Amid the wreckage of old Beijing, the Modern Group debuts “Moma,” a condominium tower that pays homage to Mies and Design Within Reach.
THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF BEIJING
are being bulldozed away. Vinyl posters and billboards affixed to temporary walls attempt to conceal the remnants of the old city. “Soming [sic
] is Waiting for You,” reads a billboard for Chateau Regalia, which has yet to be built. The image of a woman wearing a blood-red, low-cut evening dress obscures a torn-down apartment complex whose residents are now living in vans.
Before new real estate developments are built, they are sold. Temporary structures accommodating condominium sales offices beckon potential investors. The architectural models advertised in these showrooms are not concerned with floor plans or other practical details. Instead, they advertise the way the developments, from Home of Tycoons to Long Island to SOHO, will confer status on each resident. For every showroom, a new version of the entire city is reproduced in scale models with detailed descriptions of each condo’s relation to all the other buildings and freeways yet to be constructed. The would-be inhabitants are lucky pioneers signing up to be transported to the future, though they may have to walk through piles of rubble to get there.
Tammy Ho and I did not fit the profile of potential property owners. On a smoggy summer day, Tammy, my friend and Chinese translator, accompanied me to the offices of Moma
, a luxury condo development in Beijing. (A Chinese real estate team called the Modern Group decided that naming the condos after the famous New York museum was the best way to emphasize the artfulness of the new living spaces.) We wore khaki shorts and T-shirts and arrived at the complex on bikes, with our hair disheveled. To get to the offices, we walked down a winding brick path lined with large photos of famous architects: Le Corbusier, I. M. Pei, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. After passing these portraits, we turned the corner to see a picture of Dietmar Eberle, the lesser-known Swiss architect responsible for this particular Moma
A model of the Beijing metropolitan area and its future high-rises and freeways filled the entire front entry of the sales office. A second model in the main foyer showed a closer view of Moma
, complete with simulated waterways and a purring fog machine that added to the development’s mystique (and created a literal smoke-and-mirrors effect).
While we perused the sales literature at the front counter, a middle-aged man began an angry rant, his companions staring on silently. Tammy informed me that he was complaining about all of the foreigners coming to live in Beijing. His outburst was loud enough that everyone in the lobby could hear. I was the only Caucasian in the room, and I wanted to disappear.
The man left after a few minutes, and a perky sales representative came up and introduced himself. He led us to one of the small round tables stationed against the walls. Next to it was an indoor stream formed by a trough in the floor, which ran along the perimeter of the room, gurgling as he spoke. We sat with the salesman for about an hour, learning about the various features of the new multimillion-dollar penthouses. They would be energy efficient and full of light and come with built-in vacuum cleaners. The outside of the building would feature copper window frames that would be allowed to oxidize over time, their color changing over the years (perhaps a nod to conceptual art).
Tammy and I covered our sneakers in plastic bags to protect them from the dust and debris, then embarked on a tour of a model apartment. The interior decoration looked like a Design Within Reach showroom, with a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair parked in the living room and well-placed Jackson Pollock posters hanging from the walls. In the children’s bedroom, there were signs of a budding artist: An easel and paint tray sat in the corner of the room, and the bookshelves were sparsely decorated with Roman busts.
I asked our guide if there would be an art gallery in the building, given its name. He said there would not, but there would be a gym on the ground floor; not only a gym, but a location of the Alexandria Gym, which had been ranked number one in Asia for the past three years.
Not so long ago, there were real estate solutions for everyone in Beijing: Home of Tycoons
for the nouveau riche, Long Island for commuters, SOHO for the downtown set, and Moma
for art lovers and gym-goers.