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Home Buyers Hot for Traditional Siheyuan
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Chinese-style villas are becoming increasingly popular in China's real estate market, but there is concern the ancient forms are being rigidly copied without innovations to meet modern demands.


"This may particularly frustrate villa buyers from overseas, who admire Chinese traditional culture, but do not understand the old Chinese buildings," Yan Shaohua, general manager of Beijing Lucky Hope Real Estate Co Ltd, told China Business Weekly.


Lucky Hope is developing the I-House project composed of 300 villas built like siheyuan, or the traditional Chinese way of building four homes around a courtyard in Beijing's Shunyi District.


Prices range from 6,900 yuan (US$833.33) per square meter, for houses connected to each other, to 10,000 yuan (US$1,207.73) per square meter for detached homes.


Lucky Hope began selling the units last November. So far, the company has sold more than 30 villas to be built during the first phase, said Yan, who is the project's general architect.


Ninety villas are to be constructed in the project's first phase.


Not alone


Last September, Tsinghua Unis Real Estate Development Co Ltd launched its siheyuan-style Cathay View, which is located near Beijing Capital International Airport.


Cathay View, composed of 350 villas, is considerably more expensively about 7 million yuan (US$845,410.63) per unit.


Hong Kong-based Thaihot Group built the Chinese-style villa complex Courtyard by the Canal in Beijing's Tongzhou District, near the city's central business district. Those villas cost about US$2,000 per square meter.


In Shanghai, at least five villa developments are being built. The major projects include Jiujiantang, in Pudong, and Celebrity Villa, in Qingpu. Units in each of those developments cost more than 10 million yuan (US$1.21 million).


Other famous Chinese-style villas being built in China include: Xiangshan Jiadi (classic home in Xiangshan) and Yuefu Garden, both in western Beijing; Qinghua Fang (Tsinghua House), in Guangzhou and Chengdu; and Chinese Home, in Nanjing.


The boom appears to be driven by market choice.


"We did not even know the other side was developing Chinese-style villas," Yan said.


Zhang Hong, an associate director of property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle Beijing, said the demand for such villas indicates home buyers are returning to China's traditional culture.


By January, Cathay View had sold more than one-third of its villas, said Lu Dalong, chairman of Tsinghua Unis Real Estate.


The better-than-expected sales of Chinese-style villas is prompting other developers to create similar complexes.


Several new Chinese-style villa projects reportedly are being developed in Beijing, including Qinghua Fang.


The true challenge is not constructing one like an ancient building, but combining local demand, ancient spirit of culture and modern technology, Lu said.


He added Beijing's cold climate warrants the grey, thick walls, and the circular layout of different rooms in a courtyard.


Given Beijing's climate, southern Chinese-style houses, which stress thin doors and windows and openness of the courtyard, are not suitable, Lu said.


Yan said a traditional siheyuan is not so comfortable. The layout of the rooms is the result of hierachical arrangement, with the elders living in the room facing south and the sons living in wing rooms with poorer lighting.


"When pursuing ancient construction styles with traditional construction materials, developers may give up the goodness of modern technology, such as massive use of cement," Yan said.


"Although the kind of house is more ancient, it may become dilapidated within years."


(China Business Weekly March 20, 2005)



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