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Rem Koolhaas, the Irreverent – Neither Modernist nor Historicist

CCTV - Challenges and Opportunities


CCTV Tower Mirrors Beijing's Rising Ambitions

By Mei Fong

Originally Published: 7, November 2007

BEIJING--Five years ago, Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren unveiled their radical design for the new China Central Television Tower here to a disbelieving public. Even their client wasn't sure it could be built, they say.

Formed like a misshapen square doughnut, the building is full of technical challenges, with two towers leaning inward at sharp inclines that will be joined to form one continuous loop.

There were no building codes for this convoluted sort of structure, which Messrs. Koolhaas and Scheeren conceived as a challenge to the notion that all skyscrapers should point skyward. (Complicating matters: Beijing lies in an earthquake zone.)

Now, the moment is fast approaching for a crucial part of the tower's construction. In a matter of weeks, workers will construct the floors that will join the two leaning towers, producing the building's unusual shape.

The technical details are like something from a science-fiction novel: The joining must be performed at dawn. That's because heat from the sun expands steel in different portions of the tower over the course of the day, and such distortions must be avoided at all costs. "If one tower is distorted, it would be locked into the system and tax the whole system," says Mr. Scheeren, grasping a scale model of the CCTV Tower in his hands as if it were a giant Rubik's cube ready to be solved.

The CCTV Tower is probably the most ambitious of an estimated 10,000 new structures being built in Beijing, a symbol of why China's capital is developing a reputation as the "Wild East" in architectural circles. Mr. Scheeren, for example, says it would be unlikely that this structure could be built anywhere else in the world because the design would not be permitted by building codes elsewhere. In China, there was an openness to making things happen that "created an extraordinary context for architecture," says Mr. Scheeren.

With the 2008 Olympics in mind, China's authorities have been trying to transform Beijing, an ancient city crafted by rulers such as Kublai Khan, into a modern metropolis. They're doing this through a collection of buildings that make statements, including an Olympic stadium shaped like a bird's nest, an egg-shaped National Theater and the bubble-wrapped Watercube, where Olympic swimming events will be held.

But the $800 million CCTV Tower looms large in the public imagination. Both massive and controversial, it is likely to become a symbol of China's recent accomplishments. The building will be the second largest office building in the world, after the Pentagon, and a visible emblem of China's state-controlled media, China Central Television, the country's only nationwide broadcaster.

The imminent joining essentially borrows from bridge-building technology, except that if the section were a bridge, it would be an exceptionally large and cumbersome one. It is a full 11 stories high at some points, and it includes a cantilevered overhang — scheduled to be completed in February — that will jut out almost 250 feet into nothingness.

Five years ago, it would have been impossible to engineer the tower because high-speed computational systems — particularly for seismic analyses — weren't as sophisticated, says Andrew Chan, group deputy chairman of Arup Group Ltd., a global design and business consulting firm. "We had to write the rulebook," he says.

Rocco Yim, one of the judges at the design competition that eventually picked the square tower, says he initially had great reservations about the "extremely irrational design." But he came to see it as representing "a certain spirit that is just what the new China is all about," says the Hong Kong-based architect. "Irreverent, a can-do spirit, fearless and extremely confident."

To help make the CCTV Tower a reality, Mr. Scheeren took the unusual step of moving to China in 2004 to supervise things, a role usually performed by local engineers and architects after the design stage. But it was an important step for Mr. Scheeren, 36 years old, who wasn't yet a household name like his mentor Mr. Koolhaas, winner of the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architectural circles. The Prada-clad Mr. Scheeren is best-known for designing several award-winning stores for the Italian fashion brand and has never worked on a product of CCTV's magnitude before.

Beijing's building codes had no provision for a building of this shape, so municipal authorities formed a special panel of 13 structural engineers especially for the CCTV Tower. The building was approved in 2004, two years after the design competition.

