Beijing (1950s-1960s) / Liang Sicheng’s struggles with the Communist China’s First Five-Year Plan

Beijing (1950s-1960s) / Liang Sicheng’s struggles with the Communist China’s First Five-Year Plan
Beijing West Train Station designed by Liang Sicheng and critiqued by the Party and the people © 2011 KimS
A formalism and reactionism style critiqued by the Party and the people © 2014 Beijing Friendship Hotel
A formalism and reactionism style criticised by the Party and the people © 2014 Beijing Friendship Hotel
Beijing West Train Station designed by Liang Sicheng and critiqued by the Party and the people © 2011 KimS
Beijing West Train Station designed by Liang Sicheng and criticised by the Party and the people © 2011 KimS

In 1953 the Communist Party launched First Five-Year Plan to promote economy construction through all aspects. Architecturally the Party set “utility, economy and, if possible, beauty” as their fundamental principles. In short, any building has to be useful yet economical and perhaps beautiful too. Utility and cost were the main aims. However these principles were not being too effective as the designers still wanted national style and reactionism, under the lead of Liang Sicheng, who promoted bald use of colours and vivid decorations, to merge Chinese elements in the buildings.

Most of the works have strong indication of formalism–the outward beauty of a building. There were large roofs, cornices, painted beams, etc in palatial scale and they costed a lot of money. The façade was not helping with the utility nor economy and went against the Party’s anti-formalism, anti-reactionism, and anti-waste. All critiques immediately went directly to Liang Sicheng, for he stressing too much on style that handicapped the national construction, and being anti-Party and anti-nation.

Liang later on admitted he had made mistakes and lead the designers to a road refraining from making mistakes by struggling to avoid styles, but box-like architectures. Because of anti-waste, they sacrifice beauty and utility for economy. Eventually these non useful ugly buildings became the real “waste”. The designers did not dare to think too much or talk too much but to just fulfil the being one of the Party’s duty. They didn’t bother to research or analyse and took everything as it was.

1 Comment on “Beijing (1950s-1960s) / Liang Sicheng’s struggles with the Communist China’s First Five-Year Plan

  1. This research appears to reside in the New China formation. Liang Sicheng is certainly a significant figure in the architectural reform of China since the New China found in 1949. I guess one of the profound agenda of the Communist Party of China is to not only boost the economy, but also established identity and entailed ideology. It was the responsibility of Liang, designated by the party, to develop a national style of architecture that essence of Chinese architecture can be cherished and passed on. Whilst big roof, concave curved roofs and overhanging eaves were the elements that denote the Chinese as such. Regardless of whether the extraction is well founded or a merely ornamental formalization, it has always been a common philosophy in action among regimes in history- to inform a national or cultural identity.
    On the other hand, the formal representation of the above architecture probably suggests influence from the west, where I see the distinct opening almost a manifestation of transparency and freedom. Adaptive architecture advocated during the 20-30s, in my opinion, also displayed similar architectural characteristics and depicted intention of the architects in preserving Chinese architectural elements.

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