What Will Be Rising Out of the Inner Mongolian Desert?

I can’t remember in what expat rag I first heard about businessman Cai Jiang’s project at Ordos (Urbane perhaps?), a town in the middle of the Inner Mongolian desert. It seemed interesting and unique, but I didn’t pay it much mind until I came across a long article in the New York Times about the project. Basically Mr. Cai is building a brand new district in Ordos, which is to consist of everything you’d want in what will basically be a new town: office buildings, apartments, museums, and malls, many that will be designed by world famous architects. The crowning touch of Ordos, though, is its 100 villas that are to be designed by 100 of the world’s hottest architects. They are to serve as housing for the rich, but also a sort of outdoor architectural/sculpture park.

The thing that most readers will probably take from the article is this part:
Not long ago, residents of this region 350 miles west of Beijing lived in elaborate tents called yurts. Now, with a population of 1.5 million, many live in homes that would make New Yorkers jealous. According to Bao Chongming, the regional vice-mayor, they have the second highest per-capita income in China (trailing only Shanghai, the country’s financial capital) and an annual economic growth rate of 40 percent.
I know, I know, you went back and made sure you read that right and, you did. The second highest per-capita income in China. Annual economic growth of 40% (mainly in coal and dairy). Granted, those stats are coming from a “regional vice-mayor”, not always the best source for accurate statistics, but even if they are remotely true, its absolutely shocking. Ordos is a city that almost no foreigners and very few Chinese, have ever heard of. And while it’s population of 1.5 million people might seem big by US standards, that’s small potatoes in China.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this, the artist Ai Weiwei, whose in part responsible for the Bird’s Nest design and is behind the Qu Nar restaurant in Beijing, is heavily involved in this project. The article explains that the architects picked were given free reign to design with very little guidelines, leaving one to wonder how integrated the villas will be. It sounds like it might be a situation where there are 100 beautiful individual homes, but when viewed together, it is complete chaos. The article also brings up the very real issue of environmental concerns when putting together such a large scale city project where now there is almost nothing.

Inner Mongolia has long been famous for its grasslands, beautiful prairies of great open space, will Ordos change all that? Will it become known for a sparkling city pushing the envelop of modern architecture in a country that’s already on the cutting edge or will it end up a desert disaster?

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