“Beijing’s truly bad buildings”

The blog calls this monstrosity “Speed Bumps.”
speed bumbs.jpg

Beijing has a lot going for it, but architectural splendor isn’t one of them. With some dramatic exceptions, much of the city is visually drab and uninspired. As any recent vistor to the city knows, it’s alive with cranes and construction everywhere, fueled along by a strong economy and the approach of the 2008 Olympics. But how do the new buldings stack up architecturally? Are they making Beijing more beautiful?

There’s a very creative blog that takes a look at this question and shows some wonderful examples of Beijing’s ugliest new buildings, each with an imaginatively nickname. Be sure to check it out (and also the funny article in The NY Times that pointed me there).

From the blog:

Architectural decisions impact our identities: they have a deep and profound impact on our quality of life, ultimately affecting our emotional and psychological well-being. This is why architecture should not be a whim and should not lack roots.

Welcome to Beijing: a world of random chaos, a fitting and fascinating laboratory for contemporary architecture. In this ancient capital today, home to a glorious built heritage, the most interesting things are being built. Here, in this space, we expose it. We mourn the loss of a great tradition of elegance and craftsmanship. We sometimes come across designs that are thoughtful and exciting. We explore, not deplore, but in our explorations thus far, we often come to conclusions that are uncomfortable and humorous. While our exercise is playful, it ultimately aims to observe this particular place, which produces a contemporary architecture that impulsively pulsates with so much bombast, flamboyance and bravado.

From the Times:

A few pieces of this new architecture stand out for their aggressive awfulness. To pay tribute to those buildings, a group of young Americans in Beijing are launching a Web site, www.chinesetriad.org/bab.

“There’s been so much interest in high-design architecture in China lately, but it almost seems like a joke because there’s this endless amount of bad stuff going up,” said Jeremy Wingfield, who conceived the site with his brother Connor and two friends, Dan Elsea and Dan Shupp.

The Web site will allow residents to post pictures and commentary, will feature those new buildings that have what Mr. Wingfield called “a grandiose quality, a fantastical or monumental kind of aspiration that makes them worth recording.”

Among the buildings that fascinate him most, he said, were those that aimed to recreate masterworks of Western architecture. The mimicry, though, never looks quite right; the architects seem twice removed from their sources, like a designer who decides to study Venetian architecture by spending a weekend at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

“They’re like copies of copies,” Mr. Wingfield said. “Kitsch derived from kitsch.”

Just like when they try to copy Western Web sites and product labels — they look like parodies. It’s all part of the peculiarly charming allure of what Simon Winchester refers to as “the delicious strangeness of China.”

The Discussion: 26 Comments

Maybe its just me and my “underveloped” non-bourgeois pretentions, but I don’t see whats so bad about the buildings listed on the blog. I am quite partial to the bread loaf and big bad blue designs. They look neat.

September 19, 2004 @ 4:53 pm | Comment

That, in fact, was one of my chief impressions of Beijing when I was there for a week: Awful Architecture. Not the old stuff, which was generally remarkable, but the sheer dreariness of the drag concrete blocks, and the “infliction-of-grievous-mental-injury” buildings like that bread loaf, speed bumps, et cetera. And the colors, man, the colors!

September 19, 2004 @ 7:31 pm | Comment

Jing, to each his own.

September 19, 2004 @ 8:57 pm | Comment

Richard:

George Bush Is Watching you – I couldn’t get in there!!!

But I just have to say: you’re my man, my hero!!! MMM…wahhh!

Never mind Rosignol or Conrad, honey-chile…their mental processes got stuck south of the waistline, on the other side.

I luv this one on Beijing, too!!

September 19, 2004 @ 10:15 pm | Comment

many of the world’s best architects are here in china. i have no doubt in chinese design whatsoever. the real problem here is the “leaders”, that is, nuveau riche (sp?), or baofahu. they have the final say in all projects, whimsically change any aspect of the design as they see fit etc. their “cultural level” is extremely low, generally have little or no knowledge of history and culture. the crime against humanity here in nanjing is the confucious temple district, an eyesore upon completion, and an insult to the chinese people that have to inhabit it.

September 19, 2004 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

Mr. Tao, I tend to agree with you, though I am not so knowledgeable about who’s pulling the strings when it comes to Beijing’s architecture. The Chinese people have always been among the world’s very greatest artists, designers and innovators. Could part of the problem be their insistence, for whatever reason, on imitating the Western model while turning their backs on the splendor of traditional Chinese art and architecture? (And I realize I may be a bit simplistic here.)

