Chinese President Xi Jinping hopes to put a stop to “weird” architecture in Beijing.
Xi reportedly made the comments during a two-hour speech at a recent literary symposium, claiming that art (in this case, architecture) should serve people and be morally inspiring. He specifically targeted OMA’s CCTV Headquarters as an example.
Completed in 2012, the building was Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’ alternative to the “exhausted typology of the skyscraper.” The loop design sees twin towers rising 234 and 194 metres and culminating in a 75-metre cantilever. According to Koolhaas’ firm, OMA, rather than compete for height through a traditional tall building design, they opted for a three dimensional experience. It is a vivid part of Beijing’s skyline, visible from most corners of the city.
The skyscraper secured two awards from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat last year: Best Tall Building Asia & Australasia and Best Tall Building Worldwide.
Upon completion, however, the ambitious design quickly garnered the nickname “Big Underpants” and has been compared unflatteringly by some to trousers.
Another new building, which serves as headquarters for the Chinese newspaper The People’s Daily, has been repeatedly been compared to male genitalia when seen from one angle. Last year, China’s censors got word of the the comparison and visitors who searched for “People’s Daily building” on Chinese microblogging website Weibo were told “According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results cannot be displayed.”
Zaha Hadid Architects’ (ZHA) 2012 project, The Galaxy Soho, sees five continuous flowing volumes fused together by bridges and platforms. The curved and fluid architecture is also fused with courtyard houses, a mix of the old and new.
“With architecture like this, there will always be people who think it doesn’t fit in,” Satoshi Ohashi, associate and director of the Beijing studio at ZHA told SOHO China, the developer behind the project. “It is very contemporary. But there is a difference between conservation and renovation.”
ZHA recently opened another project with the developer, Wangjing SOHO. That project features three asymmetrical towers, the tallest of which reaches 200 metres in height. According to the developers, a bird’s eye view of the site resembles three graceful fish whose fluid lines gently nestle into the cityscape. In 2011, however, ZHA described the buildings as a trio of Chinese fans that “appear to move around each other in an intricate dance.”
During the speech in which he decried “weird” architecture, Xi opined that some architects are forsaking good taste for commercial gain.
“Fine art works should be like sunshine from the blue sky and the breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles,” he said. “Chinese art will further develop only when we make foreign things serve China, and bring Chinese and Western arts together via thorough understanding.”
He believes art – and architecture – should “disseminate contemporary Chinese values, embody traditional Chinese culture and reflect Chinese people’s aesthetic pursuit.”
There are currently two projects in China that aim to achieve those goals while still standing out.
Italian architect Joseph di Pasquale completed Guangzhou Circle last year. It stands as the world’s tallest circular skyscraper, rising 138 metres on the waterfront of the city’s Pearl River.
The building was designed to represent a Chinese coin, though it has regularly been referred to as a donut due to a 48-metre wide hole through its centre.
According to di Pasquale, the building design corresponds to the number 8 and infinity symbol, both of which are extremely significant in Chinese culture.
di Pasquale worked to dovetail unique design with tradition.
“The traditional race for the tallest building in the world will end sooner or later directed by the limits of the materials strength and mostly because of financial reasons,” he said. “Then the competition will be moved from the height to the iconic value.”
MAD Architects, a firm renowned for pushing architectural boundaries, has also added a unique building to China’s skyline. MAD founder and lead architect Ma Yansong designed an “urban forest” for the city of Beijing which broke ground earlier this year.
The project will see two curvaceous skyscrapers respect the history of Beijing wile transforming features of Chinese classical landscapes such as “lakes, springs, forests, creeks, valley and stones into modern city landscapes,” according to MAD.
So while Xi might be annoyed with the “strange” built environment of Beijing, it appears unique architecture that pushes boundaries is here to stay in the city.