The image of the new China Central Television building (below) built especially for the 2008 Olympics was yesterday's most e-mailed image on Yahoo.
The building, constructed by the Dutch architectural firms OMA and Arup, clearly breaks with the more traditionalist towers which point towards the sky. Here, instead, one has a continuous loop of horizontal and vertical sections that create their own space and, in a curious yet powerful way, create a distinct sense of energy; one can almost feel the electric currents surging through the building.
Such a construction would, indeed, be an architectural accomplishment anywhere, but the fact that it has occurred in Beijing is particularly significant. As with all forms of postmodernist architecture, the new CCTV building poses challenges to the limits of modernism and, in turn, to those who hold to the notion of an under-developed China. As noted by a recent article in Vanity Fair, the entire Olympic construction project appears one big attempt to say to the industrialized world: "Whatever you can do, we can do better." And fair enough.
Beyond it's architectural splendor, the fascinating thing about this seeming wave of postmodernism in China (if one can even go so far to call it that), lies in its connection to politics. There's no denying that architecture has always been inseparable from politics in a broad sense. No less than, say, the Egyptian pyramids, Europe's great Gothic cathedrals were conceived as expressions of power. Similarly, both Albert Speer's grandiose design for Hitler's Berlin and 1960's efforts to bring social improvement through public housing were politically inspired.
The recent surge of what I like to call "can-do" architecture in China likewise signals the rise of a powerful China - it's impact on African politics and it's relations with the US are enough to make this point clear. Yet within China itself, there appear to be minimal changes; many citizens are actually worse off than in years past. This contrast between the image of a rising China and that of a country struggling to resolve its own domestic problems raises a plethora of questions over whether Chinese politics will be able to match its architecture. As the saying goes, you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?