The days of China as a staging ground for progressive, even experimental, architecture may be numbered. High-profile projects by Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, et al, while the delight of design aficionados around the world, haven’t impressed Chinese President Xi Jinping—at least in a positive way.
At a symposium on the arts held in Beijing at the end of last year, he made statements to the effect that “weird” buildings—an adjective that has not yet been codified—would not be welcome in the future.
Government intrusion into architectural aesthetics is not, of course, without ugly precedent. Joseph Stalin—who was called “the father and friend of all Soviet architects” at the All-Union Congress in 1946—essentially conscripted architects to work for the state, forcing them to close their practices to deliver structures like the Seven Sisters, fortress-like buildings topped with Gothic-ish towers. (Un-fun fact: The project manager for these buildings was a KGB honcho, and the construction crews were composed of POWs and political prisoners.)
Mies van der Rohe, in an act of cunning integrity, convinced the Third Reich of the importance of keeping the Bauhaus open, only to close the school himself in a statement of artistic principle. We wonder who among the contemporary architectural community might take such a stand—should the need arise—with regard to China.