Beijing building engulfed by flames
Andy Wong/AP

Towering Inferno Consumes Prominent New Beijing Building

February 09, 2009 02:01 AM
by Rachel Balik
Amid the last of the Chinese New Year celebrations, a raging fire engulfed a newly constructed Beijing skyscraper; fireworks are likely the cause.

Beijing Building Burns

A striking, state-of-the-art luxury hotel complex slated to open soon in the center of Beijing’s business district was destroyed by fire on the last day of the city’s Chinese New Year celebration. The building also housed a secondary tower that was to be used for a new television broadcasting center. Although the cause is not yet known, the probable culprit is fireworks, reports The Wall Street Journal, as revelers have been setting them off all over the city as part of the celebration.

The building, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhas, was commissioned as part of an initiative preparing the city for the 2008 Olympics. Flames were first seen at 9:30 p.m. local time, The New York Times says, and the building was entirely engulfed within 20 minutes. The 241-room luxury hotel had not yet opened, but the building was considered a masterpiece of modern architecture.

The Times notes that the destruction of the building is likely to be an embarrassment for the Communist party, which initiated a great building boom prior to the Olympics. The future hotel was right next to the CCTV television tower and cultural center, but neither of those buildings suffered damage.

Background: The CCTV Culture Center

The CCTV, or the television culture center, was a project fronted by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. The CCTV building was a stunning structure intended for use by both visitors and professionals, and was completed in 2008, although the hotel meant to inhabit the building was not yet opened. In addition to accommodations, the complex included a theater, a ballroom, recording studios, digital cinemas, and special exhibitions. On the OMA Web site, models and pictures of the complex and tower can be viewed.

Related Topics: Notable fires and explosions

Although fireworks are most likely the cause of the fire, which destroyed the building from the ground up, China is no stranger to odd fires and explosions.

In December 2008, a man died during a fire precipitated by an explosion. The cause was assumed to be lightning, until his corpse exploded upon cremation. An investigation revealed that the man’s ashes contained a bit of metal used in the Chinese government’s practice of cloud seeding.

Cloud seeding is a method of sending chemicals into the atmosphere to control weather by suppressing rain. The seeds are intended to explode in the sky, but one unexploded seed had come down in a rainstorm and struck the man, causing his death. It then exploded again from the heat of the crematorium.

America has also fallen victim to exploding shells, sometimes with greater consequences than just one man’s death. In 1918, the T.A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant, one of the largest supplies for munitions to soldiers on the frontline during World War I, exploded when TNT was being poured into empty shells. The New Jersey plant and the surrounding area burned for two days.

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