Thursday24 August 2017

Zaha Hadid's RIBA award angers Chinese heritage group

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Culture centre calls decision “shocking”

A Chinese heritage group has written to the RIBA blasting the decision to give Zaha Hadid’s Galaxy Soho office and retail scheme in Beijing a RIBA award.

In the letter, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre said it was “shocked” the project, which has also been nominated for the RIBA Lubetkin Prize, had been recognised with a RIBA international award this year.

“The Galaxy Soho project has violated a number of heritage preservation laws and regulations,” the letter said. “It has caused great damage to the preservation of the old Beijing streetscape, the original urban plan, the traditional Hutong and courtyard houses.”

It said the scheme was a “typical unfortunate example on the destruction of Beijing old town” and complained that by giving it an award the RIBA was “encouraging” developers to carry on with the “destruction of cultural heritage sites”.

It added: “Many of us in Beijing are very disappointed and offended. We strongly believe this award by your institution will encourage developers and authorities to continue to commit the wrongs they have done and will increase the difficulties of cultural heritage preservation in China.”

A spokesman for the centre told BD: “There are a lot of architects ignoring Chinese cultural heritage when they design.”

A RIBA spokesman said it had received the letter and would be replying to the group to formally acknowledge it but declined to comment further.

Announcing the three-strong shortlist for the Lubetkin Prize last month, RIBA president Angela Brady called Galaxy Soho “impressive” and said: “These [three] cutting-edge schemes show the leading role architects play in delivering visionary new thinking about urban issues.”

The Galaxy Soho scheme is characterised by four towers clad in flowing bands of white aluminium and glass and was completed last October. It is Hadid’s first shopping centre scheme.

The architect declined to comment but a spokesman said it would pass the letter on to its client, Soho China.

Prince’s Foundation special adviser Hank Dittmar said the letter had raised a number of important issues. “Politicians and developers [are] seeking to position their metropolis or their project in the global economy by hiring a famous architect who has attracted attention to another city. The result is a succession of cities becoming architectural trophy rooms with every city collecting its own Hadid, Nouvel, Eisenmann or Rogers.”

And he added: “Addressing the lowest common denominator effect by reflecting what was destroyed in the abstract, either formally as in Galaxy Soho’s courtyards, or through interpretation, is merely writing an obituary, not keeping the culture alive.”



Readers' comments (26)

  • james francis

    Good on the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre for making a stand for what they believe in and not allowing themselves to be blinded by fashon and form lead design. The RIBA must also consider that local views count, in fact they must be seen as the most important!

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  • James, may I therefore conclude that you believe UK-based architects should bow to English Heritage on all matters too?

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  • Anyone got any figures on the % occupancy for this project yet? In every video I've seen of it online thus far it looks troubling vacant. More shadow banking?

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  • I do regret the passing of Hutong courtyards, but looking on Baidu (Chinese Google map equivalent) that area has already been extensively redeveloped with large scale tower buildings.
    I find it difficult to pick out just one building as being bad, or indeed the best building in this case.

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  • No, Gil, that is not what James is saying.

    I interpret his opinion to be that UK-based architects should show some degree of consideration to the cultural environment of a country before dive-bombing it with excrescences devoid of any context whatsoever. And RIBA should show similar savvy when deciding whether to promote same with an award.

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  • I suppose it comes down to whether or not you think by giving this building an award you are saying that the local governments plan/approach to the area is also sound/good...

    In my opinion the RIBA should give a little bit more thought to the awards it runs or how they are presented - by apparently celebrating the great design of just the building it is encouraging the local government/developers to focus on building these 'iconic' pieces of architecture and not nescessrily creating great places to live/work.

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  • Looks like another useful addition to the China Ghost Cities tour:


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  • Perhaps the RIBA should assess future awards against
    Principle 3: Relationships
    Members shall respect the relevant rights and interests of others.
    This scheme might fail that test.

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  • james francis

    Gil, I think English Heritage do a great job in carrying out their remit but that hasn't stopped me going against their advice in the past when there was very good reason to do so. Charles is right in seeing that I was trying to make a point about considering local opinions and sensitivities, further I am a believer that people should use their voices to express their opinions as it is only thorough continual debate, questioning and review that continual improvement can be made. I was not even offering an opinion on the work just the fact that it is good to see opinions expressed that ask real questions.

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  • Hank Dittmar is right that Cities often see these developments as trophies but their novelty is relatively short-lived. Some of the more ambitious projects one day become much loved structures in a City. More recent examples might include the Eiffel Tower, Guggenheim Museum, not to mention Cathedrals, Temples, Palaces throughout history, developed to deliver religious and political messages. So whether Zaha is your thing or not, she has talent and given a brief and suitable site can deliver something extraordinary. Give it 100 years and if it is still standing people might say so that was what they did in the 21st century.
    and across Europe designed to impress the

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