For much of 2004, the team studied a three-story-high replica of the CCTV Tower that they had placed on a "shake table," which is a hydraulic platform that simulates earthquake tremors. The platform was equipped with several hundred sensors to help builders monitor the movements of the more than 10,000 steel beams in the tower and see which parts of the building would undergo the most stress under different conditions.

As a result, the outer surface of CCTV Tower will be wrapped in a steel mesh resembling a diamond-like net, with the main structure of the building outside, instead of inside. Pressures can "literally travel around the system and find the best load path into the ground," says Mr. Scheeren. Parts of the mesh, including the areas where the building has the most stress, such as the corners, are visibly denser, and they have been incorporated into the building's design.

In addition, the building is covered with glass coated with a pattern made of gray, baked-on enamel, providing more effective shade from the sun. This "merges very well with the air quality of Beijing," remarks Mr. Scheeren. In fact, on days of high pollution in the capital, the glass will appear to dissolve in the sky, leaving only the net of the structure visible, as though lightning had frozen in the sky.

Critics argue that it's impossible to separate the building's form from its function housing one of the biggest propaganda units in the world. CCTV is both the biggest media company in the country and the official voice of the Communist Party. It will also be the sole Chinese broadcaster during next year's Olympics, and as a result, the image of the CCTV Tower will be beamed to millions of homes.

Last year architecture critic Inga Saffron wrote that Messrs. Koolhaas and Scheeren may be remembered "as the ones who gave China's TV monopoly the architectural equivalent of the bomb." Ms. Saffron, a fan of Mr. Koolhaas's work, said in a phone interview that "the message from the design is very scary," referring to the cantilevered portion of CCTV Tower that hangs thousands of feet above the ground. Coupled with the gargantuan size of the overall site — about the size of 37 football fields — the CCTV Tower will "always remind you of how small you are, and how big the state," Ms. Saffron said.

CCTV Tower's builders say it is designed to withstand major earthquakes without collapsing. Northern China's biggest earthquake in recent years happened in Tangshan city, more than 90 miles from Beijing. The 1976 earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and killed more than 200,000 people.

To make space for the main square tower and an adjoining boot-shaped tower, hundreds of Beijing residents in the area were forcibly evicted and, they say, offered inadequate compensation.

Retired teacher Qiu Guizhi, 57, was distraught when she returned home from a trip to find herself evicted. She was so desperate and angry, she says, that she climbed up to the roof of the building and tried to jump. She was stopped by the police and held in detention for 10 days. She says she still hasn't received a penny of her promised $40,000 in compensation.

Mr. Scheeren has been kept busy defending his creation. A few months ago, he spoke as part of a panel organized by the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts on the topic of architects who design for autocratic regimes. "Historically architects have built for those in power," he said. "How else are great buildings made? Or paid for?" Later, in an email, Mr. Scheeren clarified his statements, saying, "Historically, much of large-scale architecture has been produced for governments or powerful organizations. And this dependency/conflict will remain a complex issue for architecture generally."

He has also said that his architecture firm received many indications, including explicit statements, that CCTV was interested in becoming more liberal and independent and was seeking a building that would facilitate these changes.

The design of the building creates more openness, he argues. For example, the highest floors in the overhang won't be reserved for CCTV's top management and instead will include public spaces such as a canteen. (The building will have three major canteens that can feed 4,000 people at a time.) There will also be a public viewing deck with glass floors so that visitors can see the vertigo-inducing overhang, as well as corridors where they can peer into offices and television studios.

The building's loop "expresses a unity of a production process, of what a media company can be. It isn't promoting isolationism but connectivity," Mr. Scheeren says.

