Co.

He said CCTV can afford the new building, since its revenues last year hit 8 billion yuan (US$966.18 million).

However, CCTV is still a State-run institution, which needs the financial support of the government.

"It lacks of transparency on how to spend the money," Zhao said.

He added the New York Times is also building a new headquarter, but the publicly-listed company publicized detailed plans and budgets.

Architects pointed out "it is a waste of money to maintain the bizarre architecture."

Tsinghua University professor Peng Peigen said the design is "ridiculous."

The Chinese economy still lags far behind that of the developed countries. The cost should be 3,000 yuan (US$362.32) per square metre under the current situation in China, Peng said, compared with the average of 18,000 yuan (US$2,173.91) per square metre for CCTV building.

His opinion was echoed by Michael Liao, an architect with the US-based Geiger Gossen Hamilton Liao Professional Corporation.

He said most luxurious building in New York costs US$500 per square metre, which includes the much higher labour cost for construction workers.

"It is a huge waste to double the budget to keep the original design," Liao said.

There are still potential risks with the double-Z shaped tower, he said, adding it is not an ordinary office building, but rather the country's life line -- the country's only central television station.

"In respect to either anti-terrorism or anti-earthquake precautions, the building still has huge potential risks," Liao said.

"Some Chinese advocate unique or even strange buildings, while the international trend is 'back to basics' and 'form following function.' The new building is just like a masterpiece for a fashion show, but people cannot wear it at the office," Peng said.

"Being aware of the Chinese demand, foreign architects are turning China into a test field," Peng said, citing an example of Paul Andreu, a French designer of dome-shaped National Grand Theatre in downtown Beijing.

"It would be much more difficult to approve such a building in any developed country than in China.

"The theatre is not compatible to the surrounding structures, meanwhile it bears many potential risks."

Besides the design, the potential traffic congestion around the CCTV tower arose concerns.

Many people, including several renowned academicians, said the project would worsen the traffic situation in Beijing's business centre, which is already crammed with high-rises and highways.

The project proposal was approved by the State Council in January 2002, and the Dutch architect won the design bid half a year later.

Construction was scheduled to start in March 2003, but was suspended.

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