big city, small spaces

Apartment complexes are the jack-of-all-trades of Beijing’s buildings. Due to some contortions of the zoning laws and permits, apartment buildings often double up as office buildings–and more–because it is often much cheaper for tax purposes and economically viable for small businesses.

Scott’s office, which doubles up, even has that most luxurious of furnishings–a bathtub!

The mixed use means that hidden inside even the most boring apartment buildings are all kinds of interesting places.

We went to Hou Xiandai Cheng 后现代城 (Post-modern city) for the opening of the Flying White art exhibition at the FangArt gallery.  It turned out that FangArt was actually a duplex inside Building 16.  On the outside of the building, there is nothing that would distinguish it from being anything else but an apartment block.

In Soho Xiandaicheng(Soho 现代城), there is a venue called Wain Wain that is apparently simply a 35th-floor apartment that the owners turned into a Japanese bar.  I haven’t been there yet, but it’s been written up as having fantastic views.

Ironically, according to this article from Biz Cult, one thing a Beijing apartment can’t be is a home office.  A company office is no problem, but heaven forbid that you work from home.

In an otherwise generic article about Beijing, the Miami Herald points out that “Every modern apartment complex is really its own little alley-laced hutong where traditional Chinese city life unfolds.” Mixed uses, the jumbling together of residential and business spaces, is certainly a part of that tradition.

I often wonder what Jane Jacobs, the doyenne of urban thinkers, would have thought of Beijing, and especially of Beijing’s apartment complexes because they could be read as a paradox of the ideas she espoused in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  Modern Chinese apartment complexes have their own characters and cultures, and certainly Chinese apartment complexes are far more mixed-use than American ones. But, at the same time, she undoubtedly would have deplored the destruction of the hutongs that created the modern apartment complex and likely thought that they were uncomfortably close to the rationalist city planning ideals that she particularly resisted. (Disclaimer: it’s been a few years since I read Jacobs with a critical fine eye as my copy is at home in Los Angeles.)

(Picture from Wain Wain.)

What kind of interesting things have you, dear reader, found in Beijing’s apartment complexes?

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3 Comments on "big city, small spaces"

  1. Louanne
    13/04/2008 at 1:01 am Permalink

    Our building had a foot massage place, a real estate place and something that I couldn’t understand becuase I can’t read Mandarin. There were 10 buildings in our “area” and there was a cleaner, barber shop, clothing stores, multiple PC shops, game shops, restaurants, hair salons, a spa and more I am sure I can’t think of right now.

    Being back in the states for 2 weeks has been really weird, like having to drive MILES to get to a grocery store. And so weird not to see people on every corner waiting to cross the street. The buses look empty and now I understand why the public transit around here claims they loose money every year. The only people I see on bikes now are kids.

    But I am happy to have my soft bed, shower/bathtub and kitchen back. Hee hee.

  2. Badr
    14/04/2008 at 4:06 pm Permalink

    agghhh!!! come on!!! don’t let the cat out about wain wain.. it’s my favorite place to hide in the city… if it gets jam packed, i’m coming after you and i won’t tell you about this wonderful new chuan’r place i found!!


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