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.
A Hotel Made of Gods
There's not much information about the Tianzi Garden Hotel available in English, but the hotel, which is constructed of three Chinese gods, can turn heads in any language. Located in a Beijing suburb, it features the gods of prosperity, fortune and longevity.
A Mountaintop on Top of a Skyscraper
This mountaintop villa perched atop a huge apartment building can no longer be seen in Beijing, but it's worth taking a moment of silence for. The villa, which was built without permission by a rich doctor, was torn down after authorities cracked down on its illegally majestic crags and trees—all of which were built on top of an existing building.
The USS Enterprise
Speaking of rich, architecturally inclined tycoons: A Chinese executive spent nearly $100 billion to finance the construction of this USS Enterprise-themed building in Changle. As the Wall Street Journal's Yang Jie reports, the company contacted CBS, which produces Star Trek, to secure the rights. The fun doesn't stop once you enter the bridge. Inside the building, which is used as a game development company's headquarters, is a full-sized replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
A Surreal Ring
Look beneath the mesmerizing neon lights and you'll see a hotel that stuns with its horseshoe-like shape, suggesting a ring well beneath its aquatic setting. It's the Sheraton Huzhou, and if you imagine it continues on underwater, you're shore right. The structure doesn't stop once it touches the Taihu Lake—rather, it continues on with two underground floors to complete its oval.
A Futuristic Egg
A Piano and a Violin
A Gigantic Drum
A Deconstructed Flower
This strangely shredded flower doesn't just look cool—it's made entirely of glass. You can find it on the facade of the Liuili China Museum in Shanghai, a museum that features more than 250 pieces of glass art in a structure that can compete with any of the pieces within for "most amazing piece of glasswork."