China’s Ugliest Buildings Are Being Put to a Vote

China’s building spree has given rise to a lot of bizarre designs.
September 27, 2021, 8:47am
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The Russian doll hotel in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, in 2018. Photo: Wang HE/Getty Images

A hotel built as colossal Russian nesting dolls, a violin-shaped church, and a crystal copycat of the Arc de Triomphe are in the running as the ugliest buildings in China.

The poll for the ugliest buildings has been held annually since 2010 by Beijing-based architecture website Archcy.com to highlight the extravagant but often bizarre buildings that have sprung up across China during the country’s rapid economic development.

Past winners include a district government building modelled after the United States Capitol, an arts college that resembles a Disney castle, and a media center in southern province of Guangxi that looks like a giant penis, complete with fireworks shooting out of the tip of the building.

The public has been invited to nominate ugly buildings and vote for them. The organizer defines ugly buildings as ones that function poorly, fail to fit into the surroundings, have strange shapes, or are copycats of famous buildings. Those modelled after animals or are awkward imitations of Western or ancient styles are also eligible to enter the race. 

The top-voted candidate so far is a giant, five-arch gate at Zhejiang University in the eastern city of Hangzhou. “This gate has zero use,” a comment said. “There is no road outside of it. No person or vehicle would go through it. Don’t know why it was built.” 

This year’s winners will be announced in December, after votes from the public and an expert judge panel are counted. 

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Under pressure to showcase their performance, Chinese authorities have in recent decades commissioned massive construction projects, often funded through debt, to boost economic growth numbers, raise a city or institution’s profile, and bring in tourist revenues.

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The Hangzhou International Conference Center is one of the ten 'ugliest buildings' of 2015. Photo: Imaginechina via AP Images

The construction spree has resulted in many buildings that later got criticized for their high construction costs and poor designs. 

Zhou Rong, an architecture professor and co-founder of the annual poll, said at an urban planning forum in April that the “ugly buildings” reflected Chinese officials’ preference for gigantic, Western-style, and powerful-looking constructions. 

“What kind of buildings can best capture the zeitgeist of China in the past 10 to 20 years?” Zhou said in a speech. “It’s the ugly buildings.”  

The Chinese leadership has warned against extravagant buildings. In a directive this year, the National Development and Reform Commission, which is in charge of economic planning, said the construction of buildings taller than 500 meters (1,640 feet) should be tightly restricted, while “ugly buildings” should be banned. It did not define ugly.

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