September 19, 2004 @ 10:46 pm | Comment

I’m with Jing, some of those buildings weren’t so bad at all. What was so terrible about “Big Bad Blue” for instance? These absolutely pale in comparison with some of the massive-scale monstrosities here in Shanghai. Unfortunately I can’t post photos in a blog comment…

One of China’s signature styles (they come and go with astonishing rapidity) is the fusion of neo-classicism with George Jetson-esque futurism to produce something very remniscent of Star Trek’s Romulan culture (who, for the uninitiated, appeared to be Romans transplanted into the far distant future). Some of these are kinda cool, others simply … disturbing.

Fortunately, here in Shanghai, the most recent trends have produced some very handsome buildings. For instance, there has lately been a burst of art deco-revival – very appropriate for Shanghi, now the world’s leading treasure trove of surviving deco architecture. This has resulted in some very impressive structures, for example Pudong’s PuFa Tower. Some of the latest neo-classical designs are also much more restrained the earlier efforts. One gets the feeling that local architects’ creative instincts are maturing (at least here in Shanghai).

However, the “kookiness” factor, for better or worse, is still very present. Down the street there is a post-modern apartment tower clad partially in what is supposed to look like natural stone, as if the building incorporated part of a rocky spire. Awesomely bizarre – but very Chinese.

Western architecture buffs may grumble about aesthetics, but we can never complain about boredom!

September 19, 2004 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

Some of the buildings shown on the site aren’t that bad, but some are pretty awful. Definitely in a class by themselves.

September 19, 2004 @ 11:15 pm | Comment

Interesting website. I would wait, though, to pass judgment on “Speed Bumps” until it is finished.

Good architecture depends on paying attention to the details. Some buildings I can see have a good concept behind them, but it is lost with improper use of materials or maintenance. Every building of the past 50 years in China is actually half the age of what it looks like due to bad materials and maintenance.

Architects should also insist on having some control over the interior design of a building’s public spaces. There are too man sleek, modern buildings that clash with the gaudy fake Louis XIV furniture and gold chandeliers that the owner decided to put in.

As far as colors in architecture, maybe we westerners can learn to be more adventurous in that way. On a trip to the US, I asked a Chinese colleague what she thought of the architecture, and she said thr buildings are all black and grey.

September 20, 2004 @ 12:57 am | Comment

I’m surprised no one has mentioned the famed ” steel wave” that seems to appear on the roof of just about every new apartment building in China.

The current architecture in China is definitely something else…if it keeps going down the same road, the country will soon be the world’s largest Las Vegas hotel. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Tacky cannot even begin to describe it.

To be fair, though, I found Beijing had a fair amount of interesting architecture and design. The nice buildings there looked like they had some real time and effort spent on them, as opposed to being thrown up in three days like everything else in our favourite Asian country. I guess it does help to be the national capital!

For the real whoppers, head to your local provincial capital. Yikes.

September 20, 2004 @ 1:13 am | Comment

Patrick,

Seconded! Some of those places would not look out of place in the tackiness of Vegas.

Hmmm. Perhaps because I didn’t really have time to be totally adventurous in exploring Beijing, I didn’t see that many nice buildings, except for the really ancient buildings and even they don’t match the photos my father took of them in 1987, when he was in one of the first delegations of foreign physicists to visit China. (The buildings in the photos look a hell of a lot less worn, no doubt a consequence of the millions of tourists that throng those places these days.)

If I’m lucky I’ll have six weeks this winter to see Shanghai, so I may be able to form a more balanced and proper view of that city.

September 20, 2004 @ 4:08 am | Comment

Steel wave? The one I love is the complex with grand piano designs on top of each building- just east of Jinsong Qiao in the southern part of Chaoyang. I’m just waiting for the day when a giant musician will sit down on top of each of those buildings and play a concert half of Beijing will hear.

But the true monstrosities of the provincial capitals are the many skeletons- sometimes the buildings haven’t even reached halfway finished before they’re abandoned. At least an ugly building has been completed and can be used. A building left unfinished is far more of an eyesore.

September 20, 2004 @ 5:41 am | Comment

Funny, when I read those comments about Beijing, I thought instantly of Tokyo, which is also smothered by undistinguished, if not downright ugly architecture, leavened by occasional bits of forced pseudo-whimsy, cf. the “Golden Turd” that crowns the Asahi Dry building in Asakusa.

