Housing boom or bust

– by Ding Mi – (photos: Ding Mi) –

While the Chinese economy has boomed, the construction sector (especially residential market) has also seen a dramatic rise over the last 30 years. Due to the huge population in China, developers invest considerable amounts of money for housing projects; however, some problems have arisen in this sector in recent years. Housing problems are not confined to the issues of over-supplied/under-used residential developments as in the well-documented cases of ‘ghost cities’ like Ordos, Inner Mongolia, for example. Indeed, examining the city of Yinchuan in northwest China, we find that the quality – as opposed to the quantity – of residential buildings, is of some concern.

Publication1Yinchuan, is the capital of Ningxia Hui Automomous Region. A survey of a number of residential buildings was carried out by the author and one other student, Gu Mengxue in the summer of 2013. Most of the buildings in this survey can be found near Xinyue Plaza, next to the main road (Beijing Road) that connects the three districts of the city.

7 yera old building with fading facadeOne site that drew our attention is in the north where the construction of a new community is soon going to be finished. These buildings that look like a Mao-era block, 50 years old, is in fact from 2006 (just 7 years old).

The local government is responsible for building this community neighbourhood and it is intended for key workers in areas such as education and medicine, especially those who do not yet own property (picture). Most of these prospective residents have to wait just one year for the building to be constructed before they can collect their key from the developer and start to arrange their new apartment.

picture 10Some community facilities like a local residential community centre, a nursery and a primary school are included in the overall design of the site and (picture). Construction work is ongoing in the surrounding areas, which indicates that this area is going to become a greatly expanded residential area in the future.

A nearby gated community is hugely contrasting, but there are also many problems here that belie the notion that these are select residential areas that the wealthy enjoy. This block of individual houses is about seven years old, to the east of Xinyue plaza. Here the residents are mainly families.



As it shows on picture, the main façade material for this building is render that has been damaged and eroded after only a short period of time. In parts, the nominal external insulation has been damaged, exposing the solid concrete wall behind. Besides the dirty rain smearing of the facade, especially around the windows, the increasing prevalence of sandstorms affecting Yinchuan in recent years, means that sandblasting and collected dirt leaves rendered façade very easily damaged. Combined with the fact that decorative coatings are usually just one coat so that they fade and peel, that externally insulated walls crack along board joints due to inaccurate fixing; that metalwork is seldom primed allowing rust to flourish in a very short amount of time after completion – all of this makes buildings looks very old, very quickly.

In China, residential building will normally be demolished after twenty years of use and this is one of the reasons why the residential construction market keeps being inflated. The poor quality of the buildings should dampen this somewhat, but ironically, the speed of development which gives rise to incautious detailing and finishes, is also a consequence of fast developers making a buck.


shops with upper housingIn stark contrast, the shanty-like picture above actually shows how a 16-year old building looks like in one of the lanes behind Xinyue Plaza. To Western eyes, this may look like a 100-year old building that might normally be built next to the road or at the boundary area in gated community; but it’s a very recent construction project. The ground floor is for stores and shops and the floor above for residents. In this way, the ground floor next to the street will normally be reserved for business and commerce, for instance, and the rest of the building will be given over to residents. This whole area is going to be demolished soon, but the people who live there are unhappy at this government edict because of the low rental fees and convenience connection with main street that currently exist. Most of these buildings are in a very bad state of repair but still families live in these slum shacks to capitalise on any government buyout sums of money as they become available.

Picture+7A snapshot of other residential buildings in Yinchuan reveals that many of the buildings have been built with concrete slab walls with render (rendering it cheaper). The price for residential buildings with rendered façades normally costs less than the one with a brick texture, for example. As a result of ill-considered detailing, inadequate management and poor workmanship, the quality of most residential buildings is not very good, and after several years, the façade material will begin to fade and the building starts to look deceptively old..

This kind of quality problem with residential buildings is probably not just limited in Yinchuan. As the sector keeps on growing, more attention should be paid to this type of building, especially in some big cities where residents may pay the majority of their saving for one flat/apartment.