Brendan McGetrick
Recent works and current obsessions

What was lost

On February 9 2009 TVCC, a complex of media facilities connected to a hotel designed by the architects Rem Koolhaas/OMA, caught fire during a Chinese New Year fireworks display. The flames destroyed the interior of the building and took the life of a local fireman. The following article was written on the day after.

What was lost

For those intimate with its creation, it is impossible to think of the blackened shell of TVCC as a ruined object. To do so would demean the building and deny all that contributed to its creation. Like all buildings but more than most, this thing – frequently referred to as a “luxury hotel” – is a chimera, a composite comprised of the labor, hope, pride, and sacrifice of people from around the world. It is the physical manifestation of countless tiny considerations, thrills, instructions, regrets, risks, experiments – over the light on a staircase, the feel of a door handle, color at sundown, acoustics and wallpaper and emergency exits in a case of disaster.

At its most most ambitious, architecture demands a commitment to drudgery and gratification-delay that borders on the religious. TVCC’s realization required its makers to worry about it as a parent would a child, to lose sleep, to care about its health more than their own. At its best architecture is an act of love. Its pursuit exhilarates and invites pain. It is addictive; even after years of practice this sensation remains the architect’s source of inspiration, a pleasure that nourishes him but that a lifetime of accommodation and disappointment has taught him to fear.

To neglect relationships and abandon plans, to mistrust the intentions of others, to become selfish in the service of another. To spend months obsessively monitoring details… And then to hand it all over to strangers who assume a burden of their own, who with minimal experience are expected to construct one of the world’s most challenging buildings for the sake of their country.

CCTV/TVCC is, like the National Stadium and Beijing’s other so-called foreign buildings, ultimately a monument to the resilience and inventiveness of the Chinese builder – a heroic figure in a dusty jump suit and cracked plastic dress shoes, a tin cup and a helmet on which he sits as he shovels pork, rice, and spinach into his hungry mouth. In the fire he lost something greater than past effort and future income; he lost (for the moment at least) his legacy, a work that extended beyond his solitary experience and delivered distinction to his family.

Behind what remains of TVCC’s studios, cinemas, theater, and hotel are thousands of individuals from various places and professions who combined in a collective effort to expand the possible, an effort which extracted large chunks of life, erased in a matter of minutes.

Originally published in Domus 923 (March 2009)