China’s Ban On Weird Architecture May Mean No More Big Pants Or Giant Lotuses

China’s Ban On Weird Architecture May Mean No More Big Pants Or Giant Lotuses
Beijing's CCTV Headquarters, aka "Big Pants," under construction in 2008. Photo Credit: Jakob Montrasio @Flickr CC BY 2.0

By Cara Giaimo

For the past couple of decades, fans of kooky architecture have kept an eye on China, where an economic boom has caused major cities like Shanghai and Beijing to sprout enormous, strangely shaped structures.

But this era may be coming to an end. This past Sunday, two months after a high-level urban planning meeting, the central government released a directive decreeing that new buildings be “suitable, economic, green, and pleasing to the eye," rather than “oversized, xenocentric, [and] weird," the South China Morning Post reports.

There are strange buildings all over the world, but China’s penchant for offbeat shapes and supersizing has made its various skylines more and more worthy of double takes. It has also opened the country to a certain amount of ridicule: various Chinese copies of foreign landmarks have inspired international side-eye, and the bulbous top of the former People’s Daily building garnered enough comparisons to a particular part of the male anatomy that the government eventually started censoring them.

Guangzhou Circle, aka "The Big Coin," home to the Guangdong Plastic Exchange. Photo Credit: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia  @Flickr CC BY 2.0

Guangzhou Circle, aka “The Big Coin," home to the Guangdong Plastic Exchange. Photo Credit: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia
@Flickr CC BY 2.0

This official oddness embargo follows President Xi Jinping’s plea, in October 2014, that the country rethink its architectural style. Art, he said, should “inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste, and clean up undesirable work styles," and should “be like sunshine from the blue sky and the breeze in spring," the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

President Jinping went on to call out Beijing’s CCTV Headquarters, which has been nicknamed “Big Pants," as an example of something that does not fit this criteria.

Some living in the shadows of these structural chimeras will likely welcome this news. After the President’s entreaty, architecture database Architizer surveyed Chinese citizens about their feelings on the bizarre buildings. “There has been a trend in which cities try to build weird buildings in order to attract attention, and this has wasted taxpayers’ money," said interior designer Maggie Wang.

Business owner Ice Tang added, “there are way too many new buildings with nobody living in them," while editor and translator Luo Ye pointed out that many of these buildings—such as 2012’s sleek and bulbous Galaxy SOHO Complex, by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, which drew local ire when it won a major architecture award—are designed by foreign “starchitects," without thought for the cultural and environmental context in which they will appear.

The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, finished in 2007. Photo Credit: Vera & Jean-Christophe @Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, finished in 2007. Photo Credit: Vera & Jean-Christophe @Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Others, though, consider the weird buildings creative, unique, and diverse, and may mourn the end of a weird era. “People look at their phones too much," business owner Quianru “Martino" Chen told Architizer. “It’s time to build more eye-catching architecture… to get people involved in the real world."

Still others shared President Jinping’s opinions, but disagreed with his method of expressing them. “The big penis, the big coin, the big underpants, the big vagina, etc… They’re all inarguably weird and ugly," writer and director Goodspeed Kwuich told Architizer—but, he said, “the government is in no place to tell people what is weird and what is not."

With this new mandate in place, the question of what, exactly, is too crazy to pass muster remains open. Liu Shilin, head of Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Institute of Urban Science, told SCMP he predicted this announcement would be followed up by a “set of criteria to define ‘weird’ architecture." Until then, we’ll have to judge for ourselves.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original text was published on Atlas Obscura here.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Eric Tsai


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