Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity

Fake Complexity - CCTV Headquarters

Engineering firm ARUP provided the complexity for this project.

From time to time I happen upon an attempt to "do" complexity that completely misses the point. In this first installment of many "Fake Complexity" topics, the culprit is Rem Koolhaas and his CCTV Headquarters for Beijing.

The choice of Rem Koolhaas is not random. Koolhaas is the only starchitect who understands anything about complexity, making this building that much more tragic. And the sad part is that the CCTV does have some complexity in it - the structural frame of the building is so complex that it had to be generated by computer software, explaining the weird, random shape of the mesh holding it up. The error is that this emergent structure is put to work holding up a horribly corrupt design, and the random pattern of the structure exists to match the similarly random physical stresses the design imposes. The global shape of the building itself is just an aesthetic decision by the architects, it is not the result of a complex process. Complexity only factors in after the architects have done their work. Form here does not follow process.

The fact that the building's form is not emergent is also the reason why the people of Beijing do not take it seriously as a building. It has already been nicknamed "Big Shorts" by locals, because that's the form the architects decided for it.

And a comment in passing about the architectural criticism linked above.

You might think that, like a good deal of Koolhaas’s work, the building is as much showmanship as architecture, but it evinces a quiet, monumental grandeur. Some of that is due to the color of the glass, which is a soft gray, almost perfectly echoing the overcast Beijing sky.

What the hell are these people on? Is overcast the new grandeur?

Bonus Fake Complexity Update - Tour Signal by Jean Nouvel

Jean Nouvel was recently announced as the winner of the contest for a second iconic tower in Paris La Défense, which has absolutely nothing to do with him being awarded the Pritzker Prize a few weeks ago. Here is Jean Nouvel's idea of complexity: a wallpaper of the Mandelbrot Set on the gargantuan atriums of his building. This is an even faker kind of complexity than Koolhaas used, as in that case there was a legitimate emergent process used in the structure of the building. What Jean Nouvel is doing is taking a 2D printout of a complexity-generating computer program and slapping it on the walls of his building. This being kitsch projected to every corner of Paris, it becomes a crime. Thankfully, given the current conditions of global real estate markets, it will meet the same fate as Jean Nouvel's doomed 90's project for La Défense, the Tour Sans Fins, and this is why it doesn't deserve its own Fake Complexity update.

UPDATE: The Tour Signal has been confirmed as cancelled.

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