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New generation of Chinese architects demonstrates winning potential in Notre-Dame design competition

By David Lee | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-08-09 15:42

The Louvre Pyramid caused great controversy. [AFP FILE PHOTOS]

Since the 1980s, the Louvre Glass Pyramid by legendary Chinese American architect I.M. Pei has been a central physical landmark in the French capital. Now, three decades later, two young Chinese architects in their mid-20s are offering an innovative design to rebuild the damaged roof and spire of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The design has won the top prize out of more than 200 entries in the unofficial global Notre-Dame design competition hosted by GoArchitect, an independent publisher.

The two young architects behind the design, Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li, are both Cornell graduates and currently working with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), a well-known American architectural, urban planning, and engineering firm.

Cai and Li submitted their competition entry as a team of two individuals, not representing the company where they work.

Titled Paris Heartbeat, the winning design includes a mirrored roof and spire to reflect and interact with city surroundings.

Inside the spire, a magnetic levitating installation is designed to float up and down to evoke the beating heart of the city.

A marvelously intricate kaleidoscope covers the ceiling, both bearing memory of the historical decoration and offering a futuristic feeling.

Still, the winning design of the may not end up to be the final restoration plan for the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The French Senate recently passed a bill demanding the cathedral be rebuilt exactly like before the devastating fire in April.

However, immediately following the fire, French President Macron had called for an international competition of architects to decide the future of the historic building.

Whatever the outcome, the winning design by Cai and Li sends out yet another strong message to the creative world, announcing the arrival of a new generation of Chinese creative minds on the global stage.

Looking back at mankind's history over the past 100 years, the creative talent pool of the Chinese diaspora is leaving its mark in the world, as represented by the late I.M. Pei, who inspired industry professionals and global populations alike with such masterpieces as the Louvre Pyramid and the Museum of Islamic Art.

I.M. Pei represents the first generation of Chinese talents, who rose against great odds in difficult years for the Chinese nation.

Now, following 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has and continues to cultivate an ever-growing talent pool. More importantly, young Chinese now have much lower barriers for them to enter the highly competitive creative world of arcchitecture.

As China is becoming a key base for cultivating next-generation creative talents, more Chinese young people are getting exposure to and exchanging with global experts. It is also worth noting that Chinese young talents get to benefit hugely from the country's solid STEM education in primary and middle school.

While the design win provides a clear indication to the individual creative strengths of Chinese talents, what China currently lacks is the right mix of necessary components to help Chinese institutions soar.

Human talents, smart business operations and adequate financing - all these must combine to build credible architecture brand names.

Thanks to a booming economy and the massive urbanization drive, modern edifices are rising across Chinese cities.

According to Wu Chen, the China Zun architect who returned from the UK to lead the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design (BIAD), Chinese cities must not become an experimental field for foreign architects.

Let's hope young Chinese talents will rise to fully unleash their potential and meet the demands of rising Chinese cities, while enjoying institutional backing to compete against international big names.

The author is a Beijing-based consultant working on international development issues, covering public health, clean energy and poverty reduction.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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