Top Ten: China's Ugliest Buildings

The Chinese government is actively pushing urbanization to realize its vision for a modern China, but not everyone is a fan.

If you were in Shanghai in 1980s, you would not have seen any skyscrapers. But today the city has twice as many as New York City.

According to BBC News, China’s construction industry provided jobs for 37 million people as of 2011. Between 1990 and 2004, 85 million square meters of commercial space was built in Shanghai--the equivalent of 334 Empire State Buildings. Tower cranes and gigantic construction sites have become common sights in cities across China.

But while the scale of change is beyond doubt, some Chinese netizens are pushing back.  Many unattractive or even ugly buildings have been built in China in recent years. Whether this is due to lack of expertise in architecture, design, and urban planning, or simply a difference in taste, is up for debate. On Kaixin001, a major social networking site in China, Chinese web users recently created a poll to rank the ugliest buildings in China. Qualifications for “ugliest” building included:

  • Buildings with a huge mismatch between design and function.
  • Buildings that are not designed in accordance with the natural environment.
  • “Copycat” buildings.
  • Buildings that appear to idolize Western or ancient Chinese culture.
  • Borrowing ideas from other famous designs.
  • Designs that use inappropriate metaphors or symbols.
  • Buildings designed in odd shapes.

Here are the top ten:

10. Yancheng Prison of Jiangsu Province–Yancheng, Jiangsu Province
This Western-style prison is modeled on the U.S. White House. On Weibo, a Chinese social network similar to Twitter, web user @恶棍村村长 commented: “If all prisons in China were as splendid as the Yancheng Prison, I would do anything to be jailed.”

9. Nanmen Square–Yinchuan, Ningxia Autonomous Region
Nanmen Square in Yinchuan is obviously a copy of the Tiananmen Square. Ironically enough, visiting Nanmen Square is still one of the “must do's” for travelers to Yinchuan. Even local people love to take pictures in front of the square. Is this something that the city should be proud or ashamed of?

8. Qingjia Palace–Shanghai
These two apartment buildings in Qingjia Palace perhaps offer the “most authentic” mountain view in Shanghai. Officials from Qingjia Real Estate confirmed that they intentionally built the cliffs in between the two 28-story apartment buildings to give potential residents a “natural mountain view.” Unfortunately, the bad design did no good to the apartment buildings other than making them look extremely strange.

7. Office Building of Gold Township Government–Chongqing
Why would an office building of a township government look like the Tiananmen Square? Web user Yue Li on Kaixin001 even commented: “It looks more like a cenotaph to me.”

6. Hucheng (Tiger City) Building–Chongqing
On Weibo, web user @很囧很娱乐 joked: “Tell me what we should call it? Transformers, Huge Lion, or Mayan Remains?” On douban, web users feel relieved about the design was not adopted by the local government.  For example, @大圆满 said:" We should be thankful that the design was abandoned, otherwise it would be a nightmare." 

5. Fang Yuan (Square and Circle) Building–Shenyang, Liaoning Province
Chinese people have a strong respect for their history. The Fang Yuan building design was based on the shape of traditional Chinese currency. Unfortunately, Chinese netizens do not buy it. On Kaixin001, one poster commented: “The building reflects a strong sense of materialism,” and that “it clearly depicts the whole society’s pursuit of power and money, which harms the healthy development of Chinese architecture.”

4. “Face-saving” Building–Shanghai
This building is an unapproved construction project. Its most most prominent feature of it is that all the windows are painted, not real. Web users on Kaixin001 call it the “face-saving” building,

3. CCTV (China Central Television) Tower–Beijing
Although officials from CCTV claim that the design is “a combination of power and beauty,” whose bending style presents a rich sense of space, most Chinese people still see the building as a joke rather than a piece of art. Soon after the design was made public, Chinese web users nicknamed Rem Koolhaas’s work “Big Shorts.” The fact that in February 2009 the entire building caught fire prompted a wide discussion on the building’s safety issues. The prospect of high maintenance costs also concerns many.

2. Wuliangye (Five Grains Liquid) Building–Yibin, Sichuan Province
The bottle-shaped design is based on Wuliangye, a famous Chinese alcoholic drink that is commonly used for government banquets. An internet poster commented: “Sometimes under certain conditions and cultures it’s good to use metaphorical design that brings rich humanitarianism and cultural heritage. But when you simply build a wine-bottle shaped building, it can be ridiculously ugly.”

1. The Emperor Hotel–Beijing
After seeing the picture, Chinese netizens reacted ubiquitously on Weibo and Kaixin001: “speechless.”