People snickered this week when university officials in Hainan, China unveiled their new building, which bears a distinct resemblance to a certain porcelain bathroom appliance. And in case you might be thinking (as I did at first) that it’s all just an unfortunate coincidence, this building houses the North China University of Water Conservancy. This building was definitely intended to look like a toilet.
Not that there’s anything wrong with mixing things up a little, or even poking a little fun. The worst thing about American architecture is that it’s so humorless and averse to taking chances. But one could argue that over the past decade, this Chinese architectural playfulness has gotten out of hand. Earlier this year, the Chinese government actually went so far as to ban weird architecture, after people complained the new People’s Daily Headquarters resembled an, ahem, penis, and that the forthcoming Zaha Hadid-designed national airport looked like, ahem, a vagina. The government’s new design blueprint says that, going forward, urban architecture must be “suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye” instead of “oversized, xenocentric, [and] weird.” (No specific ban on “toilet-shaped,” though.) Chinese President Xi Jinping went on to opine that these wacky buildings stem from “a lack of cultural confidence.” Interesting theory, but if you’re building penis buildings and vagina airports, I’d say that a lack of confidence is probably not your problem.
So what is the problem? Beats me! I love terrible buildings! Join me, let’s laugh at some.
It’s a 28-story building that’s totally gold! Not *made* of gold, no. Not even gold-plated. Just painted gold. Possibly spray-painted. Located in Kunshan City, this is the building equivalent of that one friend you have who wears dollar-sign-print boxer shorts, huge diamond (cubic zirconia) earrings, and a Rolex with “Rollex” printed on the watch face. It’s an exhibition of prosperity that’s so obviously insincere, it takes on the qualities of performance art. (Wait, is this building ironic? Now I kind of like it.) The owner of this building thought he’d have the most expensive-looking building in China, but it ended up looking like a paperweight you’d see on Donald Trump’s desk.
This building in Shenyang has been peeling like the back of your alcoholic uncle’s neck at the end of a weeklong fishing trip. The builder tried an experimental finish on the facade that was basically just an adhesive-backed thin plastic wrap. It didn’t work. Unfortunate Shenyang residents now have to go about their daily lives under a constant rain of tiny plastic shreds. Pro tip: next time, just paint.
Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the CCTV headquarters in Beijing is known in China as the “Big Pants” building. Locals aren’t too fond of it – Koolhaas had to officially deny nasty rumors that it was supposed to represent a woman on her hands and knees – and you can sort of see why. It’s completely out of scale with its surroundings, and has an unnerving MC Escher-meets-HR Giger vibe to it. Plus, it looks like a big pair of pants. Not the most inspiring thing for a 21st century urban centerpiece to take after. It’s like a birthday cake shaped like a tumor.
The theme of this building is (wait for it …) “East meets West.” Get it? Half the building is built in the Chinese style, and the other half is built in a Western style. “East meets West.” Sigh. Yeah. This design seems like something you’d come up with if your boss at the ol’ architectural firm assigned you to come up with something incorporating the theme of “East meets West,” but then maybe you were going through a bad breakup at the time, and were going out every night and coming into work every morning still kind of drunk, and the assignment just kind of fell through the cracks until the morning when the boss comes over to your desk and says the client is in the conference room and can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with. “Hey, have you seen the all gold bank building? Literalism is in.”