Debate after China's Xi demands end to weird architecture

This picture taken on May 1, 2014 shows the 301.8-meter arch-shaped building which will house 69 stores, a luxury hotel, offices and shopping mall in Suzhou, eastern China's Jiangsu province. -- PHOTO: AFP
This picture taken on May 1, 2014 shows the 301.8-meter arch-shaped building which will house 69 stores, a luxury hotel, offices and shopping mall in Suzhou, eastern China's Jiangsu province. -- PHOTO: AFP
This picture taken on October 30, 2013 shows the Circle building under construction in Guangzhou, southern China's Guangdong province. -- PHOTO: AFP
This picture taken on October 30, 2013 shows the Circle building under construction in Guangzhou, southern China's Guangdong province. -- PHOTO: AFP
This picture taken on March 1, 2014 shows the Shenyang Culture and Art center in Shenyang, north-east China's Liaoning province. -- PHOTO: AFP
This picture taken on March 1, 2014 shows the Shenyang Culture and Art center in Shenyang, north-east China's Liaoning province. -- PHOTO: AFP
The China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters in Beijing, which has been nicknamed "The Big Underpants". Chinese Internet users were divided Thursday after leader Xi Jinping reportedly called for an end to "weird architecture" in a country th
The China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters in Beijing, which has been nicknamed "The Big Underpants". Chinese Internet users were divided Thursday after leader Xi Jinping reportedly called for an end to "weird architecture" in a country that has seen a huge construction boom. -- PHOTO: IWAN BAAN

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese Internet users were divided Thursday after leader Xi Jinping reportedly called for an end to "weird architecture" in a country that has seen a huge construction boom.

Much of China's older building stock is made up of Soviet-style concrete blocks, but in recent years property development has played a huge economic role.

The phenomenon has drawn architects from around the world, from big names such as Zaha Hadid to younger unknowns who see opportunities to design towers long before their careers could reach such heights in the West.

But some unconventional and costly buildings, often owned by state-controlled institutions, have been controversial, sparking criticisms of wasted public funds.

The futuristic new Beijing headquarters of state broadcaster China Central Television were designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas but popularly nicknamed "The Big Underpants".

There have meanwhile been complaints that a pair of bridges over the Yangtze and Jialing rivers in the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing are remarkably reminiscent of female genitalia.

Mr Xi, who took over as Communist leader nearly two years ago, told a group of artists on Wednesday that China should build "no more weird architecture", reported the website of the People's Daily, the ruling party's mouthpiece.

The newspaper's own new home - an unmistakably phallic tower - was so widely mocked by Internet users last year that China's censors blocked the discussions.

Many web users welcomed Mr Xi's call.

"My understanding is that 'no weird architecture' targets the property owners rather than the architects. Some unscrupulous owners should indeed be reined in now," said one user on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo. "China is not foreigners' test field," added another.

Mr Xi is not the first senior figure to express doubts over modern design - Britain's Prince Charles once described a proposed extension to the National Gallery in London as a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend".

But some Weibo users questioned whether Mr Xi's comments were appropriate, voicing concerns over their potential impact on creative freedom.

"The 'weird architecture' is voluntarily chosen by the owners and the designers," said one, asking: "Do you want to replace millions of others' aesthetic sense with your own?"