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  All materials © 1999 
  Beijing Scene


Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 26, September 17 - 23

Brave New Beijing

From luxury apartments and villas to slick new high-rise office complexes
and self-contained "cities," the future of Beijing's real estate is taking a new shape. Having long wrestled with its identity as the political center of China, the Northern Capital is clearly edging a bit closer to Manhattan, or at least Los Angeles.

From luxury apartments and villas to slick new high-rise office complexes and self-contained "cities," the future of Beijing's real estate is taking a new shape. Having long wrestled with its identity as the political center of China, the Northern Capital is clearly edging a bit closer to Manhattan, or at least Los Angeles.

The Beijing real estate market is one of those topics about which a basic understanding does not require a Ph.D. in Rocket Science. As a matter of fact, in addition to the advanced degree in rocketry, you'll also need a license to practice psychoanalysis in a socialist country, a Master's Degree in Chaos Theory Economics and the SAS open-heart surgery field manual. In other words, no one really understands what's going on.

'Real estate' sounds like an innocuous enough concept. The Latin root for 'real' is res, or 'thing,' and its legalistic connotation here refers to immovable objects such as land or man-made structures (which, by definition, excludes the China Travel Building at Sanyuan Bridge, whose designers apparently don't share human DNA structure to any remarkable degree).

'Estate' refers to property, of course, and contains the related connotation of 'status.' Hence "real estate," in one sense, is just a fancy, French-derived euphemism for immovable property. Refrigerators, auditorium-sized Cray super-computers, and diamond wedding rings-although all very large and unwieldy-do not qualify as real estate.

Add the word "Beijing," and here's where your degree in rocket science comes in handy. When a society only very recently disenthralled with the dream of communal property embraces a world where anything that really matters can only be described in terms of "price per square meter," the result is what polite circles like to refer to as a big train wreck.

Under PRC law a Hong Kong mogul may lease the land for his multi-billion dollar megacomplex for 99 years, but every ounce of dirt under the foundation still technically belongs to "the people." Other problems arise from the conflict between an inherently long-term industry doing business in a policy environment where most incentives are decidedly short-term.

But despite seemingly pessimistic trends, domestic and foreign investors are optimistic about the immovable property business in Beijing. In both commercial and residential markets, most of the vital statistics-occupancy, rent, economic growth rate-are going down. '63, for instance, was a good year for French cinema, but it's not an ideal percentage rate for commercial occupancy in the capital city of the world's most populous country. In the other direction (up, that is), what you find are plenty of tall buildings, floorspace, square meterage, and expectations. Chang'an Avenue is moving faster vertically than some of its cab drivers are able to move horizontally, and the enormous new district of Wang Jing (just past the East Fourth Ring Road) will be a 24-hour-a-day construction site for the next decade, as a thickening forest of twenty to forty-story buildings gradually re-routes jet traffic from Beijing's Capital Airport.

Real estate in Beijing, as elsewhere in China, suggests the co-existence of two realities: what should be and what is. The numbers don't add up. Political and economic news is consistently unpromising. And the glut of available commercial space is such a tiresome old story, it's beginning to resemble a guest who says goodbye in the hallway but never leaves. In fact, the real estate world here seems to run according to the same logic used by studio accountants in Hollywood-where reality isn't always the point. And that's because despite economic slow-downs, investor fears, and over-development of the commercial and residential sectors, Beijing is in the process of re-inventing itself.

From luxury apartments and villas to slick new high-rise office complexes and self-contained 'cities,' the future of Beijing's real estate is taking a new shape. Having long wrestled with its identity as the political center of China, the NorthernCapital is clearly edging a bit closer to Manhattan, or at least Los Angeles.

In the early years of the coming millennium, for instance, you'll see a re-invented Chang'an Avenue: Its Central Business District, with Li Ka-shing's Oriental Plaza as its focal point, will vie for attention with a re-envisioned Jianguomenwai-where embassies and foreign compounds will add flavor to an important, high-tech business district full of shiny new high-rises and the China World towers won't look so outlandishly tall anymore. Zhongguancun will no longer be just a 'village.' And the subway will finally become a preferred mode of transportation for expats and
locals alike.

