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Last year Time Out Magazine rated Chengdu’s Tangba Jie as one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world. This is probably not surprising to residents of Chengdu or anyone who has been following the city’s development over the past decade. Tangba Jie has always been a popular spot with locals as it is host to a wide array of classic (and affordable!) Sichaun street food vendors.

Now with the completion of the adjacent Taikoo Li commercial development and new subway stops nearby at Chunxi Lu and DongMen Bridge, Tangba Jie has exploded with new boutiques, hotels and bars. What makes Tangba Jie an especially great neighborhood is that while it has evolved, it still retains a quintessentially Chengdu vibe.

My good friend Kam Panesar recently did a walk-through of Tangba Jie with a local Chengdu TV station. Kam is a British architect whose practice, Urban Hybrid Architecture, has done several projects in and around Chengdu, inlcuidng one in Tangba Jie. Check out the video below to get a better sense of one of Chengdu’s (and China’s) hottest neighborhoods.

The New York Times has published yet another article about China’s real estate market and the proliferation of empty apartment buildings. This time the focus is on Jurong, a suburb of Nanjing in Jiangsu Province where a new 22-building residential complex called “Center Park” sits mostly empty. The NYT posits that what is happening in Jurong and other cities across China is cause for concern- enough so to even consider that a housing correction in China could bring down the global economy. Even though I don’t think the article gives a full picture, it is worth a read: Empty Homes and Protests: China’s Property Market Strains the World

To be sure, the glut of empty apartment buildings across China is cause for concern but what is missed in the coverage of this phenomenon is the reason why there seem to be so many empty buildings. It all has to do with government policy and the singular focus on economic growth. At some level, government leaders in China at both the national and local levels understand that the building boom will not last forever and that abundant labor to construct buildings and infrastructure will not always be so easy to come by.

On top of the concerns about future labor shortages, the Chinese government has a policy of discouraging land banking/land speculation by property developers. This makes sense given that China’s cities are rapidly urbanizing. To prevent land speculation, the Chinese government has a policy whereby property developers who successfully bid on a piece of land have a limited window, usually 2-3 years or so, on which they can build. Without developing property, these developers may lose the rights to the land.

What this oftentimes leads to is buildings sprouting up where there necessarily isn’t as high of a demand (at the moment). Sometimes these developments are on the outskirts of town with plans for future transit connections to job centers. Even in the NYT article, one of the homeowners in the Center Park development in Jurong is hopeful about a new subway line that will connect it to the megacity of Nanjing in less than 5 years.

And what about developments that remain largely empty and don’t see any sign of being populated anytime soon? Well, buildings, even empty ones, have valuable construction materials that can be salvaged and reused in more productive building types in the future. Empty buildings can also serve as a type of subterfuge to get around China’s policy against land banking.

Does this make any sense? Probably not to observers from the United States and other Western countries with more mature property markets. Is China headed for a total real estate collapse and will it bring down the entire global economy with it? I do think there will be some sort of correction for sure, but I don’t expect it to be catastrophic.

In the end if (when) there is a real estate correction in China, winners and losers will be determined by location, location, location. Properties close to city centers and job centers in 1st and 2nd tier cities will hold their value whereas those further on the outskirts and in 3rd and 4th tier cities may lose significant value.

Individual buyers invested in units in these buildings may lose their shirts, but the Chinese government can always step in with some sort of assistance program to ensure that upset home buyers who see their home values drop don’t threaten social stability.

It helps to view China’s urban development and property market with a long lens. Western publications like the New York Times have been predicting a real estate market meltdown in China for well over a decade now but have consistently failed to examine why the current condition exists and all the different ways in which the country could potentially manage a correction, as insurmountable as that may seem.

Image courtesy of Austin Williams

Very rare is it to meet a China expat in the architecture and design field who is as an astute observer of development trends as Austin Williams. Williams is a British architect and educator who came to China six years ago at the behest of the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) in Suzhou to set up a new Architecture Department there.

