Ping An Financial Center in Shenzhen is currently the fourth tallest building in the world. Credit: ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP / Getty images
According to Chinese architecture experts, some of the less attractive proposals – such as an appeal for heritage protection, a credit system for designers and the appointment of chief architects – may signal a weaker evolution in the way cities are planned in China.
“The document really isn’t just about height,” Li Shikiao, a professor of Asian architecture at the University of Virginia, said in a telephone interview. “It’s about Chinese culture, the urban context, the spirit of the city and the look of modernity.”
“It’s been in the academic discussion a lot, but somehow not in a government document so far.”
Cut to size
Of the 10 completed buildings measuring more than 500 meters worldwide, half have been found in mainland China.
Among them are the second tallest skyscraper on the planet, the twisted Shanghai Tower with a height of 632 meters (2,073 feet) and the Ping An Shenzhen Funding Center, which is located 599 meters (1,965 feet) from base to top.
A “supertall” ship-shaped skyscraper transformed the silhouette of Beijing
Fei Chen, a senior professor of architecture at Britain’s Liverpool University, described the 500-meter line as “quite random”, adding that the 499-meter skyscrapers were “still very, very tall buildings”. But the new document confirms growing intolerance of buildings that are “out of scale or out of context,” she said.
Chen also cited official concerns about the “reckless” use of tall buildings, in which expensive and unprofitable towers are used by real estate companies to brand their designs – or by local authorities to put their cities on the map.
“The (Guidelines) respond to the identity crisis we have all seen since the 1980s, when cities began to adopt standards and types of buildings from international contexts,” she said in a telephone interview. “And since the 1990s, cities have been touted as competitive in the marketplace by building landmarks and large public buildings.”
As such, the new constraints are as much about the economy as they are about design. Above a certain height, the cost of building skyscrapers increases exponentially with each additional floor. China’s skins are already littered with unfinished towers as economic growth slows and entrepreneurs face credit crunches.
Workers over the center of Wuhan Greenland, which remains unfinished eight years after construction began. Credit: STR / AFP / Getty images
“If you take Pudong as a paradigm for urbanization in China from 2000 to the present, then you look at Xiongang – which is not dominated by real estate speculation or iconic buildings – as the new paradigm … then it’s a pretty amazing change.” witness. “
However, Lee argues that the 500-meter height limit is, from an academic point of view, “probably 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 copycat behavior”. China’s own Eiffel Tower and the London-inspired city of the Thames outside Shanghai are two of the most extreme – and ridiculed – examples of how imitation architecture flourished in the 2000s.
A replica of the Eiffel Tower in Tiandacheng, a luxury real estate development in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Image
Again, this official change may simply reflect China’s changing design culture. But an explicit ban on plagiarism could be useful in a country where “the level of quality is so diverse,” Chen said.
“There is already confirmation in the architectural industry that (copying) is not welcome,” she said. “But China is huge and some cities are doing better than others.
“In East Coast cities or more developed areas, architects have better design skills, so they produce better buildings. But in the cities inside, you still see buildings that copy styles in other or architectural languages, and that doesn’t lead to very good designs. “
But one of the government’s new proposals offers something completely new in China: chief architects for each city.
Moscow and Barcelona are among the cities already appointing a person to approve or veto new proposals. Lee welcomed the idea as a way to ensure that the designs fit the overall urban context.
“The hesitation is whether ensuring equality means that a city becomes predictable and uninteresting, or whether you actually maintain some degree of creativity,” he added. “But we have a new generation (of Chinese designers) that is great both for maintaining the urban fabric and for creating a very interesting architecture. The key is to create a system that guarantees this process.”
The skyline of Chongqing, in southwestern China. Credit: Wang Zhao / AFP / Getty Images
How – or even whether – the government’s more exploratory proposals are being implemented remains to be seen. The new guidelines provide a broad framework for cities, but finer details need to be addressed locally, said Chen, whose study focuses on China’s urban governance.
Describing the roundabout as a series of red lines that should not intersect (more “no” than “dos”), she also suggested working to positively express what constitutes a good design.
“There are policies and documents that talk about what you do you should not do … which is a nice thing, but they never said what you did Must “she explained.” Architects and urban designers can benefit from quite specific guidelines on what good design is.
“But it has to be related to the local context, so I don’t expect the national government to give instructions like this. What works in one context may not work in another.”