A violin-shaped church, an “upside down” house and a hotel modeled on a Russian doll are among the entries in a poll to name this year’s “ugliest” Chinese buildings.
The shortlist spans skyscrapers, museums, hotels and sports facilities, bringing together some of the unusual shapes and tactless ornamentation that have contributed to the country’s reputation for bizarre architecture.
The G60 Science and Technology Cloud Gallery under construction in Songjiang Science and Technology City, Shanghai, China. Credit: Costfoto/Barcroft Media/Getty Images
Voting remains open until December, at which point a judging panel comprised of architects, critics and academics will weigh in. Entries will be evaluated based on nine criteria, including whether the building is deemed “inharmonious” with the surroundings, or if its design is thought to have been plagiarized. A final selection of 2021’s 10 “ugliest” buildings will be announced at the end of the year, with public polling accounting for 40% of the final decision, according to organizers.
A ring-shaped pedestrian bridge in Kunming is among the 87 shortlisted structures. Credit: TPG/Getty Images
President Xi has long voiced his concern about China’s reputation for odd architecture. In 2014, he openly criticized the construction of unusual buildings at a Beijing literary symposium, according to state media reports, and his government has since sought to regulate the country’s skylines.
The Xiangyang Science and Technology Museum, one of several museums named in the annual Ugliest Building Survey. Credit: Li Fuhua/VCG/Getty Images
Of course, China’s bureaucratic governance means new regulations can be slow to take effect. According to Fei Chen, a senior architecture professor specializing in urban policy at the UK’s Liverpool University, new guidelines provide a broad framework for cities, but finer details must be resolved at a local level.
“Architects and urban designers may benefit from quite specific guidance on what good design is,” she said at the time of the housing ministry circular. “But this needs to be related to the local context, so I wouldn’t expect the national government to produce guidance like this. What works in one context may not work in another.”
There is also, she added, huge variation in architectural standards around the country.
“In east-coast cities, or more developed areas, architects have better design skills, so they produce better buildings. But in inland cities you still see buildings that copy others’ styles or architectural languages, and that doesn’t result in very good design,” she said.