Wacky Chinese Buildings

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Yesterday I posted about Melbourne’s (temporary) MPavilion. After I wrote that piece I went to a session at the pavilion about Chinese filmmaker Yang Fudong. There’s a current exhibition on his works at ACMI – the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

The Yang Fudong discussion was not exactly enthralling, somehow questions raised in English took an interminable time to translate into Chinese and then even longer to answer in Chinese. By the time they were translated back into English most of us had fallen asleep.

CCTV Underpants & socialist harvest 540◄ The CCTV Building in the Nick Bonner commissioned ‘Beautiful Future’ series

Nevertheless there was an interesting mention of President Xi Jinping’s recent attack on ‘weird architecture.’ Sometimes it’s translated as ‘wacky architecture’ which he’s upset about, but the fingers usually get pointed at the Rem Koolhaas-designed CCTV (China Central Television) building in Beijing, AKA the ‘Big Pants’ building or the ‘Underpants’ building. The Chinese public are very good at coming up with disrespectful and amusing names.

Recently it’s Zhou Qi’s building for the People’s Daily which has topped the ‘wacky buildings’ hit parade. It’s a difficult story for the People’s Daily to report since the Chinese censors have been busy wiping images of the offending building off websites. Anybody who has commented that the Norman Foster-designed Swiss Re/30 St Mary Axe building in the London financial district – AKA ‘The Erotic Gherkin’ – looks phallic would take it all back after they’d checked out the People’s Daily Building, now this is a phallic looking building. Naturally a photoshop artist has juxtaposed the People’s Daily Building with the CCTV building to produce Big Pants with a Penis.

Just to keep things in balance Iraqi born architect Zaha Hadid’s Al-Wakrah Stadium design for the 2022 Qatar World Cup looks – some commentators insist – distinctly vaginal. And yes, there are photoshopped images combining the stadium with the People’s Daily erection.

On a much more tasteful level Nick Bonner of Koryo Tours commissioned North Korean artists to produce beautiful paintings from the old socialist realism school (AKA ‘Commie kitsch’) combining modern Chinese architecture with the happy peasants and workers who mysteriously disappeared with the end of the Cultural Revolution. Nick is the man with the keys to door if you want to visit North Korea, I slipped through his door when I took the train to Pyongyang during my Bad Lands travels.