the condition of chinese architecture by pier alessio rizzardi the condition of chinese architecture by pier alessio rizzardi
feb 16, 2013

the condition of chinese architecture by pier alessio rizzardi

‘the condition of chinese architecture’ by pier alessio rizzardiall images courtesy of pier alessio rizzardi




italian-born, internationally experienced young architect pier alessio rizzardi illustrates a comprehensive picture of the current state of architecture with respect to the chinese platform.


the face of the chinese city is characterized by demolition. ‘only 10% of the historical buildings in china have survived to this day,’ explains recent pritzker prize winner wang shu. with the almost total destruction of historical quarters of cities, the asian society must constantly face the concept of a tabula rasa. architects must be much more efficient than their western counterparts in order to work. the volume of reinforced concrete used in china is 33% of the world’s total amount; the number of chinese architects is 1/100 of the total number. the turnover on the other hand is a contrasting 1/10 of the world average. in other words, one percent of architects has to design 33% of the world’s buildings for one-tenth of the profit.


this creates the theoretical condition of the chinese architect, imposing the reduction of both design and construction time. the project is with limitless possibilities, it becomes a mechanical or industrial process of production and no time is taken to think about the soulful aspects that define architecture. the speed of execution and the will to characterize the site generate examples such as the one city-nine ghost towns or all the satellite towns built in the european style. everything that comes from abroad is considered innovation and freedom, a goal to aim for. china wants to experience life in the western way, regardless of it being a copy of the european model. importing western styles creates a hybrid of both cultures.



condition of chinese architecture in 2010




architecture in china is a business. real estate is built, used, and when the investment is returned to its maximum extent, it is demolished to make way for a new investment. ‘tou fu buildings’ are those in which materials and technologies are sacrificed to lower production costs and speed up construction time. no one escaped from this trap, including international ‘starchitect’ zaha hadid’s guangzhou opera house, which experienced the consequences of such philosophies. the cultural upheaval of recent generations has resulted in a hybrid architecture directed by profit.


the architectural trends in china can be grouped into: international architects and large-scale iconic architecture; background architects with architecture of such an extensive proliferation as to constitute a phenomenon influential on the national scale; local architects, or the new chinese generation, and their vernacular small-scale architecture.


starting from scratch




the ‘starchitect’ entered into the chinese scene, supported and desired by the government. as manhattan was nearly a century ago, china now turns into a pertinent stage in the global spectrum. skyscrapers have a strong iconic impact on the country, the city remains a ‘shopping window’ for the modernization of the country, as reformist leader deng xiaoping wanted the country’s financial hub, pudong, located in shanghai, considered the ‘manhattan of china.’ china wants respect and visibility; the tendency of the government is toward recognizable, massive and iconic architectures seeking a world-wide recognition.


‘tou-fu’ building detail issues




“nostalgic architects” pursue the ‘chineseness’ in architecture through the idea of rebuilding portions of the city in the traditional style. the old motto of mao was ‘the new against the old,’ now reversed as the old against the new, because the ‘new’ becomes old too fast. therefore ‘traditional iconic architects’ magnify the scale culturally traditional symbols. they exploit the architectural image by immediately inserting lanterns, dragons and coins into the city to instill history and identity into their buildings, the icon of ‘chineseness.’


in contrast, the ‘architects of the new generation’ consist of those who have studied abroad. they are open to experimentation contaminated by western notions. they reject the current architectural situation, creating a choice based on the purity of the tectonics, radical shapes, vernacular materials and simplified building technologies.


high-rise building in jingmao




if we compare the timelines of chinese and western architectures, we see the existing time gap. in analyzing the current way of designing the built environment in the new generation of architects, you will notice many features in common with post-war europe and the west: from new imperialism in sweden, to english and brazilian brutalism, to italian neorealism. after 50 years, the themes of the ‘post-modern movement’ in europe come up for discussion in china.


size matters


instant icons in cities


time line comparison between the western and eastern worlds


‘learning from the east,’ by robert venturi, denise scott brown, steven izenour


fast and furious construction


the chinese scale, illustrated



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.

  • I don’t understand the last picture. What do you intend to illustrate?
    1, I think you should compare the Forbidden Palace with the entire Versailles, not just a part of it.
    2, OR you can pick only one building (of the same size as the one in Versailles) inside the Forbidden Palace and to find out it’s composed by 70% mass and 30% void.
    3, Your categorizing architects is not really logical.
    Above all, criticism against Chinese architecture is no longer a trendy subject. At least 1 thousand people are working on this subject in thirst for their professional recognition as an architecture critic. Personall I think this is superficial.

    Ziming says:

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