Among other new developments on the horizon, New Town, Lee Garden, the China Resources Building, and Oriental Plaza will play a vital role in the near future of Beijing. As the international business status of the city grows, and its own entrepreneurial population reaches maturity, a New Beijing will truly become an immovable feast.

Oriental Plaza Central, Comprehensive and Really Big

The traditional Chinese courtyard-style house symbolizes the essence of Beijing's architectural charm, and embodies China's long-treasured values about the relationship between humans and their surrounding environment.

The enclosure of open space within a square represents, among other things,security, unity, and a contemplative inward gaze that many westerners identify as one of the defining traits of Chinese culture.

On a more practical level, in a crowded urban environment the courtyard design is gaining importance as a welcome retreat from the bustle of modern life and its noisy industrial accoutrements. If a western house is one's castle, then a Beijing courtyard is one's kingdom: an unhindered piece of the sky; four corners of one's own world; and complete possession and mastery of all that one surveys. Among expat and overseas Chinese residents of Beijing, even a very small, dilapidated, coal-heated courtyard house, along a quaint little hutong, has become an increasingly hot commodity.

And Hong Kong real estate and shipping tycoon Li Ka-shing is no exception. Only, unlike most folks, Mr. Li and his investment partners were able to dig up US$2 billion for their tripartite courtyard, and had the good taste to situate its cozy 100,000 square meters within a stone's throw of Tiananmen Square at the quaint little address of No. 1 East Chang'an Avenue.

Oriental Plaza is, unquestionably, the largest courtyard house in China. It is also the largest commercial complex in Asia, and destined to alter the entire character and commercial importance of Beijing's Central Business District.

As the project's marketing brochure describes it, "Oriental Plaza is a unique, self-contained, multi-function commercial city in the heart of Beijing." It is not very often that a real estate developer gets to brag about building a "city within a city," but in this case it is difficult to argue with the assertion.

Oriental Plaza is architecturally and conceptually divided into two domains. The first, the Towers, comprises eight office towers, a 600-room five-star hotel, two blocks of 1,000 fully furnished, luxury serviced apartments and comprehensive convention and exhibition center. The second, the Malls, occupies two stories of podiums, comprising five theme shopping and entertainment centers, four-season landscaped gardens and one of the largest car parks in the world.

With 800,000 square meters of total floor space, its own internal system of roads for automobiles and bicycles, its own power substation, several cinemas, a car park for 2,000 cars and 12,000 bicycles, and advanced telecommunication and satellite TV systems, Oriental Plaza is indeed a city within a city.

For corporations and retail businesses seeking a dominant location in Beijing, Oriental Plaza is undeniably a desirable place to hang one's commercial hat. According to Alice Kwong, Corporate Marketing Manager, Beijing Oriental Plaza, "Boasts quite simply the best location in Beijing."

Many commercial and residential buildings claim to occupy a "central" location, but one really can't get any more central than Oriental Plaza. "Beijing is the center of China, because it's the capital," says Kwong. "And Tiananmen Square is the center of the city. And Oriental Plaza is the most comprehensive real estate project nearest to Tiananmen Square. There is nothing like it in China. Nothing like it in Beijing. We have the best location. The most central location in Beijing."

Access to the Plaza will be convenient by car from Chang'an Avenue or Dongdan, leading one onto Oriental Plaza's circular "outer" and "inner" roadways, from which the car park or any other destination within the project is accessible. In addition, the Malls will feature its own exclusive tunnel directly to the Wangfujing Subway Station.

