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Argument hits new pitch at opera house
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-13 05:44

The Grand National Theatre being built in the heart of Beijing - the subject of previous controversy over its futuristic style and cost - is now mired in a new disagreement over its landscape design.

Chinese architects and the theatre's designer, Paul Andreu, have disagreed over lighting and the outside landscape gardening, said Zheng Yue, an architect with the Beijing Landscape and Traditional Architectural Design and Research Institute.

Construction goes on at the Grand National Theatre, despite the row over its design. [newsphoto]

The French architect prefers minimal lighting and trees, but the Chinese side favours bright lighting and bouquets of flowers around the dome-shaped theatre, said Zheng, who is the representative of the Chinese side.

"It is natural that different architects disagree with each other on certain design details. All the differences will be resolved through talks," said Zheng.

Covering an area of 120,000 square metres, the gigantic dome - half underground and nestled in an artificial lake - is located near Tian'anmen Square.

Zheng said Andreu does not want bright lamps similar to those standing in neighbouring Tian'anmen Square.

"Andreu prefers minimal lighting shinning from the theatre - made of glass and titanium - into the artificial lake to simulate a star-studded sky.

"But we must take safety into consideration. Tian'anmen is a popular tourist destination that receives more than 100,000 visitors every day," said Zheng.

"The number may top 500,000 a day in the holidays. Adequate lighting is a must, otherwise people will not be able to find their way."

As to the landscape gardening, Zheng said Andreu wants tall, big trees and refuses to plant flowers and grass.

"But Chinese people like to use colourful flowers to create a joyous atmosphere, especially during festivals.

"However, Andreu is not willing to make a concession on this issue at present.

"We still need further discussion and communication before we reach an agreement," said Zheng.

She said the landscaping was expected to be started next spring. So far, ginkgo trees and Chinese scholar trees, both with tall and big trunks, have been chosen.

Construction of the theatre started in 2001, despite harsh criticism at that time, and is expected to be finished by the end of this year.

With a cost of nearly 3 billion yuan (US$360 million), the 6,200-seat theatre will consist of an opera house, a concert hall, a drama house, an art exchange centre, shops and other facilities.

Some critics say the cost to build a single seat at the theatre is about 484,000 yuan (US$58,500), equivalent to the price of a luxury car. They are also worried that the huge spending will mean expensive tickets out of the reach of ordinary residents.

But proponents argue the theatre will be a symbol of national pride. They say the theatre was not designed to be ordinary, and so its cost cannot be compared with a standard theatre.

As to the style, advocates liken it to a water pearl, saying it is a breakthrough in style that blends romance with reality. However, opponents say it is a blob that does not fit in with its surroundings.

(China Daily 04/13/2005 page3)

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