©: 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. /

Source (May be in Archival Status at time of access)
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Strange Things Uncovered While Researching Rem - #6

Partner-In-Charge Ole takes a page out of Rem's book


© Google Gossips

East-West attraction


It is not just the Western movie scene that Asia’s leading actresses such as Zhang Ziyi, Datuk Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung are making a name for themselves. Here is a run-down of the hottest transcontinental romances making headlines now. …

Arthouse muse and architect: Maggie Cheung and Ole Scheeren

She is a Hong Kong-born, British-raised, French-speaking actress whose layered turns in arthouse flicks like Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) and ex-husband Oliver Assayas’ Clean (2004) have made her an international critic’s darling many times over.

He’s an acclaimed German architect whose ambitious projects include the avant-garde landmark China Central Television headquarters in Beijing – two towers which lean and fold through 90° at the top and bottom to form a giant loop and which house about 10,000 workers – and the gravity-defying Scotts Tower in Singapore.

Maggie Cheung, 43, and Ole Scheeren, 36, were instantly drawn to each other when they were introduced at a birthday party for her manager Melvin Chua in Beijing in June, reported Apple Daily this month.

Chua, and Kevin Lee, the founder of Hong Kong’s West/East fashion magazine, played matchmakers.

On July 6, the couple were spotted in Rome at designer Valentino’s 45th anniversary exhibition. Scheeren, however, kept a low profile.

Then on July 19, Cheung confessed in Taipei that she had ended her four-year relationship with former Ebel chief executive officer Guillaume Brochard, 41.

Cheung and Scheeren made their first public appearance as an item on Oct 20 at the Swarovski Fashion Rocks bash in London. That same day, Hong Kong tabloid Sudden Weekly exposed their relationship, publishing photographs taken of them at Hong Kong’s airport on Oct 7.

Based in Beijing, Scheeren is a partner in the Dutch firm Office For Metropolitan Architecture, founded by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

The 1.9m-tall Scheeren cuts a dashing figure beside Cheung’s lithe frame.

Raised in Britain before moving to Hong Kong when she was 19, Cheung was first runner-up in the 1983 Miss Hong Kong pageant and was last seen in 2046 (2004).

She evidently has a taste for creative, high-powered men who in turn regard her as a muse of sorts.

Before Scheeren and Brochard, she was married to French film director Assayas, with whom she made films like Clean, which won her the best actress award at Cannes in 2004. The couple split amicably in 2002 after four years of marriage.

She met Brochard a year later. It was in Singapore that he first came across her picture in a local women’s magazine. So smitten was he that, a few weeks later, he signed her on as the face of Ebel.

In the late 80s, Cheung was also romantically involved with Hong Kong film director Derek Yee. It was rumoured that her then fiery temper led to an acrimonious break-up.

Despite having played many reserved characters on screen, Cheung has said she is a needy, passionate lover.

The Straits Times, Singapore / Asia News Network © 1995-2007 Star Publications (Malaysia)

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Charlie Rose Interviews Rem Koolhaas - 10.03.2004

In his simultaneously charming and humourous southeastern American drawl, Charlie Rose introduces Rem Koolhaas by mis-pronouncing his surname. Rose's website provides a laconic caption to the programme:

A conversation with architect Rem Koolhaas about his book "Content" and his projects including the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, the China central headquarters in Beijing, and the public library in Seattle.

Charlie Rose - Conversation with Rem Koolhaas (10 March 2004)

Interview Time MM:SS: 22:13

Note - although this is not YouTube,
as per normal, you may still go direct to different points
in the video, as needed.
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Dutch Embassy - Location and Ideas


Courtesy One Way Street

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon
Niederländische / Königliche holländische Botschaft

(Netherlands / Royal Dutch Embassy)
1997 - 2003
Berlin-Mitte, Deutschland

Location on River Spree in the former East Berlin section
(Highlighted in Bolded image on Map)


Courtesy arquinews / OMA / Koolhaas

Emphases on Segments of the Building Plan
(So-called 'Skybox' is 4th from left; 3rd from right)


Courtesy arquinews / OMA / Koolhaas

Inside/Outside idea of what I will call a 'River of Light'
(Rem Koolhaas refers to it as the 'Trajectory')


