Deyan Sudjic considers the ethics of architecture in light of Rem Koolhaas’ design of Central China Television’s new headquarters in Beijing, in Frieze.com.
[W]hen Koolhaas had the shrewdness to stay out of the race to secure New York’s Ground Zero master-plan commission but decided instead to take his chances in the competition to design the new headquarters of Central China Television (CCTV) in Beijing, he talked about the emptiness of American values, contrasting them unfavourably with the energy of Asia.
Asked about the ethical implications of the CCTV project, Koolhaas’ first response was to suggest that China’s system is changing so fast that by the time his building is completed CCTV will have been privatized, and China will have given up repression as a routine political tool. It’s unlikely that Mies van der Rohe would have had a very sympathetic hearing if he had won the 1933 competition for the Reichsbank in Berlin and come up with the same kind of arguments about the bright future promised by the imminent economic transformation of Hitler’s Germany. More recently Koolhaas has taken a more overtly political line: ‘What attracts me about China is that there is still a state. There is something that can take initiative on a scale and of a nature that almost no other body that we know of today could ever afford or contemplate. Everywhere else, and particularly in architecture, money is everything now. So that is blatantly not a good situation as it leads to compromises of quality. Money is a less fundamental tenet of their ideology.’ So there.