Throwing bad money after bad, China's coin-shaped building

A controversial design in Guangzhou attracts a fresh backlash from the public with a 100,000 yuan official contest to decide what to call it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 7:13am

In what is a strong case of throwing bad money after bad, Guangzhou's municipal government recently awarded 100,000 yuan (HK$126,150) to the winner of a contest to name the city's latest design destination - a one-billion yuan building widely derided as graceless, incongruous and just plain ugly.

When finished, the 33-storey disc-like structure on the southernmost tip of Liwan district on the Pearl River will house the Guangdong Plastics Exchange, among other tenants. With the ribbon-cutting ceremony approaching, officials put to the public the question of what to call it.

The winning entry was "Gungzhou Yuan Building" - yuan means "round" in Putonghua. For 100,000 yuan, residents were entitled to expect something with a bit more zest.

"I'm too exhausted to even complain," wrote one person in an online posting. "Please … even children in kindergarten would be able to come up with such a name."

Some residents have already started to refer to the building as the "copper coin", while others have compared it to a caramel doughnut - one with a hole 47 metres wide.

Six proposals were received when the project was tendered in 2008. One imitated the shape of a sailing boat, so perhaps it could have been worse.

In the end, a design by Joseph Dipasquale was chosen in 2009. Dipasquale is an adjunct professor at the Polytechnic of Milan, and the chairman of AM Progetti, an architectural firm based in the Italian city but with offices in China.

According to the Yangcheng Evening News, the building's original design called for blue glass to be used on the external walls. But that colour was deemed outdated in Guangdong and authorities switched to a gold hue instead, hence the "copper coin".

"Maybe the yellow lighting on the building has been deemed too shiny, but our design was in fact for a jade disc," said the project's leading engineer, Wang Zhanshan.

Reportedly, the disc that Wang refers to was a near-flawless one which was found in an ancient imperial tomb belonging to the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220) and unearthed in Guangzhou.

Initially, construction cost was a concern, but once officials latched onto the project as the city's next big landmark, questions over budget evaporated.

The project was soon being listed as one of the 10 new key developments for the province and had the full support of the municipal government.

"It's not like we can build anything we want," Wang said. "We must get government approval before going ahead. We have consulted the Guangzhou urban planning authorities and there was no strong objection from the panel of experts," he said.

However, Tang Guohua , a professor who specialises in ancient architecture at Guangzhou University, debated the design rationale.

"Jade is normally small in size and the building is huge. From the perspective of an ordinary citizen, it is hard to associate the structure with a jade disc, and most people will think it looks like an old coin," Tang told the Yangcheng Evening News.

The building's height was also inappropriate for its location by the river, he said, adding the shape would affect fung shui.

Hu Gang , an economics professor at Jinan University, said the building was strange looking and out of harmony with the environment.

"But I believe the weirdness of it could help boost local tourism," Hu said.

In a list of the world's ugliest buildings that CNN compiled last year, the sole mainland structure to make the cut was the Fangyuan Building in Shenyang , in Liaoning province, beating out North Korea's Ryugyong Hotel. Whatever it's name, the city's new eyesore appears headed towards a rough baptism.