On the Thinking Behind CCTV TVCC

PUBLISHING info: Domus China, summer 2005

CCTVTVCC by OMA / Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren began when I arrived in Beijing last summer. It was an auspicious time within CCTVs and Beijing’s history: It was the first time information on the project had been made public in China, although it had been under construction for a year and was under development for more than three. CCTV was known – or shall I say recognized – but not really understood beyond its iconic form of a folded tube in space. The implications of the form, the complexity of the project, the existence of the TVCC building, the project’s collective imperatives, its interior spaces and its potential effects for change were still unknown. At the same time, exhibitions and art institutions in Beijing were and are still developing, and the Beijing Biennale (2004) was the only architectural exhibition yet to be done. Exhibitions hadn’t yet managed to go into the same depth that they both deserve and is necessary, partly because of funding issues, partly because they are too political and restricted, partly because they are produced extremely quickly. The result is that they often lack the criticality and underpinnings necessary to achieve a certain calibre.

The independent gallery space equal to that of the Western non-profit still does not yet exist in China. Museums are owned by the government and therefore subject to the control of the state and galleries are for-profit and privately owned (subject to the forces of the market). While 798 has developed as a sort of alternative – the industrial paradigm is largely an adopted (imported) one that neither maintains the same authenticity, nor is completely divorced from, the market – or mass market production – despite its anti-establishment aesthetic. At 798 profit-making and selling by artists is part and parcel of the enterprise; installations are often mounted by artists-architects themselves, lacking of any sort of curatorial editing (challenging) of content at best, and a sort of masked self promotion at worst.

CCTVTVCC by OMA drew on, and developed this in-depth model. Its overt objective was to contribute to a broad understanding of one of the most important projects of the 21st century. Yet in creating the show we wanted to re-think the notion of the architectural exhibition and propose an alternative paradigm (and chart new territories for the art institution) in China. There was something interesting (appealing) about doing a small, focused show, insofar as everything here and in the west goes in the direction of the (broadly) thematic or (reductively) monographic blockbuster. In trying to be big – in attempting to be comprehensive – things lose precision and fall prey to the consumerism of the market. We proposed a model that values precision and mediated control over generality, in which a big project shown in a small space makes architecture refreshingly accessible, less hermetic. We wanted to create an immersive environment that does not adhere to Modernist means and methods of the white cube.

The exhibition was conceived as a convergence of architecture and the architecture of the exhibition space. It seeks complexity through specificity, and through exacerbation and the effects of too much rather than a pairing down and negation. In going beyond the white wall, isolated objects, and curation as merely their arrangement, the exhibition responds to the architects’ interest in going beyond light, space, and materials.

It was conceived for dual-venues – to begin in Beijing then travel to New York – to reflect the dual nature of the project, one that is neither completely Chinese nor completely international. The different content of each responds to the diverse contexts. In Beijing the aim was not to be anti-establishment per se but rather to choose a venue that reflects and could support the objectives of the exhibition. The CourtYard’s history and its adjacency to the Forbidden City problematized the project in terms of the historical context – juxtaposing new center against old.

In content the Beijing exhibition explored the project’s interior. The gallery’s three levels were dedicated to separating the project’s exteriority – both its external form and urban context of the CBD – from its interiority – what actually happens inside it. Context and form were displayed through a large rendering and 1:100 models on the mid-level restaurant; an immersive environment was created in the gallery below; and look-books chronicling the project’s development were scattered for browsing in the upstairs cigar lounge. The gallery was redesigned as a loop whose interior walls presented TVCC and exterior walls, CCTV. Each wall explored a specific theme – context, organization and program, the collective, and media. Together the two sides created a dialectical opposition between the CCTV and TVCC, between architecture and commentary. The idea was not to reduce the project to these parts but to create a more complex whole through their precision and distillation. It aimed to reveal the project’s potential to effect change – socially, professionally, and technologically – and the way in which the exterior form of CCTV promoted a more integrated, collaborative way of working – one which is as much a part of the project and OMA’s process as it was of the exhibition itself.



Work: Writing