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Fire guts part of a Beijing Olympics icon

February 9, 2009 | 11:32 am


One section of the strikingly photogenic Beijing tower for the Chinese state broadcast network, CCTV, erupted in flames today -- Monday evening in China -- on the last night of celebrations marking the Lunar New Year.

The fire struck not the main, torquing CCTV tower, but an adjacent shorter structure, in which a 241-room Mandarin Oriental Hotel was due to open later this year. The entire complex, still under construction, was designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture and was a star of television coverage of August's Beijing Olympics.

Although the larger tower was luckily spared, this is no minor loss.

The architectural composition of the complex as a whole -- which I toured with Scheeren over the summer, and which I argued in a year-end piece "already ranks as the most significant piece of architecture of our young century" -- depends on the shorter hotel tower, which is known as TVCC. It is the hotel, in fact, that helps give the main tower its strange, shifting sense of scale. From certain angles the smaller section -- no shrimp itself at 34 stories tall -- looks like the tail of the big tower's dragon, from others like a fleeing creature about to be devoured by the CCTV's gaping mouth.

Beijing TVCC on fire 

For the blogger Geoff Manaugh, images of the fire mean only one thing: The boom is over. Potent symbolism aside, though, I'd be very surprised if the hotel weren't instantly rebuilt. The Chinese leadership has understood the graphic power of the CCTV complex -- the way it suggests a modern, ambitious and innovative new China -- from the earliest stages, and it seems highly unlikely it would allow the charred remains of the hotel to stand for any extended period. This is particularly true given Chinese sensitivity around the idea that its economy is rapidly losing steam.

So there's likely to be no drawn-out, painstaking investigation of the wreckage by some Chinese version of the FBI or ATF. As soon as the last ember is out, I'd guess, the bulldozers will be clearing the site to begin again. Even in a global slowdown -- perhaps especially in one -- construction in China can operate at lightning speed.

Twitter feed is here. But take rumors that the blaze was started by the fireworks themselves with a grain of salt.

More to come, I'm sure.

-- Christopher Hawthorne

Photos: top, Oliver Weiken / EPA; bottom, Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (28)

sad day for architecture

Did the building collapse? If not, why not? Why did WTC7 collapse from fires which were nothing compared to this, on 9/11?

To 'Dr Adford' on WTC7: Maybe because this building wasn't constructed the same and have it's main support beams gouged out by mammoth skyscrapers falling along site. (See url)

Don't believe every YouTube video you see.

Dr. Adford, why does everything have to collapse? First of all, these buildings are completely different in stucture. World Trade Center 7 had its weight distributed to 3 main trusses, one of which failed and caused the rest of the building to collapse. Not only were fires allowed to burn for hours at World Trade Center 7, but there was significant damage to the southern facade of the building including missing a large chunk of the south-west corner. You simply cannot compare every building fire to the tragedy of World Trade Center.

This didn't collapse like the WTC because it wasn't hit by a 767 full of jet fuel. Cmon now.

@ Nicolas,

C'mon now, surely you know that WTC Tower 7 was not hit by a 767. You do know that, don't you?

it reminds me of WTC, the USA front teeth, which turned WC in 2 hours. What a waste of glass and steel. lol!

Hmmmmm, didn't the last time a fire destroyed an expensive ornate symbol of the ruling class (the forbidden city) be interpreted as the wrath of the gods and lead to the end of a dynasty?

WTC 7 was not hit by a plain. It had small office fires but nothing that would burn hot enough to collapse the building. Note that this has never happend in history. As it didnt with the building in Beijing.

I am a chinese.
I dont like you relate everything in china to political.
Its just a building caught fire, its an accident, thats all.

