Without much media coverage one of the most unique and dramatic sites available in the whole of urban China has been sold off last week for 6.54 billion yuan (more than 1 billion us dollar) to Capitaland, one of Asia’s biggest real estate companies.
Capitaland won a tender to acquire the much sought after site of more than 91.000 square meters in China’s biggest municipality Chongqing for a mixed-use project that will cost 21.1 billion yuan (3.3 billion us dollar) to develop, making it the largest development project by Capitaland in China.
The site is unique because it is located in Chaotianmen at the tip of Jiefangbei in Chongqing where the Yangtze and Jialing rivers meet. The area resembles in a way Manhattan in New York, not only in lay-out, but also in density of skyscrapers.
The tip of the peninsula currently is being used as square where people fly their kites and where you can enjoy a nice view over the rivers and bridges. Underneath the square is the urban planning exhibition hall of Chongqing, that has a scale model of the city in 2020 that is similar in size, if not larger than Shanghai’s spectacular model in the Urban Exhibition and Planning museum.
I’ve been to Chongqing several times over the past couple of years and it is by far the most fascinating and dynamic city in China to me. The scale of construction that is underway in the city of 33 million, with numerous skyscrapers over 400 meter under construction or planned, several large suspension bridges across the rivers, the dramatic setting against the hills and the fusion of old China with the new, it all makes Chongqing stand apart from any other city in China I’ve been to.
Currently work is also underway to build the 1200 square kilometer large Liangjiang New Area in Chongqing, which after Pudong in Shanghai and Binhai in Tianjin is China’s third official sub provincial area and a future magnet for business, or so they hope in Chongqing.
And now the city landscape gets even more dramatic and probably controversial. Capitaland has joined with Safdie Architects and has proposed a building very similar to the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, which also is a design by Safdie.
Two central towers will rise more than 350 meter in the sky, behind which six lower towers are placed with a viewing platform connecting four of them at the top. The buildings are supposed to be inspired by the sails of ship, while one side of the buildings will be a green roof garden-like idea.
Daan Roggeveen, a Dutch architect in Shanghai, who is the founder of the Go West-project, which published the well received book ‘How the city moved to Mr Sun’ about China’s rapid urbanization calls the proposal by Safdie ‘an absolute chutzpah’.
‘First of all, it is an almost literal copy of their Marina Sands Bay scheme in Singapore. Secondly, the metaphor of the sailing ships is to cheap to be true, especially when it is combined with the roof garden’, according to Roggeveen.
‘Creating a huge north-south orientated residential complex because of market demands, and then calling it the sails of a ship because it happens to be next to a river is a bit too simple for me, especially when you work for such an interesting client. It seems the architect did nothing to relate the building in a true way to its magnificent location in one of the most thrilling square kilometers of Asia.’
‘The interesting thing is that Singapore once again proves to be the example for Chinese inland cities. But time has come for these cities to develop their own architectural icons – and stay away from letting the architects repeat themselves.’
According to Roggeveen Hong Kong and Singapore have always been the examples in China’s urban development ‘especially in the early eighties when referring to the west was still too sensitive’. This works through huge top down residential development, ‘new’ history, powerful infrastructure and a Central Business Distric as the icing on the cake. So its urban ‘mechanism’ has been an example for a lot of Chinese cities. Apparantly, now its icons follow.’
I tend to agree with him. Especially for an architect to use an existing design for such a landmark project and not try to come up with something more creative really is a shame. But whether you like the proposed design or not, it will add a huge new landmark to China’s hinterland.
You have to wonder (again) though whether China isn’t growing ahead of itself. Capitaland plans to open large luxury shopping malls in the project, a high end hotel and of course expensive residential apartments. When they open in 2017 or so, the income gap in China probably has widened even further than it has today.
I wonder what all those Chongqing bang bang ren that you can see carrying huge piles of goods on a stick on their shoulders in Chongqing think of these development.