Thursday, August 7, 2008

The National Stadium in Beijing - more than meets the eye, I think. Based on this review I'm not so sure.

Architecture reviews should not be allowed on the sports page.

It's taken me three days to decipher the review by Nicolai Ouroussoff of the new National Stadium, affectionately known as "The Bird's Nest", in Beijing. I'm still not sure if "an intoxicating beauty that lingers in the imagination" is anything more than a flowery placeholder, but I'll do my best to break down the extraordinary use of language employed by Mr. Ouroussoff.

Here we go:

Given the astounding expectations piled upon the National Stadium, I’m surprised it hasn’t collapsed under the strain.

It's a structural engineering metaphor! Hooray!

Its elliptical latticework shell, which has earned it the nickname the Bird’s Nest, has an intoxicating beauty that lingers in the imagination. Its allure is only likely to deepen once the enormous crowds disperse and the Olympic Games fade into memory.

Really? He had to go with "intoxicating beauty"? This might be the most gag-inducing 2 word phrase in the English language. And equally stupid. "Don't let me drive home, man, this road is too beautiful." Dumb. You can do better than that, Nicolai.

Herzog and de Meuron (the architects) have carved out psychological space for the individual, and rethought the relationship between the solitary human and the crowd, the everyday and the heroic.

That's a little better. Now I can attack language. What is psychological space? Is it:
  • a. something a stupid person has a lot of
  • b. a bogus selling point for NYC real estate brokers, as in "sure it's a little tight, but there's plenty of psychological space."
  • c. a placeholder phrase for architecture reviewers at a loss for descriptive phrases that actually mean something
Viewed from a distance, the contrast between its bent steel columns and its bulging elliptical form gives the stadium a surreal, moody appearance, as if it were straining to contain the forces that are pushing and pulling it this way and that. Philosophically, it suggests the tensions just beneath the surface of a society in constant turmoil.
...From close up, the tilting beams suggest rather a dark and enchanted forest in a fairy tale.

So if I stand far away, I feel a sense of societal turmoil. But if I get closer, I'm suddenly Little Red Riding Hood?

The crisscrossing columns create a Piranesian world of dark corners and odd leftover spaces
Make up your mind? How can the crisscrossing columns mean all of those things? And what the hell does Piranesian mean?

Piranesian - relating to Italian architect Giovanni Piranesi, whose sketches led to the etchings of Rome and its ruins contributed to the revival of neoclassicism.

Well that clears things up. Especially for most readers of the Sports section. I mean, what sports fan doesn't know the name Giovanni Piranesi? He's like the Tiger Woods of Italian Neoclassicism for goodness sake. Come on.

Clearly, Mr. Ouroussoff is in touch with his audience.

The feverish play of light and shadows is reminiscent of the set for a German Expressionist film.

Oh yeah. I mean, how can you not look at the National Stadium in Beijing and immediately think of Paul Leni's 1923 classic Das Wachsfigurenkabinett or Emil Jannings in his his signature role as the demoted hotel doorman in Der Letzte Mann? The association is obvious to most sports fans. It has to be.

By creating a hierarchy of intimate spaces, Herzog and de Meuron allow for unexpected moments of privacy and solitude.

Well, Mr. Ouroussoff, you've done about everything you can to be as pretentious as possible. All that's missing is the word "zeitgeist".

Herzog and de Meuron’s achievement is undeniable. Rather than offering us a reflection of China’s contemporary zeitgeist, they set out to create a sphere of resistance, and to gently redirect society’s course.

Ah, There you go.

The National Stadium reaffirms architecture’s civilizing role in a nation that, despite its outward confidence, is struggling to forge a new identity out of a maelstrom of inner conflict.

Translation -- it's a pretty cool stadium. Check it out.