For decades British architects have raked in hundreds of millions of pounds from China’s obsession with weird and wonderful new buildings.
Their fortunes could run dry, however, after the latest diktat by the country’s Communist party. In a demand straight from President Xi all bizarre architecture has been banned, with immediate effect.
The vague ruling has baffled architects around the world. It calls for an immediate halt to “the chaotic propagation of grandiose, West-worshipping and weird architecture”.
The move comes as China’s leaders grow increasingly anxious about public reaction to some of the wildest and most exorbitant schemes. They are also trying to rein in the super-rich as part of the president’s anti-corruption drive.
Among the flights of fancy to be banned from drawing boards will be the kind of mock western replica buildings that ring Shanghai, which include entire English and Austrian towns, ten White Houses, three Arcs de Triomphe and an Eiffel Tower.
Also expected to be banned are the extravagant structures that have been cropping up all over the country, many of which have made a fortune for British designers such as Lord Foster of Thames Bank, Dame Zaha Hadid and Will Alsop . Wang Yi, an architecture professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said: “We have too many buildings designed by Zaha Hadid.”
Government figures show that British architects earned £177 million from work in Asia in 2013, with most of that coming from the world’s second largest economy. Mr Alsop, who has an office in Chongqing, asked The Times: “What is weird architecture and who decides? Surely it would have been better to have just banned bad architecture?” Among Mr Alsop’s designs are a four-storey restaurant and two bars suspended in brightly coloured pods within a complex in Shanghai.
With cut-price construction costs and few planning constraints, China has become a vast playground for the world’s architects, who have often indulged in flights of fancy that they would never normally be permitted.
One of the most widely hated examples of weird architecture is the China Central Television headquarters in Beijing. Lampooned as the big underpants, the headquarters of the state broadcaster was designed by Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect.
The architecture sector in China is worth £42 billion a year, and Beijing is engaged in a campaign to make China’s smog-bound cities more efficient and green. The new guidelines call for buildings to be economic, green, pleasing to the eye and better reflect China’s traditions. Gated mock-European communities for wealthy Chinese are also becoming a magnet for crime.
“Our community is a closed one but burglaries are still frequent,” Wu Xian, a lawyer from east Beijing, said. “It’s unimaginable what the situation will be if it is opened up.” However, he conceded: “If the government really wants to do something, it will happen eventually.”
Wuliangye Yibin building, Sichuan The producers of China’s most potent white spirit, baijiu, built their HQ in the shape of a giant bottle.
Meitan tea museum, Guizhou A 74m tall teapot in the “hometown of Chinese green tea”.
Sheraton Hotel, Huzhou Designed by MAD architects, this 27-storey Slinky spring dips into the Changxing-Huzhou-Shanghai channel.
Hallstatt, Guangdong This replica of an entire mountain town in Austria cost £675 million.