What Sparked TVCC?

02-19 16:00 Caijing

Experts and architects weigh in on how one of Beijing's most modern buildings took flame so quickly.

By staff reporters Luo Changping, Ouyang Hongliang and Zhu Tao

From Caijing Magazine


The Television Culture Center (TVCC) was one of several pre-Olympic structures that gave form to Beijing’s future ambitions. Designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm, OMA, the TVCC was envisioned as a partner to the landmark tower of China’s central television station (CCTV).


But after the night of February 9, when an accidental fire consumed the building, the TVCC now stands on the city’s skyline looking like the charred hull of a failed space launch.

According to authorities, an illegal fireworks display intended to celebrate the last day of the Chinese Spring Festival ignited the tower and left it smoldering into the morning hours. With the smoke cleared, experts and architects are now asking how one of the city’s most modern buildings went up in flames.


Located in the CCTV complex, the TVCC tower is actually a composite of three structures: a main tower in the center that was to house a five-star restaurant and hotel, and two wings on either side that branch off the tower in sweeping angular forms. A hollow core in the central tower serves as a hub for the three sections. Outside, a matrix of metal and glass decorate the building from top to bottom.


Firefighters suspect that two professional grade fireworks struck the tower’s south side, burning through the thin metal wall and sparking the flammable insulation layer underneath, which then carried the fire over the entire building.


Several architects who helped design the CCTV complex suggested a slightly different possibility. After visiting the site and carefully surveying video and photos of the tower burning, they suspect the fireworks set flame to the tower’s exterior at several points. The flames continued from there to the insulation layer underneath, and then inside the building where interior decorations spread them further.


Heat transfer alone may have set fire to the building, said another architect who took part in the design of the TVCC. The reinforcing bars that cover the TVCC are metal and could have become superheated from the nearby explosions. If they became hot enough, said the architect, they could have kindled the insulation.


Once the fire caught, the hollow core between the fifth and twenty-sixth floors of the TVCC may have accelerated the burn. Moving air in this space would have provided the fire with ample oxygen creating a chimney effect, with pressure from the smoke, fire and hot air building inside this “chimney” until finally it exploded outward, carrying the fire through the whole building in the blink of an eye.


Several tearing explosions did echo over the Beijing’s business district on the night of the fire, according to Caijing reporters who were on site. The Beijing Municipal Fire Bureau also confirmed that the TVCC’s hollow core collapsed in the fire.


Full article in Chinese: http://magazine.caijing.com.cn/templates/inc/chargecontent.jsp?type=1&infoid=78480&ptime=20090215

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