In class so far, we’ve been discussing various aspects of our new unit: Aesthetics. All of us are now picking a piece of art and examining various aspects through an aesthetic lens.
After thinking about works of art worth blogging about, I finally settled on the Beijing National Stadium. This iconic building has been considered by the NY Times as “Intoxicating” in its beauty. Our question, however, is simply why?This is why Aesthetics has been intriguing for millennia and continues to be so today.
Just so we all know what I’m talking about, the Beijing National Stadium, or perhaps better known as the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, was completed in 2008 for that year’s Olympics in Beijing. The architectural design of the structure is the creation of Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. The duo’s design submission was the winner of hundreds that had been systematically eliminated. Historically, nations have occasionally built facilities to host the Olympic Games, and often the design reflects the host nation itself. From Berlin’s ring of stone columns signifying the fascist regime of the time, to the transparent roofs of the Munich in 1972 signalling the growth of Western style society in Germany. Now it was China’s turn. The Beijing Olympics was an honour to China and thus was an occasion for the nation to show national pride as well as present itself as a generous and grand host. The nature of the space around the stadium was made to portray whatever was in the centre. The hill upon which the Beijing Stadium would be built would act as a pedestal to display another jewel in the architectural world. Construction on the project started in 2003 and suffered several setbacks but was ultimately completed in time for the opening ceremony.
Now that we understand the context, history, and authors behind the Bird’s nest, we can start to aptly examine its aesthetic value. Seeing as it has been one of the most memorable structures of the last decade there must be certain aspects that universally draw the mind’s wonder and respect. This evaluation based on predetermined principles is, in the world of aesthetics called the Normative approach. If Plato were to comment on this piece of structural art, he would most definitely comment on the representation of nature in the building. Shaped like a bird’s nest the stadium does have a connection to nature but not in the way that Plato would consider proper. Although inspired by the nest, the Stadium was never intended to represent realistically the bird’s nest. It is a stadium after all. Another normative appraisal of this structure is the sheer size and architectural skill that went into creating the global landmark. The stadium seats an impressive 80,000 people, down from 90,000 during the Olympic Games. On another technical note, architects and artists alike would appreciate the construction of the supporting pillars around the stadium. Not clearly visible, the supports are blended with “Random Beams of Steel”, with each weighing a hefty 1000 tons. As a result, the supports are indistinguishable from the steel camouflage. The effective organization of formal art elements and principles, as Clive Bell would say, certainly accounts for part of the Stadium’s aesthetic value.This skill in construction clearly deserves a Normative thumbs up from the aesthetics camp.
Now if we were consider the other side of the aesthetics camp, we would need to delve into the realm of descriptive aesthetic evaluation. In other words, what is it that makes the Bird’s Nest something more than a respectably organized heap of twisted steel? Well as philosophers in the descriptive camp such as Tolstoy, Dewey, and Croce, would say, it is the experience and ideas that one receives from the piece that makes it aesthetically pleasing. When we look at the Bird’s Nest, we can see symbols and things to be learnt and experienced. Looking at the monument it represents the growth and development of an old empire prospering in the modern world and thus is regarded with pride by many citizens of China. Also, we can see the cosmopolitan trend of our global society in the Swedish design, a trend that would have been unacceptable centuries prior. Finally, the Beijing National Stadium also continues and honors the tradition and spirit of the Olympic Games an age old event now held around the world. From the descriptive camp, the meaning behind the Bird’s Nest is what holds its Aesthetic Value.
Personally, I agree with the descriptive camp. For me I find I enjoy art the most when I can appreciate and gain insight into it. When I saw the Stadium for myself the camouflaged supports and interweaved steel did not impress me as much as what I found going through my head. Make of this landmark what you will, but it can be surely said that the Bird’s Nest is an Aesthetic gold mine.