Letter from China: the latest architecture projects herald a maturing urban landscape

Letter from China: the latest architecture projects herald a maturing urban landscape

‘The end of China’s “weird” architecture,’ heralded a story in The Atlantic last year. The text outlined a warning from the very top of the ruling Party that the sort of ostentatious, provocative and overtly priapic design that had become familiar even in second and third-tier cities would no longer be approved for construction.

That would jive with the emergence of cosmopolitan practices like Shanghai’s Neri & Hu, who emphasise local traditions and sustainability in their relatively low-key buildings. But it implicates visionaries like Ma Yansong of MAD, in Beijing, designer of dynamic, almost logic-defying landmarks, and foreign construction behemoths like TFP Farrells and SOM, who have unleashed some of their most radical designs on China’s booming cities.

Eco-Tech Island Exhibition Center, Nanjing, by NBBJ

The government directive may protect your design sensibilities, but it won’t curb building – not in the country responsible for seven of the world’s 10 tallest buildings currently under construction. Though of the most ambitious developments coming to fruition, as many will be in second-tier cities like Nanjing and Wuhan as in first-tier behemoths like Tianjin, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

Next year Nanjing will get its own Vertical Forest by Stefano Boeri, a heavily planted mixed-use complex of the sort the architect has already built in Italy. And SOM will open its bulbous Performing Arts Center in Guiyang, a dour industrial city hoping to boost its architectural profile.

It’ll be fascinating to watch the maturing of China’s urban landscape into the next decade – and whether the aptly named MAD will be forced to temper its penchant for zany, curvaceous spectacle. In this current crop of completed projects one can already sense a denouement.

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