China’s planning authority bans “ugly” buildings, again

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced on Tuesday that it will discourage the construction of towers higher than 500m and forbid the construction of "ugly buildings".

NDRC, the country’s top economic planning authority, said its aim was to improve urban planning. It will also discourage buildings whose engineering and technical complexity are not justified.

The decision on height is unlikely to have a huge impact on Chinese construction: the country has 2,395 buildings over 150m tall and 95 buildings over 300m, but of some 12 buildings around the world exceeding 500m in 2020, just four are in Mainland China, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.   

Li Luke, a professor of architecture at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that buildings over 500m were still possible, but any design had to undergo an evaluation for cost and safety.

He said: "Both the builders and the users should consider whether it is worth the cost and risk to build a skyscraper."

The question of ugly buildings has been tackled by the Chinese authorities before, evidently without success, since further prohibitions have proved necessary (see further reading).

What constitutes ugliness in buildings is difficult to define. The CCTV headquarters in Beijing, designed by Dutch architect OMA, has been both hailed as a masterpiece and derided as the "Big Underpants", Global Times noted in 2016.

Chinese social media users regularly post pictures of their favourite unattractive building, complaining about mismatches between design and function, pastiches of Western or ancient Chinese designs, and buildings that just look weird.

"The authorities should understand that there must be a reason that cannot be ignored if the public generally think architecture is ‘ugly’," he said.

One typical example is located at an unfinished theme park in North China’s Hebei Province, which is half China’s Temple of Heaven and half-US Capitol. Another is the well-known "Flying Kiss" in Chongqing.

Image: The CCTV headquarters in Beijing has long divided opinion (Unsplash)

Further reading:

Story for GCR? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in News