Though the sustainability of building large planned cities out in the middle of the desert is rather questionable, it doesn't seem to stop anyone from doing it. Case in point: Ordos, one of China's latest planned developments, is located in the desert of Inner Mongolia and modelled after Dubai. It is also a city that was built overnight on the coal and natural gas fortunes of the region, boasting a "hot" property market and newly constructed houses and beautiful civic buildings, like this passive solar museum by MAD Architects.
Mimicking the desert's dunes, the undulating facade's copper louvers allow for natural lighting and ventilation and for passive climate control. The building's curvaceous form takes a conscious stand against the strict grid of the planned city.
Gorgeous skylights illuminate interiors which are whitewashed and sleekly designed to include an atrium criss-crossed with pathways leading to exhibition areas which are slated to showcase the cultural relics of the region.
There's only one problem though: according to a number of reports, this new development area of Ordos, dubbed "Kangbashi" -- is intended for 1 million residents, but lies mainly empty, despite the local government's efforts to convince people to move from the older, established city center of 1.5 million inhabitants, 15 miles away.
We have previously written on the issue -- with 64 million vacant houses, enough for 200 million people, the result is extraordinary waste, "all predicated on an infinite supply of funny money and cheap energy."
The New York Times points to several newly constructed "ghost towns" standing empty in China, fuelled by a booming economy, rampant real estate speculation and a lack of actual residents:
But determining whether the Ordos-style expansion and re-engineering of old cities is being driven by smart planning or propelled by speculative madness is a prime challenge for Beijing policy makers.
Fearing inequality and social unrest, China’s national government has struggled to rein in soaring property prices and stem the threat of inflation, even as ambitious local officials continue to draw up blueprints for new megacities. [..]
Patrick Chovanec, who teaches business at Tsinghua University in Beijing, says the building boom is driven by frenzied investors — not the housing needs of millions of migrating workers.
“People are using real estate as an investment, as a place to store cash — they treat it like gold,” Professor Chovanec said. “They’re stockpiling empty units. This is going on in cities of virtually every size.”
According to a recent Financial Times article, construction accounts for "13 per cent of gross domestic product, and for more than one-quarter of all investment in what is the most investment-dependent economy in history." If it does happen, a bursting of China's real estate bubble will have serious repercussions on the wider world economy.
It's already a precarious situation: according to Reuters, because of a clogged housing supply, property prices in Ordos and other cities like Beijing and Shanghai have dropped since the summer, prompting a wave of protests from buyers who previously paid the full price on their homes.
Nevertheless, with large numbers of rural Chinese projected to move into cities, it remains to be seen whether these new towns will slowly become inhabited, or if they are bubble-like mirages destined to burst as they did for Dubai. Perhaps it could be said then that Ordos' new museum is symbolic of many of these unsustainable new developments: deceptively shiny outside, but hollow within.