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August 19, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright August 19, 2008 Eric Setzekorn. Used by permission.


In the midst of the forest of new skyscrapers, a subtle change is occurring in Beijing architecture which may have more lasting importance than the soaring towers of the Central Business District. Outside the fourth ring road massive new apartment blocks are greatly increasing the average living space and comfort level of the growing middle class.

Built in record time by massive crews of migrant laborers the new complexes promise residents a more controlled and relaxed life , but the centralized, homogenous designs hinder the development of neighborhood feeling and community. The new developments allow the beneficiaries of China’s thirty years of rapid development to isolate themselves from urban crime, noise and pollution in gated communities removed from the majority of the population.

The developments have been fueled by easy credit at rates often below the rate of inflation, the desire of city officials to leave tangible legacies, and real estate developers eager to tap into the booming wealth of Chinese professionals. The resulting scale of Beijing’s new communities is unrivalled in East Asia, with the possible exception of South Korea’s chaebol apartment blocks. Single developments can occupy up to a square kilometer, with average buildings up to twenty floors high. Located far from the major commercial areas in Chaoyang or the city center, massive underground parking garages extend up to three floors below ground. Residents are mostly young professionals with university educations and stable high-income jobs in technology, finance or service industries.