‘Responsible’ architecture on the rise in China following ban on ‘weird’ buildings

Jan 14, 2015 by

Architects working in China have reported a shift towards more responsible development following president Xi Jinping’s outburst against ‘weird’ buildings

According to David Buffonge, director at Hong Kong-based Lead, the Chinese government has made a ‘conscious effort’ to encourage more responsible architecture in recent months.

The move comes after the Chinese premier called for the end to ‘weird architecture’ during a Beijing arts symposium in October. China’s building boom has seen a flurry of unusual structures – such as OMA’s CCTV in Beijing – transform skylines in its major cities.

Buffonge said: ‘Throughout 2014 we saw China begin to implement anti-extravagance measures within its own government and with a broader view to encouraging its population to think and act more responsibly.’

Architects are being encouraged to be more responsible

He continued: ‘There appears to be a direct correlation between this anti-extravagance campaign and the emerging attitudes towards new architecture in China. Of particular note is a recent ban on newly built government office buildings in one of its provinces.’

Although no formal change in policy has been announced, Buffonge said ‘architects are being encouraged to be more responsible, contextual and perhaps a little more modest in their design approach.’

The company – which was set up by raft of former senior Benoy directors last year – has yet to see the campaign impact any schemes under construction or in their later stages of design.

Buffonge however added: ‘We are aware of projects currently being designed within the cities we work, some of which have been re-called by the local government for further design consideration.’

The Guangzhou Circle building by Italian architect Joseph di Pasquale

The Guangzhou Circle building by Italian architect Joseph di Pasquale

Patrik Li, trade advisor at the China Britain Business council, agreed with the general criticism that ‘many buildings, especially government buildings, have been designed without any regards to practicality, as pure status symbols.’

Examples include the CCTV building which Li argued was located too far from the client’s existing buildings and forced thousands of workers to relocate to a more expensive part of town.

However the exact meaning of Xi’s declaration remains open to interpretation – according to the trade advisor.

He said: ‘Sadly there will always be people in China taking the words of a leader as gospel and will follow suit. However, I don’t believe that there is a need for foreign architects to change the way they approach design in China because of Xi’s remarks.’

He continued: ‘If I had to interpret the meaning of his words, I would say he basically urges architects to design for people and not to create empty symbols of power.

‘It doesn’t mean that architects have to stop being creative, but that they should not lose sight of the purpose of buildings because they feel they have to proof that anything is possible. Nobody really wants to work inside a golden coin or hamster wheel.’

China's National Centre for Performance Arts in Beijing by French architect Paul Andreu. Image by Hui Lan

Source: Image by Hui Lan

China’s National Centre for Performance Arts in Beijing by French architect Paul Andreu. Image by Hui Lan

Stefan Kummeck, principal director at TFP Farrells, welcomed Xi’s remarks as ‘understandable’ and claimed too often Chinese building’s functional aspects had been ‘sacrificed to uphold an arbitrary monumentality.’

Paul Andreu’s Beijing opera house is a prime example according to Kummeck who argued the internal performance stages had been ‘compromised’ to maintain the building’s iconic egg-shaped exterior.

He said: ‘Architectural landmarks play an important role in developing urban identity and creating successful and cherished destinations. However, these civic icons must pay equal attention to functional demands and urban context.’

Kummeck added: ‘But the country is also one of the most exciting architectural testing grounds of our time, and it would be a shame to inhibit innovation and creativity in light of this.’


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