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China bans ‘weird’ and ‘ugly’ buildings to appease Xi Jinping

It’s good to be emperor. Chinese leader Xi Jinping says he can’t stand the “weird buildings” around the country. So Beijing’s banned them from soothing his eyes. Chairman Xi Jinping said he couldn’t stand the “weird buildings” around China. So Beijing’s banned them from helping his eyes. The National Development and Reform Commission has again proclaimed “the construction of ugly architecture must be strictly banned”. Chinese buildings must be “suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye”, it has declared.

However, it doesn’t define “ugly”. Nor did it describe “pleasing”.

Its only guidance is that no skyscraper should be more than 500m tall. And no copies of Western cultural icons. Mr. Xi first expressed his displeasure with trends in Chinese architecture in 2014. He announced his desire to end “oversized and weird” buildings – such as the cubist CCTV headquarters in Beijing – while addressing the launch of a culture symposium.

Since then, his tastes have begun working through the Communist Party system.

Many buildings – many of the headquarters for government institutions – have drawn down his ire. The Beijing People’s Daily news service headquarters was attacked for resembling a giant penis, as does the Guangxi Center of New Media in Nanning, Guangxi. Several bridges looked like “female genitalia”.


More mundane examples of “weird architecture” include a doughnut-inspired skyscraper in Guangzhou and a cluster of buildings shaped like pebbles.

And then there’s the un-Chinese desire to transplant pieces of Europe throughout the country.

“Fine artworks should be like sunshine from the blue sky and the breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles,” Mr. Xi proclaimed.

‘Duplitecture’ denounced.

This isn’t the first time Beijing has sought to regulate national architecture.

Last year, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a decree ordering the “plagiarism” of buildings “strictly prohibited”. It referred to large-scale constructions across China that sought to replicate iconic foreign architecture, European Renaissance towns, or American neoclassical halls of governance. A replica of the Eiffel Tower soars over semi-Parisian surroundings in Tianducheng.

An Austrian village graces Guangdong. Hogwarts Castle can be found in Hebei. And Sydney’s Opera House once stood in Liaoning – until it was ordered dismantled. Everywhere, pockets of Europe have been reproduced as real estate marketing attractions – selling lifestyles, aspirations, and individuality. John Darlington, the author of Fake Heritage, argues in his 2020 book that this isn’t only about replicating foreign tourist attractions. “It is easy to be critical of such initiatives,” he writes, “but the original aspiration was, and remains, to improve urban living.

“The copycat towns are an attempt to learn from other places, recognizing that the standard Chinese model for new towns has led to endless grid towns, each orientated north-south, characterized by tower-block regularity, dreary functionality, congestion, pollution, and a lack of soul.”

But Chairman Xi has had enough.

He wants to make China great again.

“To embody the spirit of the city, to show the style of the times, and to highlight Chinese characteristics, we at this moment notify the relevant matters as follows,” his new architecture policy decrees. “Architectural designs must conform to urban design requirements in terms of shape, color, volume, height and space environment,” it orders. And regional Party officials must “comprehensively carry out urban physical examinations, and promptly remediate various ‘urban diseases’ including strange buildings”.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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