China bans 'weird' architecture; goodbye, penis skyscrapers

GlobalPost
A man takes photos of the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, or 'Moon Hotel,' behind replicas of the rubber duck by Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman on Taihu Lake, in Huzhou, Jiangsu province, on Nov. 6, 2013.
A man takes photos of the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, or 'Moon Hotel,' behind replicas of the rubber duck by Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman on Taihu Lake, in Huzhou, Jiangsu province, on Nov. 6, 2013.
Sean Yong

China has long been an architectural playground where the only design restrictions, it seems, have been the imaginations of the architects themselves.

That creative freedom has resulted in a 10-story building shaped like a teapot, a tower that looks like a giant pair of pants and a museum that resembles a huge potato

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And who could forget the headquarters of the official People's Daily newspaper? During the building's construction phase internet users mercilessly mocked its resemblance to a penis.

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Well, those days are officially over.

China’s top leaders have decided to crack down on what they clearly consider to be architectural atrocities, publishing a new set of urban planning guidelines that forbid the construction of “oversized, xenocentric, weird” buildings.

One such example could be the Guangzhou Circle, which looks like a giant tape reel. 

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Instead, future structures should be “economical, functional, aesthetically pleasing” and “environmentally friendly,” according to reports on the directive issued by the State Council, which is China’s equivalent of a cabinet.  

Chinese cities “will no longer be allowed to grow beyond what their natural resources can support” and construction techniques should “generate less waste and user fewer resources,” the official English-language China Daily said, citing the document. 

No more gated communities will be allowed, either, and those that already exist will be opened to public traffic and pedestrians.

Some architects actually welcomed the new restrictions.

"Architects can be creative with constraints, we've shown that with our work," James Shen, co-founder of People’s Architecture Office in Beijing, told CNN. 

"It's not having enough constraints that creates problems and I think that's what's happened in China. Endless building production has happened with little social responsibility."

The directive follows the Central Urban Work Conference in December.  

Incredibly, that was the first high-level meeting to discuss the challenges of China’s rapidly urbanizing population since 1978, when less than one-fifth of the population lived in towns or cities, China Daily said. 

Now more than 56 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people are urban dwellers, which has resulted in sprawling suburbs, increased pollution and traffic congestion.

This explosive growth, combined with loose urban planning rules and ambitious local officials wanting to leave their mark on the cityscape, has led to many odd and sometimes strangely familiar-looking constructions popping up across the country, such as replicas of the White House, Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. 

Putting a stop to all this "weird architecture," as President Xi Jinping described it back in 2014, won't be easy. That's probably why Beijing is also threatening "harsher punishments" for anyone caught violating the guidelines. 

As for the strange buildings already filling China's skylines, they appear to be staying put for now, acting as a reminder of an architectural period when anything was possible.