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These Are 10 of China’s Strangest Buildings

Chinese officials want to ditch the country’s bizarre architecture

Beijing's CCTV Tower has been compared to a pair of glorious pants. (Imaginechina/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

China doesn't exactly do anything half way. Whether it’s building gigantic golden Chairman Mao sculptures or creating huge traffic jams, the world’s most populous country likes to do it up big. And that sense of scale is reflected in its architecture, too: Over the years, it’s gained a reputation for its strange, over-the-top buildings that would put one’s most futuristic of fantasies to shame. But now, that golden age of weird architecture could be coming to an end.

As Cao Li writes for the New York Times, China’s central government recently called for the end of “oversized, xenocentric, weird” architecture that is “devoid of cultural tradition.” Instead, builders are being asked to comply with design standards that favor function over form and focus on green building methods.

It’s not the first time the government has tried to crack own on its weird buildings. In 2014, president Xi Jinping gave a two-hour speech lambasting Beijing buildings like the CCTV headquarters, a skyscraper with a loop structure that has been compared to pants, boxer shorts, and a representation of a graphic sexual act. Weird watchers interpreted the speech as everything from an attempt to reduce corruption to a way to curb tourism.

But the attempt to nip bizarre buildings in the bud could also be seen as a reaction to growing cultural shifts in China. The Nation’s Michael Sorkin sees official worries about idiosyncratic buildings as a manifestation of anxieties about China’s participation on the world stage. By embracing outlandish architecture, Chinese citizens are laying claim to their own aesthetics—aesthetics that are literally set in stone and that express both national pride and a willingness to build and live in futuristic, international cities.

Public opinion on the buildings seems to be mixed—this roundup of the opinions of 15 Chinese citizens contains everything from calls for tradition to questions about what “weird” really means. But don’t look for Chinese cities to stop pushing the architectural boundaries of taste, imagination and scale just yet. As CityLab’s Linda Poon notes, “architecture has always been a way for China to flaunt its wealth and power.” That impulse may well be stronger than any appeal for aesthetic moderation.

Will you mourn the death of crazy architecture in China? Don’t ever forget these strange structures:

A Giant Lotus

What better addition to an artificial lake than a building that resembles an artificial lotus? Wujin's lotus building houses municipal government offices. Can't figure out how to get inside? No worries: Visitors enter the futuristic floral structure from a subterranean complex located beneath the lake.

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