The Office of Metropolitan Architecture, Rotterdam, and multidisciplinary engineer Arup, designers of the $733-million Television Cultural Center in Beijing, are declining to comment on the damage to the primarily concrete-framed building as a result of a dramatic Feb. 9 blaze that engulfed all 31 stories and killed one firefighter. But a city official says the basic structure is intact and most of the damage from the five-and-a-half-hour fire is affected only the exterior surface of the walls.

Photo: AP/Wideworld
Observers speculate titanium-zinc alloy may have fueled fire on outside of tower.

The fire at the 159-meter-tall TVCC tower, a hotel with a 100-m-tall central atrium, raises a host of questions about the life-safety systems in one of China’s most sophisticated buildings. Initial reports suggest fire sprinklers for the building, constructed by Beijing Urban Construction Group Co. Ltd., did not work.

Though mostly concrete, TVCC has steel “stability” trusses that link tower halves and a steel space frame at the top. Sources in Beijing’s construction industry said the 116,000-sq-m high-rise, which houses a five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel, a theater and recording studios, was coated with a skin of titanium-zinc alloy. Once lit by fireworks from a holiday display, the coating provided extra fuel to the fire while raising its temperature to extremely high levels, sources say. If true, this could explain why fire spread across the building, moving both up and down.

London-based Arup said in a statement: “Until the full facts emerge, we can’t speculate on the causes of the fire or the extent of damage.”

City fire officials say the fire was caused by firecrackers launched from the 234-m-tall China Central Television tower 200 meters away. The city blames the state-run CCTV for setting off fireworks, apparently to shoot a show on the Lantern Festival celebrations. The state broadcaster has accepted responsibility and apologized.

“Owners of the property ignored policemen’s warnings that such fireworks were not allowed,” Beijing Fire Control Bureau’s Luo Yuan was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. Those who set off the fireworks were detained for questioning, he said.