The Blob Has Landed
"National theatre or national joke?" That's what Beijing residents were asking following the construction launch of China's most extravagant public-works project since the Great Wall. The design of Beijing's National Grand Theater has been likened to both "an alien egg" and "a giant turd."

Whatever the perspective, French architect Paul Andreu will raise eyebrows with his titanium-accented glass dome surrounded by an artificial lake, targeted for completion in 2003. To soothe political sensibilities, the building will be partially underground so as not to eclipse the nearby Great Hall of the People; visitors will enter via underwater stairs.

Andreu is known primarily for his airport design: Terminals 1 and 2 at Charles de Gaulle in Paris; the new Shanghai-Pudong airport. After a rare public exhibition in which popular opinions were solicited, his provocative plan was chosen from among those of 44 contestants. But even before construction started last spring, the project was embroiled in controversy.

Some officials saw the design (and the architect) as too modern, too foreign. Then there was the cost, an estimated $350 million to $450 million. At the last minute, the groundbreaking was canceled - but construction went ahead nonetheless. Days later, the state-run media ran bizarre reports headlined theatre building not yet started. (Pundits say the real reason for the backtracking was a politburo power struggle over kickbacks.) In June, 114 Chinese architects petitioned the government to abandon Andreu's plan.

Not exactly an auspicious start for a building intended to anchor Beijing's bid for the Olympics in 2008. "But look at the Sydney Opera House," Andreu says. "During the construction, there was constant controversy. It's now considered a world icon." -Ron Gluckman

Think Snow, Ski Green
Okay, so the terms eco-friendly and giant ski resorts don't often come up in the same breath. But recently 160 North American ski areas, including the 20 largest, signed a pledge to find more ways to conserve energy and water and to protect their surroundings from developmental sprawl.

The "Sustainable Slopes" charter results from a collaboration between the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) and such eco-groups as the Vermont-based Conservation Law Foundation, which in the past has brought litigation against the industry over environmental issues. The principles are simply guidelines, not legal requirements, though the ski areas will have to submit annual progress reports.

To naysayers who've called the charter a "greenwash" that doesn't go far enough, NSAA director Geraldine Hughes answers, "If there's anything to be criticized, it shouldn't be a voluntary environmental initiative." We second that. - Elizabeth Garnsey

Heads Up: You've Been Ad
And now a message that really does hit you over the head: thanks to a wily new concept, air travelers may eventually find ads plastered on overhead luggage bins. According to Marck de Lautour, marketing director of Advent Advertising, the "Airads" will complement "the stylish, elegant interior design of today's aircraft." (Jeez, what airline is he flying?) Advent claims the ads will also help remind you where you stashed your bags. With interest already voiced by new-media companies, these messages may soon be as unavoidable as milk ads on bananas. - Robert Maniaci