Zhang Li (COURTESY PHOTO)
In the field of architecture, Zhang Li is undoubtedly one of the authorities. He is dean of the School of Architecture and vice principal of the Architecture Design and Research Institute at Tsinghua University, and designer in chief of several competition venues for the upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
In the past 10-plus years, Zhang has participated in the design of China's world-type facilities like the Roof Garden of the China Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and the reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai Province, among other undertakings. Furthermore, he is curator of the Chinese Pavilion at the 2020 Venice Biennale. "In our experience, this event-type public facility is actually motivating a process of urban renewal. It should not be created just for the event itself, but should wield its driving influence on the long term," Zhang told Beijing Review.
Games like the Olympics are for "super sportspeople." If these constructions are to serve the city long after the original event has concluded, they must be adapted to daily use and at the same time be used by non-athletes. "Therefore, there is a process of turning the supernormal into the standard normal, serving regular people," Zhang said.
The people's design
Zhang looks more toward Beijing 2022 venues' post-Olympic usage and focuses on their overall sustainability. The Beijing zone, the metropolitan area that will feature ice sports, primarily homes in on the reuse of existing structures and the integration of the new venues with the city's durable renovation and urban revitalization projects.
Each city comes with its own unique history and culture. With the continuous development and renewal of the times, a city's appearance also displays the wide-ranging wealth it has accumulated over time, and historical sites are a crucial product thereof. Beijing's Shougang Industrial Zone was a large manufacturing site between 1919 and 2010.
As the world's first permanent venue for big air, a freestyle snowboarding event, the Shougang Ski Jumping Park is also the first venue in Winter Olympic history that is directly intertwined with the reclaiming of industrial heritage. The sculpted design was inspired by the matching of the venue's profile curve with the floating ribbons of the flying apsaras seen in the frescoes in the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, that date back more than 1,600 years. Its steel structure also holds the possibility of changing its racing profile for future competitions.
Zhang's other creation, the S-curved National Ski Jumping Center located in the Zhangjiakou competition zone in Hebei Province, is nicknamed Snow Ruyi thanks to its shape resembling that of a ruyi, a traditional Chinese scepter symbolizing good luck. Zhang is proud of his team's design. "In terms of making the most use of any given terrain, Snow Ruyi provides a good example," he said.
The mountainous Zhangjiakou zone, a popular ski destination some 180 km from Beijing, mainly emphasizes the creation and integration of the outdoor environment by creating large infrastructure and an internationally renowned destination for outdoor winter activities.
The zone's peak features a 4,000-square-meter multifunctional platform overlooking the mountain range, as well as the option for indoor activities, such as performances and meetings, to take place here.
The Shougang Ski Jumping Park, which features a steep snow ramp, will be the venue for big air skiing and snowboarding events at the Beijing 2022 Games (WEI YAO)
Norman Foster, the British architect and winner of the Pritzker Architecture Award, describes sustainable design as an approach "doing the most with the least means" and "following the logic of less is more." Foster says "responsible sustainable design is not simply about individual buildings; it should be implemented at all scales—from product design to the design of cities."
Chinese concepts are more unique. "In our philosophical system, we will never pursue a certain extreme of dualism. We will look for something more eclectic, a spirit of compromise, which is quite different from the Western notion," Zhang said.
For Zhang, a good building can reshape the boundaries of human civilization because the inheritance of civilization is ingrained in our tangible heritage, traditions and cultures.
"If you go by the dualist approach, you are sure that the so-called 'less is more' tactic translates into 'building as little as you can'," he said. "But this would actually mean that you concreted a permanent track across a mountain slope, consequently blocking ecological movement or animal migration on both sides of the mountain," he clarified.
Take Snow Ruyi as an example. The pedestrian bridge in the center is completely elevated above the ground level. To some extent, this intensifies the overall amount of work, but the surface runoff together with its ecological nutrients, and even animal movement, can all continue uninterruptedly.
"Our vision is to achieve sustainability for the future. As part of our green initiative, the Beijing 2022 Games have placed top priority on ecological preservation, conserving resources and environmental friendliness, specified in the sustainability plan for the games," he added.
For Zhang, sharing experiences and communicating with other societies matter a lot both in building a venue and uncovering the most sustainable ways of doing so. "We have gained considerable expertise in infrastructure construction. Whereas I'm not sure if this can make some sense to other countries, we would still like to share our experiences in a bid to learn more and exchange ideas," Zhang said.
On that note of enhanced exchange, China has brought in overseas experts to contribute their know-how during the preparations for Beijing 2022, just as it did for the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. More than 30 experts from Russia, Finland and other countries currently work across 10 departments of the organizing committee.
When Zhang was a visiting scholar at Harvard, he met with Professor Joan Busquets, the master planner for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. "When he took me around his city, he was talking about how he had transformed Barcelona in its run-up to the Olympics. At the same time, he taught me how to read the urban space."
That kind of humanistic, warm and beautiful underlying tone is in line with Zhang's view on architecture, that is, to reach the people. "He allowed me to gradually understand how the architecture and the city are connected as a whole, how the urban space affects the life of all those residing in it, and how we can interpret the history of a city to bring it into the future," he concluded.
(Printed edition title: Where Architecture and City Become One)
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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