Inner Mongolia’s Empty City


Ordos 100 project architects wander the emptiness of Inner Mongolia. Photo by Flickr user mi schoner

In August, I came across an intriguing photo in Tokyo’s Mori Museum — a group of what appeared to be a group of urban sophisticates wandering, seemingly lost, in a desert landscape. The image was part of an exhibit on the work of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, but it wasn’t the photo itself that was on display: Ai was the “curator”, working along with hip Swiss architects Herzog & deMeuron, of a project called “Ordos 100,” and the wanderers were among one hundred architects, each selected to develop a villa in a development near a booming city called Ordos in China’s resource-rich Inner Mongolia, which is apparently gaining a reputation as “the Chinese Texas”.

Since the onset of the global recession, Ordos has come to resemble its Texas counterparts in more ways than one: a vast, hypermodern extension of the city sits almost completely empty. Ordos cannot fill the hundreds of rank-and-file apartments that were conceived and constructed while Ordos 100’s vanity villas have remained in the design stage.

But if the symptom — depopulated tracts of gleaming new suburban housing — is the same, the underlying problem is far different in Ordos than in the United States, where bank foreclosures have depopulated so many Sunbelt cul-du-sacs. Facing its own downturn, China used part of its massive economic stimulus program to build the new Ordos. That has spurred the growth of the country’s GDP, but all the housing that went up remains too expensive for most residents of Ordos’ old city to move out.

In 2008, movingcities enthusiastically declared Ordos “waiting to be populated”. In a more recent, and grimmer assessment, Al-Jazeera’s correspondent deemed it “China’s empty city”, in a segment starting around 1:15 below:


This entry was written by Christopher Szabla , posted on Saturday November 14 2009at 03:11 am , filed under Architecture, Asia Pacific, Video and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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