ROTTERDAM, Netherlands _ One odd building stands out amid the smog of Beijing's skyline, and is sure to attract attention once images from the Olympic Games are beamed around the world next month: the CCTV, the future headquarters of China's state-controlled media company.
Nearly complete, it takes the form of an enormous twisting polygon, with two leaning towers, and looks like it might just topple over at any moment.
It was designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, who until he won architecture's prestigious Pritzker prize in 2000 was known as an influential theorist who often lost contracts because clients found his plans too unconventional or impractical.
The CCTV building is a vivid symbol of his firm's growing business and future in Asia and the oil-rich countries in the Middle East, he said in an interview with a small group of reporters at his offices in Rotterdam last week.
The 63-year-old Dutchman rejected criticism that recent successes by his firm come at a moral price because many of them are awarded by authoritarian regimes.
"We felt that China over time is evolving in a direction that deserves to be supported," he said.
Architecture can contribute to social, economic or political change, but "the influence is not very strong, I'm afraid," he said.
Like much of his work, the design for the CCTV building incorporates elements intended to present challenges and contradictions for the very people who are funding it.
The CCTV building "doesn't have a single kind of monumental identity," Koolhaas said.
"On the contrary, if you walk around the city it has maybe 150 different identities. Sometimes it looks strong, sometimes it looks weak, sometimes it looks beautiful, sometimes it looks weird. And I think that even to insert something like that into a system, which is so unstable and so ambiguous or makes people think _ it's ultimately a good thing."
While Chinese television is state-controlled, the building includes passageways throughout its entire "loop" _ representing the various stages of the news-making process _ that are open to the public.
Asked whether there were any regimes or customers his firm wouldn't work for, he says yes. "I'm not giving examples, but we've recently been saying 'no' quite often."
Since Koolhaas won the Pritzker, often considered architecture's highest award, high profile projects with the Seattle Central Library and Prada have boosted his name recognition in the United States, making him as much of a celebrity as an architect can be.
But the Harvard professor said he is uncomfortable being identified so personally with the buildings designed by his firm OMA, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture.
"This is a firm traditionally where almost anyone who walks in on the first day can make an important contribution," Koolhaas said. "It wasn't hierarchical, and it's still not."
One thing that sets buildings designed by OMA apart is the amount of thought that goes into considering their social context.
For commercial clients like Prada "we try to introduce elements that make them less about greed," such as leaving spaces in them for public performances.
But he denied that this approach is unique to his firm, and added that his love of complex, deep thinking about design hasn't historically been good for business.
Architects "are still paid according to medieval rules," he said. "All of us more or less get a percentage of what a building costs. So if you work very hard, it's very stupid because you basically spend what you earn. So in that sense there's a kind of internal contradiction to all architectural effort."
While OMA has numerous projects in North America and Europe, perhaps its most ambitious plan yet was announced in April, a design for "Waterfront City," a 2 square kilometer (0.8 sq. miles) mini-Manhattan in Dubai.
One of the cornerstones of Waterfront City is a multifunctional building which resembles the "Death Star" from the Star Wars films. At least, it looks like the Death Star in models on the desks of the young architects from around the world who are working on the project.
Paradoxically, OMA was handed the Waterfront City award after losing a contest for a skyscraper elsewhere in the fast-growing country.
Its losing proposal was for a plain, book-shaped rectangular building, which would stand out by its very plainness amid the many fantastical high-rises springing up in the desert.
But the OMA slab had at least one unique feature: it was designed to rotate 180 degrees, following the sun.
Koolhaas doesn't rule out the possibility that it will eventually will be built.
"We are exploring in a kind of very weird time full of unbelievable contradictions, with massive impossibilities and massive possibilities," he said.
Oma offices in Rotterdam are not that impressive, compared to the work that goes on inside.
Rem Koolhaas explains the inner workings of the CCTV building (poor sound).