Architectural Stretchmarks: Symptoms of a Rapidly Growing City

In this post, I analyze the aesthetic experience of the architecture from growing cities in China. 

I recently visited Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, Taiwan, and Guangzhou, and I kept seeing scenes like these:

These growing cities in China are suffering from the growing pains of urbanism: the city’s influx of people is growing rapidly, and surrounding suburban growth is stunted. And China is not alone in this, this sort of trend is apparent in other big cities as well. 

As I passed cluster by cluster, I could not shake an increasing sense of uneasiness. It felt dystopian, lifeless, and inhuman. Why does repetition in this context feel so bad? How come this is so different than the cute Victorian houses on those San Francisco hills? This was the anthropocene at its worst. But why did I feel this way?

How do the aesthetics of a building change when it’s duplicated? Once? Twice? 8 times?

Homogeneity vs Cohesion

I think it's because while the Victorian houses of SF do look similar, they each have something unique about them. They are cohesive, but unique. These buildings, however, are utterly, completely, in every sense of the word: identical. If there was an urban planner involved, he used Kidpix and the stamp tool. Homogeneity is the antithesis of ingenuity and creativity. It values efficiency over human expression. It embodies the grossly streamlined, industrialized system we’ve come to know and be suffocated by.

The symptoms of these urban growing pains can be seen through these clusters of identical buildings housing the millions of people coming to the city center to chase opportunity. It becomes hard to appreciate the view when there are so many clones copy and pasted around it.

While these buildings are each wildly impressive human feats, something feels a little off. This feels especially unsettling when the buildings are not hubs for business and enterprise, but homes to individuals chasing their dreams. Homes have always been a unique thing to each person, a reflection of their identity. 

These clusters embody a culture where everyone is the same, cause it's simpler that way. 

These architectural stretch marks beg the questions, What do you do when a city grows too fast? When it has too many people? Even further, how many is “too” many?