During the 2008 Olympics, international audiences oohed and aahed over Beijing's stunning new structures: the world-renowned Bird's Nest national stadium, the surreal China Central TV headquarters designed by Rem Koolhaas and the futuristic National Center for the Performing Arts. But now the city's architectural icons are plagued with problems.
Seven months after the Olympics, visitors to the Bird's Nest are paying $7 to stare at a big, empty bowl. Tourist visits plummeted from 80,000 per day in October to 15,000 in December. The $450 million stadium costs $15 million annually to maintain, but the only major event announced for 2009 is an Aug. 8 performance of "Turandot," directed by Zhang Yimou, the man behind the Games' opening ceremonies. With dreams of wringing $30 million per year from the stadium, its managers now plan to convert part of it into a shopping mall.
Then there's the $731 million CCTV headquarters complex, which had been due to open in May until a recent fire destroyed a 44-story building slated to house a luxury hotel. The blaze—ignited by an illegal fireworks display organized by CCTV's construction chief, who neglected to apply for a permit—spared Koolhaas's two-legged tower, which Beijingers call the "giant underpants." But the debacle tarnished CCTV's image. China's blogosphere trashed it as "arrogant CCTV" and as a party propaganda tool. "How many evil things has CCTV done in past decades?" wrote Beijing blogger Han Han.
Controversy has also dogged the titanium-skinned National Center for the Performing Arts, designed by French architect Paul Andreu. Dubbed the "Duck's Egg," it opened in December 2007 but hasn't attracted the world-class performances that some aficionados had anticipated. Ever since Andreu won the bid in 1999, critics have doubted the wisdom of the center's 250-foot underwater tunnel entrance, especially given that Beijing is located in an earthquake zone. Concerns grew after an Andreu designed terminal at Paris-Charles De Gaulle Airport collapsed in 2004, killing four. The center's management declined to put a price tag on its upkeep, saying only that it "costs a huge amount." It also cost more than $400 million to build, earning it a mention in Beijing's menagerie of white elephants.