The New Great Walls

National Geographic has a feature on the new architectural innovations being built in Beijing in preparation for the Olympics:

Wang and his crew are part of an army of largely unskilled workers, more than a million strong, that has helped turn Beijing into what is perhaps the largest construction zone in history, with thousands of new projects under way. Once a flat cityscape dominated by the imperial Forbidden City and monumental but drab public buildings, Beijing has been struck by skyscraper fever. Over the past 30 years, China’s economy has averaged nearly 10 percent annual GDP growth, driven by the marriage of world-class technology with a vast low-cost workforce. That same dynamic has turned China into an architects’ playground, first in Shanghai in the 1990s as its skyline filled in with high-rise marvels, and now in Beijing, which is building at a mad pace in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in August.

Beijing’s newest buildings push aesthetic and technological bounds, each outshimmering the last. Most major projects have been designed by foreign architects: Chinese clients crave innovation and hunt beyond China to get it, says American architect Brad Perkins, founder of Perkins Eastman in New York. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, architects were more technicians than artists (even the term architect was considered bourgeois), and private architectural firms were a rarity until a decade ago. “By turning to foreigners like me,” says Perkins, “the Chinese are buying 30 to 40 years of experience they didn’t have.”

The article includes a slideshow.

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