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
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
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
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.)
No. 1 East Chang'an Avenue
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
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.
CHINA RESOURCES BUILDING
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
In addition, Lee Garden residents automatically receive a Chang'an Club
guest card, allowing access to the prestigious club's dining, banquet and
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
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
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
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