The first phase of Oriental Plaza's office complex (approximately 100,000 square meters, or one-third of the total office space) and all of the shopping malls are due to be open by April 2000. This will include a full range of support facilities, such as banks, post office, courier services, and ticketing office. The five-star hotel and first phases of the residential blocks will be completed sometime by the end of the year 2000. For prospective tenants, project manager Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd. has opened a rather impressive showroom, "Oriental Plaza-The Millennium Showcase," on the sixth floor of Beijing Tower at 10 East Chang'an Avenue, directly across from Beijing Hotel. (Call 6526-3366 for an appointment.) A guided tour includes elaborate models of all the main sections of the Plaza, a sample water cascade, and a personal screening of the corporate video.

As a complimentary gift, you'll receive an Oriental Plaza key chain with a miniature calculator. (I used mine to determine the number of years it would take me at my present salary to save enough money to afford an apartment in Oriental Plaza. With anticipated advancements in lifespan-increasing biotechnology, I'll be a full-fledged Oriental Plaza citizen by the year 2132.)

Oriental Plaza
Dongfang Guangchang
No. 1 East Chang'an Avenue
tel: 6526-3366

China Resources Facing a new direction

The new China Resources Building is difficult to miss. Towering over what was formerly a sleepy ' old Beijing' neighborhood of courtyard houses and hutongs, the 26-storey neo-classical glass and granite behemoth is so refreshingly bold and imposing, it almost demands a double-take when driving by in a cab.

Frankly, it looks out of place. In fact, every large office building or hotel anywhere near Chang'an Avenue looks out of place-or, as one artist acquaintance of mine put it, "just plain ugly." But the China Resources Building looks out of place in a challenging, questioning sort of way. It almost conjures up a retro-futuristic vision of downtown Los Angeles, or the kind of structure you'd find tucked away in a matte painting of a megalopolis in a Star Wars movie.

And the oddest quality of this new landmark will surely strike you as unscientific: Not only is it the tallest building within the second ring road, but it also, in a manner of speaking, seems to be looking the wrong way. Hovering over the Second Ring Road like a hungry lion, China Resources Building is one of the few modern office buildings in the city facing east.

Even the Third Ring Gargantuas Jing Guang and China World don't really give
due east much face. In other words, one of the most impressive new buildings in town is looking a new direction. Which is all to say, this building is very cool.
Designed by HOK Architecture Design Company of St. Louis, Missouri, USA,
and managed by Hong Kong Longdation Enterprises, the China Resources
Building is quickly becoming a hot new address for domestic and foreign
corporate offices. With occupancy already exceeding 50 percent, including
the American Club (occupying the fourth floor), the building already has a
strong base of 40 corporate tenants.

China Resource's infrastructure offers all the requisite 21st century office building amenities-plenty of telecommunications options, intelligent-design security, structural cabling systems and satellite reception. And most of the podium-level floors are devoted to providing all the services necessary to support a vigorous corporate environment, including a business center, banking services, travel agents, photo finishing, laundry, medical clinic and express mail service.

China Resources Building also includes a business club, multi-function conference center, various dining options, indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, rooftop garden, and that most crucial of business perquisites: executive washrooms.

Although China Resources Building's location-on the west side of the East Second Ring Road, between Chaoyangmen and Jianguomen-seems at first challenging to reach by car, it's actually rather convenient, and the Jianguomen Subway Station is just a few stone's throw away.

Hua Run Daxia
No. 8 Jianguomenbei Avenue (East Second Ring Road)
Tel: 6515-5680 x 85

Lee garden convenience and prestige in wangfujing

Lee Garden Serviced Apartments is a 19-storey residential tower in the heart of Beijing's bustling Wangfujing shopping district. Located between Dong Dan Street and Wangfujing on Goldfish Lane, just a short walk from Chang'an Avenue's business district, this is a prestigious address attractive to both serious business people and serious shoppers. Only a few minutes walk from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and right in the middle of a cornucopia of entertainment and dining options, Lee Garden is about as central as one can possibly get in the Northern Capital.

Lee Garden's fully-furnished, contemporary European-style apartments range in size from 42 square meter studios (US$2000) to very spacious 165 square meter 3-bedroom units (US$7000). The minimum rental term is one month, and asking price includes all standard fees (parking, health club, swimming pool, twice-weekly hotel-style maid service, business center, etc.) Each unit comes fully equipped with satellite, cable and local television service, washer/dryer, ample telephone and data lines and a personal safe.