Prior to making the move over to China, Williams was an editor of the Architects’ Journal and authored a series of books for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). He is currently working a new book, China’s Urban Revolution: Understanding Chinese Eco-Cities“, which is due out this October.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Williams recently about his experience in China and his observations of the country’s development. We also spoke a bit about his new book and how he is generally bullish about China’s ability to quickly clean up the environmental mess that has been generated through rapid development. View full post »

Photo by Adam Mayer

This article by Harry den Hartog originally appeared at Sixth Tone.

As early as 2002, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas noted how architectural spaces facilitated the urge to consume: “Shopping is arguably the last remaining form of public activity. Shopping has infiltrated, colonized, and even replaced almost every aspect of urban life. Town centers, suburbs, streets, and now airports, train stations, museums, hospitals, schools, and the internet are shaped by the mechanisms and spaces of shopping.” View full post »

  • Dolores - Living in China, and walking through this Huge empty malls, I’ve always wondered what is the future of these malls?
    It is not sustainable especially with the rise of the e-commerce and the convenience of it.
    I mean, retailers that have been here for years such are Carrefour are selling their Chinese operation to alibaba and tencent.
    If you have any sources about this, I’ll be happy to have them.
    Thanks and great topicReplyCancel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImage courtesy of HASSELL

On my Twitter feed I recently came across a post about a new urban development concept called “SuperDensity” crafted by the international design practice HASSELL. Introduced by HASSELL Principal David Tickle at the 2016 Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat International Conference in China this past October, SuperDensity is described as a “three-dimensional systems of open space, transport and resource utilization, inspired by the systems of the existing city”.

Having not attended the CTBUH talk and only seen a few provocative renderings of lush towers rising out of the Hong Kong skyline, I wanted to learn more about this proposal. David was a nice enough to answer a few questions for us and elaborate on the ideas that led to SuperDensity. View full post »

  • Hayden White - My concern, having seen this idea proliferate around the center for tall buildings and urban habitats and toy with it personally is that it might become too inclusive and not be resilient to failure. When we look at the steven holl linked hybrid in Beijing, where I now work as an urban design researcher, we can see (often) armed security surrounding the area that was designed to be ‘public space’. I also think back to corbusier’s unite dehabitation and how it did not take long for commercial activity to move out and shops became abandoned. In my own opinion this arose from a lack of commercial competition.

    I believe such towers could be very well designed but what is more challenging is the econometrics of how infrastructure and commerce would be sustained.

    Would the spaces be public? (for all!) or private. Any ambiguity would quickly be pounced upon by a developer.

    Would the ‘vertical street’ contain paid-for amenity or services (cinema/gym/shops?)? And how could these be sustained at reasonable cost. Of course, hoping here that the notion of Super Density is not restrained to the wealthy elite.

    My hunch is that this kind of tower could plug in to a vertical section like Kowloon Station in HK very well but would need paid-for amenities to remain near ground level to force competition and supplier resilience should a premises be vacated or close down.

    I also believe fast/slow elevators can act as somewhat public/private elevators. I wonder whether this would be something designed in. No room key to take an elevator to shops/public garden but would later need a room key to activate the elevator to individual residential floors?ReplyCancel

    • David Tickle - Hi Hayden,
      Thanks for taking the time to make these comments. You are absolutely right about public/private delineation … and it’s fundamental to our proposal. SuperDensity is primarily a public system, with the vertical “street” rising to the top of the structure and having complete public access – although there would be some commercial activity, like a typical city street. It definitely does not work if it is a privatised system.
      And yes, fast and slow lift options make sense. Our idea is that the main “tram” would be like a bus that moves vertically and only stops at certain points.
      Thanks again for the comments. We will be uploading the full report to our website (www.hassellstudio.com) in a few weeks so keep an eye out for it!
      DavidReplyCancel

  • Warner Quinlan - This is a really big problem with Chinese cities, it’s sad to see China falling into this trap instead of following the much better East Asian urbanization style of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan with small blocks and narrower streets. A lot of developments are totally out of human scale and to car-centric, it’s partly the reason those so-called ghost cities look so empty.
    This author articulates this really well, his articles are a must readReplyCancel