Weird, but not so wonderful, says China as it bans “weird” architecture

Architecture International Media Urbanism
Suzhou Courtesy Wikipedia)

The Gate to the East, also known as the Suzhou “Trousers.” (Wikipedia)

Question: What has three Arcs de Triomphe, an Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian Sphynx, a Louvre, London Bridge and ten White Houses all over? The answer: China, of course. If the Chinese government has its way, that will soon change.

The duplicate architectural icons may end there as the country’s authorities have said no to anymore “oversized, xenocentric, weird” architecture, The New York Times reports. The State Council and the Communist Party’s Central Committee last week stated that there is to essentially be no more copycat architecture, and instead urged new builds to be “suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye.” The directive also stipulated that “the chaotic propagation of grandiose, West-worshipping, weird architecture” should be ended, while gated communities have also been vetoed.

Guidelines arose after meetings discussed issues regarding the alarming rate of urbanization that China is undergoing. Just two years ago, President Xi Jinping expressed his views on China’s architectural scene, again deeming it “weird” saying there was to be “no more weird architecture.” He went on to say that the current climate displayed “a lack of cultural confidence and some city officials’ distorted attitudes about political achievements,” though only now does action appear to be being taken.

Guangzhou Circle (準建築人手札網站 / Flickr)

Guangzhou Circle (準建築人手札網站 / Flickr)

According to a translation by the Wall Street Journal Blog, Yang Baojun, vice director of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design (CAUPA), commented on the directive, saying that “the document is a wake-up call for those places where [there has been] a one-sided pursuit of architectural form over function, where cultural orientation has been compromised by an excessive desire to show off.”

Tiandu Chen (天都城, roughly Sky Capital City) in the far suburban outskirts of Hangzhou bricoleurbanism / Flickr)

Tiandu Chen (天都城, roughly Sky Capital City) in the far suburban outskirts of Hangzhou (bricoleurbanism / Flickr)

The New York Times meanwhile reports that experts have warned of “stricter design standards for public buildings.” It also added that, an online forum for the Communist Party newspaper, People’s Dailypredicted that “in the future it is unlikely that Beijing will have other strangely shaped buildings like the ‘Giant Trousers’ ” referring to the China Central Television Headquarters (CCTV) by OMA.

The CCTV "Trousers" by OMA (Jim Gourley / Flickr)

The CCTV “Trousers” by OMA (Jim Gourley / Flickr)

Feng Guochuan, an architect based in Shenzhen spoke about how the President Xi’s words had already begun to have an impact on decision making regarding new projects. He was also worried that Xi was meddling with matters that should only concern urban planners, and not the President. “Generally speaking, local governments now tend to approve more conservative designs,” he said.

However, Wang Kai, vice president of CAUPA, said these stricture design guidelines would mainly be applied to public schemes, while private projects would still have freedom. “For private housing or commercial projects, there is still space for innovation.”

Mr. Wang also added that “we shouldn’t go overboard in pursuit of appearances,” going on to say how functionality should be the main concern in public buildings.

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