Critics say the new People’s Daily headquarters in Beijing resembles a super-sized phallus but its designer argues that “unexpected interpretations” are part of architecture’s beauty
By Tom Phillips, Shanghai
2:05PM GMT 03 Nov 2013
Is it a penguin? Is it a chamber pot? Or is it something altogether rather ruder?
Ever since the construction of the 32-storey Beijing headquarters for the People’s Daily newspaper entered its final stages earlier this year, those questions have been whizzing around cyberspace with increasing velocity.
Now, however, the architect himself has spoken out, rebutting allegations that his 180-metre, £154 milloin creation was unmistakeably “phallic” in shape, but claiming that “unexpected interpretations” were part of the beauty of his trade.
“When the scaffolding is taken down upon the completion of construction, people will stop seeing it as a phallic tower,” Zhou Qi, the chief architect, told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
When it is completed next May, the 150,000 sq metre media complex will house the newsroom of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper and a notorious propaganda sheet.
But even before it opens, the building has been subjected to a ferocious and apparently unstoppable torrent of ridicule thanks to its likeness, from at least one angle, to a crucial part of the male anatomy.
The South China Morning Post said the People’s Daily tower had also drawn comparisons to “a penguin, an electric iron, a juice dispenser and even a chamber pot” since designs first appeared in 2009.
Mr Zhou claimed he welcomed the different readings of his work but denied he had intended to erect a super-sized sexual innuendo in downtown Beijing.
“To me, the most interesting part of an architect’s work is the unexpected interpretations a design can generate. The vigorous debate and controversy so far show that our design is of a high standard,” he said.
Mr Zhou, who is also an architecture professor at Southeast University in the city of Nanjing, described his building as “stable, rational and rounded with curved lines.”
“A modest design, it follows the traditions of a party newspaper,” he explained.
It was the architect’s second high-profile interview in as many weeks, suggesting the building’s designers have embarked upon a PR offensive intended to correct perceptions of the building.
Last month, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported that Mr Zhou remained “upbeat” despite the criticism and rejected vulgar interpretations of his skyscraper.
“From a bird’s-eye view, the building resembles the Chinese character ren, which means ‘people’ in Chinese,” it pointed out.