WTC tower 7 was not struck by any plane and had minimal fire restricted to a couple floors on one face of the building. Buidling 7 was a particularly resilient building built with additional reinforcements and yet, if you watch video of its collapse, it falls in text book demolition style, the center crumpling in and then the entire building falling uniformly to the ground. Even if "monster chunks" of debris fell onto buidling 7, it is impossible for anything but demolition explosives to cause the building to collapse in that particular fashion, certainly not from some debris hitting the south west corner. Watch the video again, textbook demolition style fall for WTC building 7. You shouldn't believe just anything you hear on the internet, but you should trust what your war profiteering government says even less.

it didnt' collapse because it didn't have the demolition bombs in place that the world trade center had! this one wasn't preplanned by the gov or mr. silverstein

Nicolas - Neither was building 7 at the WTC. It wasn't struck by anything. Video evidence suggests it wasn't even touched by any major debris. The official investigation results were only released a few months ago. They seemed to think that a diesel tank for some generators was a major contributor to the collapse, but they never addressed the questions that eye witnesses and video evidence raised about the fires being hot enough to cause major support failures. Conspiracy theorists still insist that no official theory comes close to explaining the structure failure. But, it isn't just the nutjobs still wandering around with questions about WTC7. You might want to do a little reading. There are quite a few respected scientists and engineers who have gone on record to say they don't believe much of the official report.


If you were in China, you would not have access to the LA Times from your internet connection. Quit lying.

You demolition conspiracy fanatics are idiots!

"If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate."

It appears this notice was ignored by the people making their government conspiracy comments on the World Trade Center disaster. Grow up, the World Trade Center disaster was exactly as you saw it on TV, a terrorist attack.

"But take rumors that the blaze was started by the fireworks themselves with a grain of salt."

I'm sorry? This in NO rumor. I was in the building opposite overlooking a huge fireworks display when the fire began. The fireworks were professional and being launched from the building site. One of the exploding arrows landed in the roof of the building.

I think somebody important had the idea to initiate a fireworks display of such a scale so now they are trying to cover up.

Before the fireworks started the display caused at least one traffic accident on the ring road.


If you were in China, you would not have access to the LA Times from your internet connection. Quit lying. :

Little do you know. I'm sitting in Guangzhou, China right now and I read and comment on these articles all the time. Get an education, travel and use Google News.

I'm in China and I'm reading this page. No kidding.


I don't know you, but you show yourself to be a fool. Like the other posters writing from China, I am sitting in Beijing right now reading your post on the LA Times. You should come over here some time with a clear mind so you can open your eyes and not just believe half truths and conventional wisdom from your safe perch in USA. You can see the CCTV Building while you are here=incredible architecture. Nothing wrong with loving one's country, but always remember there are pluses and minuses everywhere, including good old USA.

On the other hand, you are a conspiracy theorist, so perhaps you think every government and society everywhere sucks including USA and China. You imply, however, from your brief note to paulcross and your other posts that, although you think the USA sucks, it's superior to China because China must be blocking the LA Times, according to you. This assumes that BrucceL is the same person as BruceL.

Sure, there are repressive elements of the Chinese regime, much more repressive than USA. On the other hand, there are things here which USA would do well to adopt, were it not for the know-it-alls such as yourself and the USA-glorifiers, who are blind to the significant room for improvement needed in USA. Do you like all the upper-crust thieves, greedsters, fraudsters, tax evaders, and incredibly selfish people in our country? Are they looking out for the greater good or numero uno only? We have plenty of repression and oppression in USA also, it's just so much more sophisticated and insidious.

I don't live in China, but have been here and many other countries often enough to try to be objective about the world.

As for Internet censorship in China, yes, it does exist in the form of a firewall which can be defeated with some personal technology. But it's damned difficult to figure out why a site gets blocked. LA Times, CNN, NY Times, WSJ, Fox, NBC, BBC, Reuters, etc., etc., no censorship at all. Huffington Post and a relative few other sites=completely blocked. Go figure. Seems very haphazard.

Possibly, to get blocked, you have to have pissed off the Chinese government in a minor way, as opposed to the major way the likes of CNN have pissed off the government with no blockage at all=sails right through.

Anyway, the Chinese government has to realize that the Internet is bigger than it is, and effectively blocking the Internet in any significant way is an exercise in futility, as opposed to blocking TV or Radio in the old days which was relatively easy.

My purpose is to try to share some enlightenment with you, if that is possible. You took a very aggressive position toward paulcross, without any knowledge whatsoever. Next time, try doing some personal research first before you arrogantly attack somebody while showing your own ignorance. Then you can be a model for us Americans instead of part of the problem.

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