Shenzhen’s Ping An Finance Center is currently the fourth tallest building in the world. Credit: ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP / Getty Images
However, according to Chinese architecture experts, some of the less impressive proposals – such as the call for heritage protection, a credit system for designers and the appointment of architects – may signal an evolutionary development in the way Chinese cities are planned.
“The document is not just about height,” Li Li Shiqiao, a professor of Asian architecture at the University of Virginia, said in a telephone interview. “It’s about Chinese culture, the urban environment, the spirit of the city and the emergence of modernity.”
“This has been done a lot in the academic debate, but in a way it doesn’t exist in a government document so far.”
Reduce the size
Of the 10 completed buildings over 500 meters in length worldwide, half are located in mainland China.
Among them are the world’s second tallest skyscraper, the 632-meter (2,073-foot) rotating Shanghai Tower, and Shenzhen’s Ping An Finance Center, which is 599 meters (1,965 feet) from base to edge.
Ship-shaped “supertall” skyscraper transforms Beijing’s horizon
Faye Chen, a senior professor of architecture at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, described the 500-meter limit as “arbitrary”, adding that the 499-meter-long skyscrapers are “still very, very tall buildings”. However, the new document confirms growing intolerance for buildings that are “out of scale or out of context,” he said.
Chen also noted the official concern about the “reckless” use of tall buildings, with which expensive and unprofitable towers are used by real estate companies to characterize their developments – or by local governments to put their cities on the map.
“(The guidelines) respond to the identity crisis we’ve all seen since the 1980s, when cities began borrowing standards and types of buildings from international contexts,” he said in a telephone interview. “And since the 1990s, cities have been promoted as competitive in the market through the construction of landmarks and large public buildings.”
Therefore, the new restrictions concern both finances and planning. Above a certain height, the cost of building skyscrapers increases exponentially with each additional floor. China’s skylights are now full of unfinished towers as economic growth slows and developers are facing pressure.
Employees in the center of Wang, Greenland, which remains unfinished eight years after construction began. Credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images
“If you take Pudong as a model for Chinese urbanization from 2000 to the present, then you see Xiongan – which is not dominated by real estate speculation or virtual buildings – as the new example … then this is an amazing change that I am witnessing. “
A new framework
However, Lee argues that the 500-meter restriction is, from an academic point of view, “perhaps the least interesting” part of the new government guidelines.
Elsewhere, the circular contains a number of other measures, including a ban on “plagiarism, imitation and copying.” The Eiffel Tower in China itself and the city of Thames, inspired by London outside Shanghai, are two of the most extreme – and ridiculous – examples of how imitation architecture developed in the 2000s.
A copy of the Eiffel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury property development in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images
This official change, again, may simply reflect the changing design culture in China. However, an explicit ban on plagiarism could prove useful in a country where “the degree of quality is so different,” Chen said.
“There is already a recognition in the architecture industry that (copying) is not welcome,” he said. “But China is huge, and some cities are performing better than others.
“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 hinterland you still see buildings that copy the styles or architectural languages of others and that doesn’t work very well. . “
But one of the government’s new proposals proposes something completely new in China: architects for every city.
Moscow and Barcelona are among the cities already appointing a person to approve or reject a veto on new proposals. Lee hailed the idea as a way to ensure that the designs fit the overall urban environment.
“The hesitation is whether ensuring uniformity means that a city becomes predictable and uninteresting, or whether you really maintain some degree of creativity,” he added. “But we have a new generation (Chinese designers) who are great at both maintaining the urban fabric and creating very interesting architecture. The key is to establish a system that guarantees this process.”
Chongqing’s horizon in southwest China. Credit: Wang Zhao / AFP / Getty Images
How – or even if – the most exploratory proposals of the government bear fruit, we must see. The new guidelines provide a broad framework for cities, but more precise details need to be addressed locally, said Chen, whose research focuses on urban governance in China.
Describing the circular as a series of red lines that should not be crossed (more “should not” than “dos”), he also suggested that more work is needed to positively articulate what is a good design.
“There are policies and documents that talk about what you do should not we do … something that is good, but they have never said what you are must “, explained.” Architects and urban designers can benefit from very specific instructions on what a good design is.
“But that has to do with the local context, so I wouldn’t expect the national government to produce guidelines like that. What works in one context may not work in another.”