Canton Eyes Guangzhou China – Culture Musings, Architecture Oddities, Urban Design


Heart of the Sea Pagoda

Chigang Pagoda and the new TV tower

On the Metro line 3, between the transfer stations of Zhujiang New Town and Kecun, there is the station called Chigang Pagoda.  Whenever I ride line 3 through this station, only a few people get on or off the packed train. It may be the least used station of the subway system within the city center. The station is named after a very old temple pagoda which is a short walk from the station, through a residential neighborhood. Eventually, the station will be busy with people going to another tower.

Near the old pagoda is the new Television and Sightseeing Tower. It's still under construction and not yet open to the public, but it's already becoming one of the new icons of the city. The reigning city icon, found on everything from city trucks to the Asian games logo, is a statue of 5 rams in Yuexiu Park. If the tower proves popular and successful, and I think it's design is good enough to make it so, then it will probably become the new icon/logo of Guangzhou, in the same way the Eiffel tower is the icon of Paris. It's official name is the Heart of the Sea Pagoda, in Chinese of course! Incredibly, the person who thought of that uninspiring name won 100,000 yuan for winning the naming contest. I just call it the new TV tower.

Like the cutting-edge new CCTV building in Beijing, the Guangzhou tower was designed by a Dutch architecture firm. The main concept is simply 30 gigantic steel tubes which rise straight up to the top while tilting laterally, which makes the structure thin at the middle at wide at the top and bottom. There is secondary bracing structure spiraling in the opposite direction. The effect created is the diamond-shaped openings get smaller and the structure denser towards the middle. At night, when colored LED lights are used to indirectly light the structure at each opening, this effect becomes clear. It's sexy, and a little mysterious, feminine. If Paris has the tower of Mister Eiffel, this one is Ms Guangzhou.

The top of the antenna is 610 meters, making it the second tallest freestanding structure in the world, second only to the new Burg Khalifa in Dubai. The tower looms through the heavy smog as I walk around the city. It has helped me to better understand the verb "to loom", defined as to appear, take shape, or come in sight indistinctly as through a mist, esp. in a large, portentous, or threatening form. The top of the structure is so tall and massive, widening as it gets taller, that it feels as though it is right above you even when you are several kilometers away.

Basically, the tower has two purposes: hold up some digital antennae, and attract tourists. Suspended inside the twisting steel structure there are 5 multi-story "pods." There will be the entertainment program; theaters, restaurants, and so on. The primary purpose of the tower is tourism, but unlike a lot of other construction in Guangzhou, it's not specifically for the Asian Game. Construction started before GZ won the competition for the games.

I had a great opportunity to go to the top of the tower in autumn 2009, soon after the exterior structure was completed. The sequence is like this: you enter into the two-story pedestal building that the tower sits on. You get on the elevator, and it takes you through the core that runs up the middle of the building, and through the 5 "pods". The elevator reaches the top in less than a minute, at what is called the 84th floor. That should be the main observation gallery. From there, you can walk up 2 flights of stairs to the roof, which is 490m above the ground. The top of the structure seems truncated at angle for... well, no apparent reason. But the design of the observation deck is quite clever. It is terraced up following the structure, so from the apex you can look back across the river with no rails or guards blocking your view. Its surprisingly large, and feels like a spacious park up in the air. I've been to the observation deck of quite a few of the worlds tallest buildings, but this one is different. In fact, it's so tall that looking down, you don't actually feel you're on a building, rather the perspective is more like being on an airplane as it flies over a city towards the airport.

From the top, the focus is on the view along the North-South axis. Across the river, the new cigar-shaped IFC West tower, with its stretched out X-bracing visible behind its bluish glass, dominates the skyline. The construction for its twin is just beginning. At its foot is the just-opened opera house by British Architect Zaha Hadid. Beyond is the Tiyu Sports Center. And beyond that is the Citic Plaza, long the tallest, most modern building in Guangzhou and now a dated post-modern has been. And framing the back of the view is Baiyun Hill, a green oasis in this hyperactively urban city. Through the diamond of the structural members you can see old Guangzhou, Chigang Pagoda, forgotten hundreds of meters below.