A radical, looping structure, the headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV) stands as an antidote to the typical skyscraper. With its dramatic overhang suspended 36 stories in the air and a diagonally braced, continuous-tube frame expressing the forces of its structural system on its facade, it has become a Beijing landmark even before its completion.
Although the client is a subministry of the Chinese government and accordingly reports the official positions of the Communist Party, it broadcasts mostly a mix of comedies, dramas, and soaps. Yes, it listens to Chairman Hu Jintao; but it also must appeal to an upwardly mobile public. CCTV’s leaders see the new building as one way of grabbing their viewers’ attention.
Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) won a design competition for the project in 2002, working with Arup for a range of engineering services and in alliance with the East China Architectural Design & Research Institute (ECADI), which became the local design institute for both architecture and engineering. At that time in Beijing, there was “a vision that everything here would disappear and be replaced by a forest of skyscrapers to become the city’s new CBD,” says Ole Scheeren, OMA’s partner in charge of the project and head of the firm’s Beijing office. OMA had watched over the years as skyscrapers had devolved from their original role as catalysts of urban development to just commercial tools for maximizing profits. In the process, clients and architects had become increasingly desperate to call attention to their projects. As Scheeren puts it, the “race for height” had become pointless, as one building taller than the last was announced before the preceding one was complete. He noticed a “visual deafness” to such buildings, which look the same from all directions. OMA wanted to reengage city space in a way that would “proclaim” the building’s inner workings. It proposed a loop of interconnected activities where the “linear principle of hierarchy is dissolved in a circuit of equal parts without beginning or end, without top or bottom,” explains Scheeren.
As designed, the CCTV headquarters combines offices, space for news gathering and program development, studios for production, and facilities for broadcasting—in a continuous loop that runs through the project. The idea is to break down organizational silos and spark creativity and collaboration. The project includes a landscaped media park adjacent to the tower and a second building, called the Television Cultural Center (TVCC), which has public facilities, such as a hotel, a theater, restaurants, a ballroom, and conference rooms. A third building—circular in plan and just a few stories high—houses mechanical, electrical, and energy services for both high-rises.
Rising 768 feet, the 5.1-million-square-foot main CCTV building comprises a pair of towers sloping 6 degrees on both X and Y axes, a 9-story base connecting the two towers, and a 13-story “overhang” that connects them starting at the 36th floor. Scheeren calls the overhang an “urban plateau” that lifts space off the ground but also makes it accessible to the public. The base and towers will define a public plaza that will sit above four levels below grade. Although most of the building will be reserved for CCTV employees, the public will have access to a circuit offering glimpses of the company’s activities—from broadcasting and production to welcoming actors and celebrities. This public loop will include an observation area in the overhang with views across Beijing and even straight down onto the plaza through three circular “windows” in the floor.