In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping pronounced an end to all “weird” architecture, or 奇奇怪怪的建筑, in China. Designers, academics, and pundits scrambled to determine the specific aesthetic, material, or scalar parameters of this so-called architectural weirdness. In the subsequent effort to clarify the term, a general set of standards emerged, namely, that buildings should engage local climates and culture while not relying upon “excessive” materials. Less than two years later, China’s State Council issued another, more specific directive concerning the country’s built environment. The statement reiterated Xi’s calls for an end to “oversized, xenocentric, and weird” in favor of buildings that were “suitable, economic, green, and pleasing to the eye.” As part of the initiative, the State Council also released a set of guidelines concerning China’s gated communities that followed the first convening of the Central Urban Work Conference meeting since 1978—a span of 38 years characterized by unprecedented, largely unrestrained architectural and urban change.
Despite the party’s efforts to clarify Xi’s position, the President’s missive continues to prompt numerous questions today. How did weirdness in architecture become a political issue in China today? What, if anything, might China’s architectural history reveal to us about the physical and conceptual origins of architectural strangeness?
This talk will contextualize recent discussions of China’s architectural weirdness within a selection of imperial, Republican, socialist, and post-socialist-era architectural examples in an effort to develop a preliminary theorization of the weird in China. As this paper will argue, a closer look at several iterations of weirdness in China’s architectural past and present, understood in relation to any number of distinctive architectural conditions, reveals several ideological patterns at the core of Chinese architectural design—patterns that may, in turn, illuminate new conceptual foundations for the study of twentieth and twenty-first century Chinese architecture.
Cole Roskam is associate professor of architectural history in the Department of Architecture at The University of Hong Kong. His research examines architecture’s role in mediating moments of interaction and exchange between China and other parts of the world. His articles and essays have appeared in AD (Architectural Design), Architectural History, Artforum International, Grey Room, the Journal of Architectural Education, and the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, among others. His first book, An Improvised City: Architecture and Extraterritoriality in Shanghai, 1843-1937, is under contract with the University of Washington Press. A second book-length project, tentatively titled Designing Reform: Post-Revolutionary Architecture in the People’s Republic of China, 1972-1990, is under contract with Yale University Press.
“In order for nothing to change, all has to be changed”
il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa interpreted by Luchino Visconti
The Department of Architecture launches its 2017-2018 Public Lecture Series, on the work of its faculty. The “In-Progress” series will critically examine the relevance of a vast number of issues in relationship to architecture. The Teaching staff will share their most recent work/ research/ publications in a 60 minute talk which, will be followed by a discussion chaired by a person of the speaker’s choice. The respondent will preferably be from other faculties at HKU or outside of the university. We look forward to your active presence and participation.
****No registration is required. All interested are welcome****