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Updates on the CCTV fire: Snapshots, charges of censorship and Rem's take on 'fighting the flames'

February 10, 2009 | 10:33 am

Lots of new info this morning on the fire that consumed part of Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren's CCTV complex in Beijing's Central Business District. But first, since most photographs of CCTV show the main tower and not the burned hotel and cultural center, known as TVCC, that sat in its shadow, I dug up a couple of snapshots I took on a visit to the complex last summer. Here's one, with others following after the jump. TVCC is in the foreground in all these shots. (And excuse the informality of the photographs, please. It appears I took them from a taxi. And as I wrote last year, the smoggy summer skies in Beijing never make for a good backdrop for architectural photography.)


(For a very clear rendering of the whole complex, look here.)

Also, despite my initial skepticism of that explanation, it appears that fireworks were, in fact, the likely cause of the blaze. But you wouldn't learn too many details of the fire or its origin from reading the Chinese media.

According to the New York Times, Chinese officials sent out a memo telling media outlets that they should post "no photos, no video clips, no in-depth reports" of the fire -- in other words, that they should bury the story. The memo also said that in online reports of the blaze "comments posting areas should be closed."

That official policy hasn't kept bloggers in China from posting an unceasing stream of updates on the fire, how it looked from the street and how they think it might have started. The fact that CCTV itself, the Chinese state broadcast network, apparently organized the fireworks display gives the story an odd twist. Many bloggers have pointed out the irony of CCTV creating one of the biggest stories of the year at the site of its own headquarters -- and then endeavoring not to cover it.

There is lots of conspiracy-theory talk in the comments sections of blogs (including this one) working hard to connect TVCC and the collapse of the World Trade Center. Actually, there is a connection between the two complexes -- just not the one 9/11 obsessives are worried about. It's a purely architectural link, actually. But I'll leave that for a separate post later on.

Meanwhile, on the website of the Italian design magazine Abitare (via Bldgblog), architect and writer Bert de Muynck reports from Beijing and thinks back to the highly influential 1978 book that Rem Koolhaas wrote about Manhattan, "Delirious New York." De Muynck writes:

At the same I can only think about the “fighting the flames”-spectacle Rem Koolhaas’ described in Delirious New York. “Fighting the Flames” was a daily event on New York’s Coney Island and consisted of burning the same city block over and over again. The block as actor.” Rem Koolhaas wrote, “The entire spectacle defines the dark side of Metropolis as an astronomical increase in the potential for disaster only just exceeded by an equally astronomical increase in the ability to avert it. Manhattan is the outcome of that perpetual neck-and-neck race.”

Finally, two more pictures (clearly Iwan Baan and Roland Halbe have little to worry about):



-- Christopher Hawthorne