By Karla Helvie
China is enjoying a position as a popular news and conversation item. Whether people are discussing the outsourced jobs, the importance of studying Mandarin, or the Olympics, China is on everyone’s mind.
As the U.S. and Europe are experiencing economic downturns, Asia, and particularly China, is still booming. One way this is evident is through the amount of mergers and acquisitions that are taking place in Asia compared to the rest of the world. While the world’s volume of M&A was down 30% the first six months of 2008, Asia’s rose by 5%. China has so far announced 133 overseas M&A attempts this year, compared to 164 for all of 2007. These deals are worth $42 billion, a number equivalent to all takeovers by Chinese companies from 2000-2006.
On top of the economic news, one is also inundated with information about the summer Olympics: which heads of state will attend the opening ceremony, whether or not the Chinese promise of no rain for that ceremony will hold true, whether the traffic and emission restrictions in and around Beijing will cut down on pollution for the month that the Olympics and Paralympics take place.
One reflection of China’s soaring economic growth and the Olympics being hosted by Beijing is the plethora of new buildings in China. As China is reaching out in the world, its cities are growing and expanding. This can be particularly seen in Beijing as the city readies itself for the Olympics. A new airport terminal has been created to serve a newly mobile society and is expected to receive 50 million passengers a year by 2020. A new National Theater has been constructed on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, a road lined with many Socialist landmarks and on which very few buildings have been constructed in the past 30 years. A new, very unique, building for CCTV, the state television authority, has also been built. Along with these three cultural buildings, a new Olympic Stadium and National Aquatics Center have been built.
One common theme that links these buildings is the discussion of public space in the city: should everyone be allowed to walk in the park that surrounds the Olympic Stadium (as the Western architect desires), or should a fence be built around it (as the state government desires)? The CCTV building, designed by another Western architect, is built with public space in mind: cafes and galleries are placed throughout the building. But, should the public roads that currently run through the CCTV site be shut down or remain? The line between the public and private sphere is often blurry, especially in China, and one goal of the architects of the new buildings is to help break that line and create buildings that can be part of a new society.