For short-term business travelers, the studio or 1-bedroom (73 square meter) apartments offer a very attractive alternative to staying in a hotel. The studio apartments, for instance, provide the equivalent services of a hotel with the freedom of a residence for roughly US$65 per day.

Access to transportation is very convenient. Although the Wangfujing district itself can become congested with bicycle and automobile traffic, even at peak hours you are still very close to the main arteries of Chang'an Avenue and Chaoyangmennei Road (via Dongdan and Wangfujing streets, and quite pleasant old Beijing alleyways). Nearby Dongdan and Wangfujing subway stops will be open soon, and Lee Garden also provides free shuttle service to major central business district locations.

Although Lee Garden is still in the first phase of opening, (with only three floors presently available for rent), all services are currently available. A heated indoor swimming pool and state-of-the-art health club, sauna, steam rooms, and locker facilities will be available before the project's final completion phase in December 1999, but similar facilities  are temporarily available to tenants in the nearby Chang'an Club on Chang'an Avenue.

In addition, Lee Garden residents automatically receive a Chang'an Club guest card, allowing access to the prestigious club's dining, banquet and conference facilities.

For the short or long-term business traveler who can afford or demands luxury, prestige, and convenience, 18 Goldfish Lane will be hard to beat.

Beijing Li Yuan Gongyu
18 Goldfish Lane, Wangfujing
Tel: 6526-2233

New town 'the american dream' beijing-style

Just 800 meters east of the China World Trade Center, on the south side of Chang'an Avenue, New Town is a commercial, retail and residential complex which offers Chinese consumers homeowners their own version of the Beijing homeowner's dream..

Situated in the rapidly growing business district that has developed around China World, New Town (along with the Motorola and Hewlett-Packard towers) is pulling Chang'an Avenue's business axis eastward, and furthering the so-called 'Manhattanization' of East Chang'an Avenue.

Although everything east of China World seemed 'off the map' until very recently, this is now one of the most accessible locations in Beijing. With the newly-opened East Fourth Ring Road, New Town offers easy highway access to the airport (avoiding entirely the traffic-congested Third Ring Road), and will soon boast a subway connection to the new Fuba line from Xidawang Road Station at New Town's front doorstep.

Still under construction, New Town's design reflects the "inwardly expansive" aesthetic of the Chinese courtyard style-writ large, of course. New Town's northern gate is an immense twin-tower commercial and retail complex, which its award-winning architects have designed to serve as a "spirit screen" shielding the residential component from the bad fengshui, noise, and bustle of Chang'an Avenue. Along New Town's southernmost border, the newly dredged and detoxified Tong Hui River isn't exactly the Seine, but will take you by boat to the Summer Palace.

Between these rivers of water and automobiles, you'll find New Town's 'village within a city': six high-rise, pastel-colored residential buildings integrated efficiently among gardens, playing fields, underground parking, recreational facilities and the equivalent of three football fields of greenery.

New Town's residential units are what you might call the Ikea version of the American dream. The 90 to 180 square-meter units feature spacious, radial floorplans, natural wood floors, large kitchens and wall-to-floor windows. All units are pre-fitted according to an interior design philosophy that, much like the famous Swedish furniture-maker, provides a simple foundation from which to get creative.

New Town also offers a limited number of rooftop "villas in the sky." These 310 square-meter, four-bedroom, two-storey penthouses feature 100 square-meter courtyard-style rooftop gardens and are nothing short of spectacular. Although they almost defy description, take my advice: If you ever meet a sky-villa tenant, make friends-quickly.

While not for sale to foreigners, New Town units will be available for lease from Chinese tenants.

Xian Dai Cheng
800 meters east of Guo Mao, south side of Chang'an Ave.
Tel: 800-810-0741/2/3, 6585-4441/2/3/5/6


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