Essence and Form

Chinese architecture struggles to find its identity – Matt Turner

When Xi Jinping called for an end to “weird buildings” in a 2014 speech, journalists raced to point out their favorite offenders, from showpieces of contemporary architecture like Beijing’s massive CCTV tower or the Olympic “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, to less known (but no less striking) examples: buildings shaped like coins, sages, various teapots, and even the USS Enterprise. In comparison to these architectural oddities, Xi praised traditional Chinese architecture and the values it inspires (primarily loyalty to the state).

But while it’s not hard to read between the lines of his speech, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly Xi means by traditional Chinese architecture. Most Chinese cities are hodgepodges of styles: not only the showpiece buildings and skyscrapers nestled next to old courtyard homes and lanes, but also shopping and office complexes, such as Taikoo Li Sanlitun in Beijing (site of the infamous Uniqlo sex video that surely violates traditional values), or the SOHO complex across the street from it, which looks like a set from Logan’s Run