architectural styles


architectural styles
The majority of buildings erected in China between 1949 and 1979 appeared as simple boxes: not, however, in a conscious pursuit of Modernism, but as the result of a poor economy. As for the small number of public buildings intended as architecture (e.g. the ‘Ten Grand Projects’ in Beijing during the 1950s), Soviet classicism and Chinese classical revivalism were the official styles, reflecting both government control and the taste of leading architects. The only exception was Guangzhou’s ‘New Architecture’ in the 1960s and 1970s which combined Modernist form with traditional Chinese garden space. Since the 1979 Reform, material prosperity and more artistic freedom have produced a freewheeling variety of styles which can be described according to the following three characteristics.
First, ‘imitation’, a trait inherited from the pre-Reform era, remains the chief design approach. In many designs viewers can easily identify the original building from which they were copied. Even avant-garde designers cannot do away with replicating Western avant-garde. The favoured models used to be Chinese classical and vernacular architecture, causing many high-rise buildings to wear the hats of traditional roofs. But with an increasingly modernized and younger China, other forms like Western classicism, Modernism, and high-tech styles have entered the mainstream since the mid 1990s.
Second, architectural design tends to focus on the visual image of a building. This is because the available construction budget, material, technology and many other factors often do not match those of the model that is being imitated. To quickly satisfy the demands of clients, architects produce eye-catching facades with abundant add-ons which often bear little relationship to internal functions, spatial layouts or actual systems of construction, such as a brick-bearing wall dressed in glass curtains.
Third, contemporary Chinese architecture emphasizes instant sensations. Popular design treatments include monumental compositions with grand scales, or dynamic curvilinear forms with exotic oraaments and bright colours. In some cases, entire buildings are made into giant symbols to resemble a boat or ancient bronzeware.
These three characteristics can be attributed to the unique contemporary Chinese culture. Due to the cultural destruction between 1949 and 1979, the majority of the public are poorly educated. Today’s China also displays uncertainty and cynicism in its cultural and political beliefs, and in the absence of coherent ideals, the society is absorbed in immediate material wealth and political power at both the personal and the national level. What patrons demand most are not artworks exploring lasting cultural values but billboards to generate a quick commercial or political sale. Such goals can be achieved most effectively by using well-established skin-deep but eye-catching forms.
The current state of architectural affairs also has to do with the lack of a Modernist tradition. Architectural education (such as at Qinghua University) is dominated by a system established by architects who were trained in the beaux-arts tradition in the United States during the 1920s. When China opened its doors after 1979, postmodern architecture was at its peak in the West. Both events reinforced the Chinese habit of revering established things and seeing architecture as decoration.
Gandelsonas, Mario (2002). Shanghai Reflections: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Search for an Alternative Modernity. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press.
Liu, Ermin and Yi, Feng (eds) (1997). Chinese Architecture since 1980, 3 vols. Beijing: Encyclopedia of China Publishing House. [Covers the work of both young and established Chinese architects and that of foreign firms; in Chinese and English.]
Miao, Pu (1995). ‘In the Absence of Authenticity: An Interpretation of Contemporary Chinese Architecture’. Nordic Journal of Architectural Research 3: 7–24.
Rowe, Peter G. and Seng, Kuan (2002). Architectural Encounters with Essence and Form in Modern China. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
MIAO PU

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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