China’s ‘ugliest’ building: contest highlights the country’s latest bizarre architecture
A violin-shaped church, an “upside down” house and a hotel modeled after a Russian doll are among the entries in a poll to name this year’s “ugliest” Chinese buildings.
The shortlist includes skyscrapers, museums, hotels and sports facilities, bringing together some of the unusual shapes and tactless adornments that have contributed to the country’s reputation for its bizarre architecture.
The G60 Science and Technology Cloud Gallery under construction at Songjiang Science and Technology City, Shanghai, China. Credit: Costfoto / Barcroft Media / Getty Images
The vote remains open until December, when a jury made up of architects, critics and academics will vote. Applications will be assessed on the basis of nine criteria, including whether the building is deemed “inharmonious” with the environment, or whether its design is thought to have been plagiarized. A final selection of the 10 “ugliest” buildings of 2021 will be announced at the end of the year, with public polls accounting for 40% of the final decision, organizers say.
A ring-shaped pedestrian bridge in Kunming is one of 87 shortlisted structures. Credit: TPG / Getty Images
President Xi has long expressed concern about China’s reputation for strange architecture. In 2014, he openly criticized the construction of unusual buildings at a literary symposium in Beijing, state media reported, and his government has since sought to regulate the country’s skylines.
Xiangyang Science and Technology Museum, one of the many museums named in the annual Ugliest Buildings Survey. Credit: Li Fuhua / VCG / Getty Images
Of course, China’s bureaucratic governance means that new regulations can be slow to take effect. According to Fei Chen, a senior architecture professor specializing in urban policy at the University of Liverpool in the UK, the new guidelines provide a general framework for cities, but the finer details must be worked out at the local level.
“Architects and town planners can benefit from fairly specific guidance on what good design is,” she said at the time of the Housing Ministry circular. “But it has to be tied to the local context, so I wouldn’t expect the national government to produce guidelines like this. What works in one context may not work in another.”
There are also, she added, huge variations in architectural standards across the country.
“In cities on the east coast, or in more developed areas, architects have better design skills, so they produce better buildings. But in the cities of the interior, you always see buildings that copy the architectural styles or languages of others, and that design, ”she said.