I still have nightmares about the Sofitel building in Ueno Park, which provides proof, as if any were needed, that affluence and architectural sophistication do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

September 20, 2004 @ 11:13 am | Comment

The aesthetics of Beijing is in its soul. You’d be hard pressed to find a major city without bizarre architecture here and there. The L.A. Weekly did a feature once on the worst architecture in the city–and there was no lack of content. I’ve seen some beautiful new buildings in Beijing, along with the grotesqueries. The variety of architecture, while it wouldn’t win any cityscape awards, is what makes Beijing so endlessly fascinating. What makes me sad is the mad rush to tear the old hutongs down, to move street markets like Silk Alley into modern buildings. Visit Beijing soon and spend some time here. It’s a marvel that changes every day.

September 20, 2004 @ 3:15 pm | Comment

Ellen, I agree completely about tearing down the old buildings, making way for steel-and-glass-and-concrete clones. I guess there’s no stopping “progress.”

September 20, 2004 @ 3:58 pm | Comment

Richard:

Now, listen to me, honeychile. You gotta stop this Beijing-goes-to-Las Vegas thing.

You know that all dem “new rich” Chinese go only to Las Vegas to play dem bandit machines….and they think all of America looks like LAS VEGAS!

And they build dem buildings, like that.

Just like dem Japanese, back in the 1980s, they buy silly paintings of Sunflowers for $80 million, ‘cuz they think it makes dem “cultured”.

Same thing, honey. Chinese, Japanese, give them some $$$ and they do all the wrong things.

September 20, 2004 @ 8:38 pm | Comment

Interesting comment, mamaha — I have no idea what it means, but it’s still interesting.

September 20, 2004 @ 8:48 pm | Comment

Richard, chile:

Mameha means what Mameha says: you can’t buy no culture, whether you build it or paint it.

Dem Chinese and Japanese, they try, try – but they can’t git it, can they?

It’s gotta be inside ya, just like us in the US of A: our Las Vegas, and all those boo-tti-fulll show girls in rhinestones and feathers and all. And Madonna (bless her singin’) and Britney Spears and American Idol, our IQ-busting’ game shows, and all that.

Culture – it’s gotta be inside you!! Mmmm…wahhh!!!

September 20, 2004 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

Well, yes – I guess that explains it all. Thanks.

September 20, 2004 @ 9:08 pm | Comment

But mameha, there is so much wonderful culture in China – 5000 years of it, yet they persist in tearing it down to build….grey, depressing concrete boxes. When you ask, ‘why?’ The answer is, ‘but this is western-style, so it must be better!’ Makes me want to cry.

September 21, 2004 @ 8:03 am | Comment

I think it’s funny when people from western English-speaking countries chuckle over all the Greco-Roman neo-classical architecture in China. Now they know how Italians and Greeks feel when they visit English-speaking countries. ๐Ÿ™‚

And yes, also in Shanghai the “steel wave” (good name, I have been using “hi-tech trellis”) is reigning supreme as the latest architectural leitmotif in this fad-happy nation!

September 21, 2004 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

Fiona:

I like you. Yo’ no your 5,000 years Chinese culture. Well, I been reading (for free) in Barnes and Noble, today, and the book sez, Chinese culture – it’s always changin’!

It sez, like, dat Tang Dynasty building is not the same as today. The Japanese took it – chile,you gotta go this place called Nara to look at it!

This grand place called Forbidden Place…it’s 15 century. And those hutong and courtyards..yes, honeybunch, sigh, what we gonna do?

First the Mao suits tear ’em,now the business suits…

September 21, 2004 @ 10:42 pm | Comment

Asia by Blog

All the news that’s fit to post… Hong Kong, Taiwan and China With the peaceful rise of Hu Jintao, Richard has a good look on what it all means, although CDN contends Hu has sold his soul. At the same time some things haven’t changed (the article in q…

September 23, 2004 @ 12:51 am | Comment

There are more bad buildings like that in Beijing

May 11, 2005 @ 10:15 pm | Comment

The First Real Post

Just to kick things off.
“hello world”
The Good 
The Bad
and the Ugly
-frank

August 16, 2005 @ 1:49 am | Comment

shi bal!!!!!
shi bal sssssee kki

June 27, 2006 @ 8:49 pm | Comment

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