Wed, Dec 24, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Beijing set to limit ‘weird architecture’

ART-POCALYPSE?After Chinese President Xi Jinping castigated building trends, architects and officials wrestle to turn his edict into workable policy

NY Times News Service, BEIJING

Laborers work on the scaffoldings at a construction site in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China, on Monday. Local commissions and government officials across the nation are scrambling to conform after Chinese President Xi Jinping in October spoke out against “weird architecture” in the capital and elsewhere.

Photo: Reuters

It is the newest dreamscape in a capital clotted with them. When it opens in about two years on the east side of Beijing, Chaoyang Park Plaza, a ring of glass towers molded to look like mountains in a classical Chinese landscape painting and designed by the renowned architect Ma Yansong (馬岩松), is to feature apartments, offices and shops.

However, in an unusual online ad campaign that began in late October, the project’s developer is saying that the complex “could be Beijing’s last abnormally shaped landmark building to enter the market in the coming 10 years.”

Recently, a saleswoman eagerly said that Beijing’s government might not permit “this type of artsy shape” any longer.

While the caution might turn out to be just sales hype, it was also a clear attempt to capitalize on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) recent call for an end to “weird architecture.”

Ever since he issued his admonishment at a high-profile symposium on the arts on Oct. 15, government officials, planners and builders across China have been scrambling to figure out what it means for them.

No official elaboration has emerged on what Xi might have meant by “weird.” However, a report on a social media platform carried by the People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) newspaper, predicted that “in the future, it is unlikely that Beijing will have other strangely shaped buildings like the ‘Giant Trousers’” — a colloquial reference to the China Central Television headquarters, a hulking, long-limbed edifice designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren.

There are other examples. As government-driven uniformity gave way to a tangle of political and market forces over the past three decades, avant-garde foreign and overseas-trained Chinese architects have burst on the scene, making booming Chinese megacities staging points, critics have said, for radical visions that could not be built elsewhere.

Scandals over cost, corruption and safety have hounded the construction of imposing new marvels in Beijing, including the television headquarters, the National Center for the Performing Arts — also known as the Giant Egg — and the National Stadium, built for the 2008 Olympics and nicknamed the Bird’s Nest.

ARTISTS’ OUTLOOK

Xi’s rebuke has reverberated among China’s architects and planners.

In interviews, central and local government planners said they had been asked by their superiors to apply stricter design guidelines on project approvals. Criteria in some local competitions for public commissions have been revised.

Designers and developers said it had reignited debate over the financial and aesthetic excesses of urban design in China. Many wondered whether it would dampen creativity more than it would curb freakish designs.

“[CCP] General-Secretary Xi’s speech is of great significance to our industry,” China Academy of Urban Planning and Design vice president Wang Kai (王凱) said.

Since Xi’s statement, Wang and other urban planners with state institutions, under the direction of China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, have been exploring ways to translate his prescription into tangible measures.

“We have been in meetings practically every day,” Wang said.

Official statements vary as to what form these measures might take and when. However, some suggest that the government will take overt steps to classify and pre-empt “weird” buildings.

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