Plans for a new hotel were unveiled in China last week. Normally this would not be headline news, but this is no ordinary hotel – it is shaped like a table tennis bat. I learned of this new project late on Wednesday night, when I was trying to find a few interesting stories for Thursday’s TDA. My initial reaction was that it was a joke story – the sort of thing I’d run in our weekly ‘By the Way’ feature, along with other high brow pieces such as giant shoe cars and chicken hotels. But then I realised that not only was it a serious idea, but that the ping pong hotel was only the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to this architectural marvel, a new sports complex in China’s Anhui province will feature stadia designed to replicate footballs, rugby balls and volleyballs. It is a huge CNY1.8 billion (US$274 million) development, intended to draw international sporting events to the region. And that got me thinking; why should this come as a surprise? Why don’t build more buildings to replicate their intended use? For hundreds of years churches have been designed in the shape of a cross, so why did we stop?
Wouldn’t cities be so much more interesting places if we had restaurants that looked like hamburgers, office blocks designed like laptops, and shoe-shaped shoe shops? These buildings would be a welcome change from the drab conformity of modern cityscapes, and it’d be far easier to give and receive directions (“straight on, turn right at the pizza, and if you reach the giant pair of trousers you’ve gone too far”).
But it seems there is some resistance to such plans among the architecture community. On one online architecture forum this week, someone described plans for the ping pong hotel as an “insult to architecture, architects and professional practice”. Clearly it’s touched a nerve. I considered responding with a suggestion for a helmet-shaped police station, but thought better of it.
Anyway, I guess it’s all a matter of taste. Spectacular buildings such as Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, as well as the proposed rotating skyscrapers, have proved that there are few limitations on building design nowadays. But whether you’d actually want a city littered with hot dog- and doughnut-shaped fast food joints is another matter entirely. But I admire the creativity of the ping pong hotel designers, and who knows, maybe it will lead to a revolution in urban design.