©: left - arq / OMA / Koolhaas; right - 2007 Deutsche Welle / OMA / Koolhaas

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Dutch Embassy - Exterior Views 1

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon
Niederländische / Königliche holländische Botschaft

(Netherlands / Royal Dutch Embassy)
1997 - 2003
Berlin-Mitte, Deutschland


© Flickr / dutch sheep



copyright cambridge2000

Night View of Above:
Close-up (top) and Distant (below)


Courtesy arq


Courtesy Cornell Education

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Dutch Embassy - Exterior Views 2

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon
Niederländische / Königliche holländische Botschaft

(Netherlands / Royal Dutch Embassy)
1997 - 2003
Berlin-Mitte, Deutschland

Details of 'Skybox' Exterior


left above - © 1999 - 2007 Ivar Hagendoorn; right above - © Niederlandeweb / Dutch Embassy Berlin


© arquinews


© 1999 - 2007 Ivar Hagendoorn

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Dutch Embassy - Exterior Views 3

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon
Niederländische / Königliche holländische Botschaft

(Netherlands / Royal Dutch Embassy)
1997 - 2003
Berlin-Mitte, Deutschland

Concept via Model


© OMA / Koolhaas

Details of 'River of Light' Exterior
At Night



All above © Niederlandeweb / Dutch Embassy Berlin

Details of 'River of Light' Exterior
During Day


© 1999 - 2007 Ivar Hagendoorn


left/right - © Niederlandeweb / Dutch Embassy Berlin; centre © Flickr / dogs on acid

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Dutch Embassy - Interior Views 1

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon
Niederländische / Königliche holländische Botschaft

(Netherlands / Royal Dutch Embassy)
1997 - 2003
Berlin-Mitte, Deutschland

Sampling of Interior - Part 1

(Right - Alexanderplatz television tower, remaining from Communist period, is visible out of window)




All above © Niederlandeweb / Dutch Embassy Berlin

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Dutch Embassy - Interior Views 2

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon
Niederländische / Königliche holländische Botschaft

(Netherlands / Royal Dutch Embassy)
1997 - 2003
Berlin-Mitte, Deutschland

Sampling of Interior - Part 2




All above © Niederlandeweb / Dutch Embassy Berlin
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Dutch Embassy - Interior Views 3

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon
Niederländische / Königliche holländische Botschaft

(Netherlands / Royal Dutch Embassy)
1997 - 2003
Berlin-Mitte, Deutschland

Stairs... Ramps... Walkways...


second row left - ©; all others © flickr / ryansouthard;



© flickr / ryansouthard

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Dutch Embassy - Ellen van Loon, Partner

Ellen van Loon


left - © RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects); centre - ©; right -© OMA

From what I can determine from OMA / AMO materials and what I have seen elsewhere, Ellen van Loon came to prominence while working with Norman Foster & Partners in Berlin on the renovation and dome installation to the German Reichstag.

Sample of Foster & Partners work on German Reichstag


© galinsky

Ms. van Loon was then recruited by Rem Koolhaas’ firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), in 1998, in order to be a Project Manager and Lead Designer for a contracted task at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. She also Project Managed on Casa da Música during construction, and eventually became an OMA partner – one of six and the only female – in 2002.

Between Casa da Música and becoming a partner in 2002, Ms. van Loon worked closely with Rem Koolhaas for the first time, in realising the Royal Dutch Embassy in Berlin, the same city she last worked with Norman Foster. The Embassy project not only won all types of awards for both Ms. van Loon and Mr. Koolhaas, it also indicated Ms. van Loon's exceptional business and design skills, hence elevating her into the Partner role. By 2004 she went from 'Partner' to 'Managing Partner.' She continues to team with Rem Koolhaas on a number of other projects - both mid-rise and skyscraper.

