Does MAD Architects' Sheraton Huzhou Hot Springs Resort, completed in 2012, fit Chinese President Xi Jinping's definition of weird architecture?

Kooky buildings or innovative architecture? Playground for extreme forms or testing ground for new ideas? The remarkable results of China’s recent construction boom have been viewed in various—often contradictory—ways. Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his own judgment on the matter at an arts symposium in Beijing in October, when he called for the end of “weird architecture.” While his definition of weird, alternatively translated as “strange” and “bizarre,” has not been clarified, his comments on art in general were much more straightforward: art should “disseminate contemporary Chinese values, embody traditional Chinese culture, and reflect Chinese people’s aesthetic pursuit.”

No clear policy on architecture, though, has been articulated by officials on either the national or local level, but some architects are anxious about the implications of President Xi’s remarks. Architectural Record asked a number of practitioners working in China to comment on the situation.

“I think there might be both positive and negative effects,” says Li Hu, principal at OPEN Architecture in Beijing. “It might help to prevent some terrible buildings, but it could also block progressive designs,” he says. Asked if he thinks his practice might be affected, Li replies, “Luckily no, because I don’t think our design falls into the ‘weird’ category.”

One firm that is sometimes linked to extreme design is OMA. According to The New York Times, “a report carried on a social media platform under People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, predicted that ‘in the future it is unlikely that Beijing will have other strangely shaped buildings like the ‘Giant Trousers’”—a colloquial reference to the China Central Television headquarters, a hulking, long-limbed edifice designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren of OMA.

Asked if he thought OMA’s work fit into the category of “weird architecture,” Michael Kokora, the firm’s partner in charge of Asia, says no. “Our projects are devoted to typological innovation, a response to context, and public space. We assume these as our responsibilities to the city and the discipline.” He adds that, “All of OMA’s projects, including those in China, are subject to rigorous budget analysis, value engineering, and high efficiency standards.”

“We hope new policies would encourage responsibility, but also innovation and experimentation,” says Kokora. “One of the worst outcomes could be superficially confining the profession to a particular chosen ‘appearance.’”

Yung Ho Chang, principal of FCJZ in Beijing, reports, “The No-More-Weird-Architecture policy is being talked about a lot here lately, but it has not yet affected our practice in any way. I'm very curious to see how it might develop.”

Michael Sorkin, the New York-based critic and architect, has several large building projects underway in China, including an office building adjacent to the airport in Xi’an. He says: “It’s a little embarrassing that one is obliged to defend the The Interview as an emblem of First Amendment values, but free speech is indivisible. In China, where public self-expression is, to put it mildly, vexed, the robustness of architectural variety—from the fake foreign towns in the suburbs of Shanghai to the ‘weird’ buildings that have aroused the ire of President Xi—is surely an important outlet for a repressed imagination. While lots of this is not to my taste, it’s better than uniformity. Still, Xi has as much right to express his opinion as, say, Prince Charles, and there’s even something refreshing about a head of state who gives a damn about architecture. The problem is with heads of state who can compel the agreement of others with their taste, brooking no dissent.”

Months before President Xi made his remarks, Lu Jun, the developer of the China International Practical Exhibition of Architecture (CIPEA)—a collection of buildings near the city of Nanjing by Steven Holl, Arata Isozaki, Ettore Sottsass, Liu Jiakun, and others—replied to criticism of China’s daring architecture. He said then, “If CCTV and the Olympic stadium are playgrounds, we want to become a playground as well.”