The Guangzhou Circle Building is perhaps the country's largest single manifestation of Tuhao Jin, or "gold of the unrefined and wealthy."

The circular Fang Yuan building in Shenyang, China, has repeatedly been named one of the ugliest buildings in the world. But that title hasn't deterred the construction of an even bigger, flashier version in Guangzhou.

The recently completed Guangzhou Circle Building is 138 meters tall and will headquarter two large Chinese companies. The structure is a great example of what happens when architects go after symbolism rather than function.

Screenshot from the design firm's rendered video

Joseph di Pasquale, the architect behind the project, recently told Dezeen that the whole structure acts as an "urban logo," a nod to the ideogram-based nature of Chinese writing. He also contends that the building's closed circular shape, a departure from stereotypical Western skyscrapers, is "very close to the Chinese way of perceiving and understanding." 

The most literal symbol channeled by the Circle Building is the jade disk, an ancient artifact that represents knowledge of the cosmos and royalty. The disk has a circular cutout, making it slightly different from the coins that inspired the circular building in Shenyang, which have square cutouts. But this distinction hasn't stopped locals from calling it the "Copper Coin Building."

Screenshot from the design firm's rendered video

Di Pasquale also makes use of the nearby Pearl River. As the project rendering above shows, the Circle Building reflected in the river not only forms a double jade disk, but also the figure 8, which signifies prosperity. And for good measure, it's not far off from the infinity symbol. These ideas of "reign," "prosperity," and "forever" probably sounded excellent to the client.

But for everyone else, the Circle Building is perhaps the country's largest single manifestation of "Tuhao Jin" (literally "gold of the unrefined and wealthy"), a viral term lately used to mock the country's nouveau riche.

The term has been applied widely to what many Chinese consider garish displays of wealth, from the gold version of Apple’s iPhone 5s, which sold out almost instantly in China, to gold-plated sports cars and the golden interiors of a school.

A look at the Guangzhou Circle Building's interior. (via Hunan TV) 

With its brazenly golden facade, cartoon-like shape, and tyrannical size, the Circle Building had been calledTuhao jin” by Internet users even before construction completed. More recent photos, like the one above, reveal an interior just as flashy.

The popularity of the color gold is nothing new in China — it’s a symbol of wealth and prosperity, and has long been associated with the imperial class. The popularity of the term “Tuhao jin”, however, is more reflective of modern China. As Steve Tsang, a professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, recently put it, the term perfectly encapsulates China’s changing society.  

“Many people sneer at those with wealth, but are secretly jealous,” he told BBC.

Top image: Courtesy of AM Project

About the Author

Jenny Xie
Jenny Xie

Jenny Xie is a fellow at CityLab. 

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