- Zephyr
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Strange Things Uncovered While Researching Rem - #7

Vintage OMA ... Rem's corporate 'grandmother'

People Who founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture or OMA:


© Flickr / wannes deprez

1978 Left to Right: Rem Koolhaas' wife - Madelon Vriesendorp; Rem Koolhaas (with hair!!!);
Elia Zenghelis; Elia Zenghelis' wife - Zoe

Above is a vintage sepia photograph of the original founders of OMA. OMA officially began in 1975, when Rem Koolhaas was just over 30 years old and still in architecture school. In fact, one of the other founders, Elia Zenghelis, was one of Rem's professors at the same school that he was attending - the Architectural Association of London, with the unfortunate initials of AA.

If you know a modicum of the Dutch language, you may know that oma means grandmother. Everyone who knows the biography of Rem Koolhaas, will also be familiar with the fact that his grandfather on his mother's side of the family, was the last known Architect in the family before Rem. Grandfather is not grandmother, but the rumour for years has been that OMA, the acronym of the firm, was meant to be an homage to the encouragement of the grandfather by the wife. I personally doubt it, but stranger things have occurred with the formation of company acronyms.

From 1975 to 1978 Rem Koolhaas continued his education in the UK, and despite the efforts of all four founders, nothing led to an actual building being built. In 1978, Rem began a second passion which he carried through the rest of his life and reflected his prior focus on writing, in forging the book Delirious. The cover of that book was taken from the artwork of his wife Madelon, reflecting a post-coital result of Empire State Building and Chrysler Building supposedly engaged in a tryst. The book was no less outrageous in its recounting of NYC's Manhattan past.

Eventually Rem Koolhaas broke through to receive a commission, moving to his native Rotterdam to open a new office for OMA. Over time he saw a need to create a mirror organisation to OMA called AMO (hence the reversal of characters). The two organisation represented complementary aspects within the firm - such as media relations vs ideas and creative direction.

Elia Zenghelis continued to head-up the London office but eventually left OMA with wife to become a partner in another Architectural firm since renamed Gigantes-Zenghelis Architects.

- Zephyr
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Foundation Buildings - Netherlands Dance Theatre - Plans

Foundation Buildings
Netherlands Dance Theatre


© Rem Koolhaas_Fifa_Montréal_Canada

Foundation Buildings returns to the beginnings of OMA, especially after Rem Koolhaas left London and set-up an office in his hometown of Rotterdam. These buildings are less cutting-edge than most of what you have seen thus far. But they begin the journey, and one might argue that the other bookend is the Royal Dutch Embassy.

The first of these "Foundation Buildings," my term, is Netherlands Dance Theatre in the center of The Hague. Although the dates we quote start in 1980 and go to 1997, the effective dates could have been placed between 1984 and 1988, that is because there was a move and major re-design made in 1984, and 1988 completed some parts that were not properly documented.

In 1980 the project began on the seaside resort area of The Hague in a place called Scheveningen. We are told that the original design was much more radical, reflecting the challenges of that location, but became more staid when it was re-located into the centre of town, so as not to clash with historic buildings nearby.

There are three levels to the second design, all slightly off-centred: (1) Stage / Auditorium, (2) Rehearsal Studios, and (3) Offices / Dressing Rooms, There is also a cone-like structure that housed the Cafe / Bar.

Rem Koolhaas
Nederlands Danstheater/Lucent Danstheater

(Netherlands Dance Theatre renamed Lucent Dance Theater)
1980 - 1987
Den Haag, Nederland

Inside and Outside the Dance Theater


Courtesy Ignez Ferraz

2D Plans


Courtesy Architecture - McGill University
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Foundation Buildings - Netherlands Dance Theatre - Exterior

Rem Koolhaas
Nederlands Danstheater/Lucent Danstheater

(Netherlands Dance Theatre renamed Lucent Dance Theater)
1980 - 1987
Den Haag, Nederland

Aerial View


Courtesy Gulliver Uhde


Courtesy arkitera


Courtesy Gulliver Uhde

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