Paris Invades China: Chinese Nouveau Rich Ditch Traditional Homes for Beaux-Arts Architecture

East-meets-West cultural trends are good for stirring the pot, and the increasing wealth of the Chinese elite provides ample fodder for this mishmashing. A current example: In the northern Chinese port city of Dalian, local economic growth and urbanization have increased the luxury market. And the luxury market wants 19th century Parisian architecture.

You see, luxury buyers aren’t interested in typical Chinese low-rise dwellings—those utilitarian buildings are representative of the humble citizenry of the past. They want some good old-fashioned European opulence: Beaux-Arts architecture with big-ass buildings and ornate detailing.

And Chinese imitation won’t do. One developer said, "It would be like asking an American or European to design a Chinese temple." For shame! So, local developers contracted with architecture firms from New York, San Francisco and Chicago known for their neoclassical designs.

Dalian’s culturally-blended history helps shed light on the desire for Western architecture. The city fell under British, Russian and Japanese rule in the years around the turn-of-the-century (wars!), and buildings from this era reflect these varied influences. The city was caught off from international stylings from the era of the Cultural Revolution, to the end of the 20th century, which may fuel a desire to re-capture some of the cosmopolitan grandeur of the past.

Even so, developers still want key Chinese traditions reflected in the buildings:

* Living rooms and master bedrooms are considered the most important in the house; these rooms must face south to receive maximum winter sunlight.

* Adherents of feng shui have stipulations about placement of windows, and other features.

* The end of hallways should have an end focal point, like a piece of art or, for the subtle millionaire, a fountain.

* Two kitchens: a Western kitchen to look beautiful, and a Chinese kitchen for getting dirty with deep-frying and butchering meat.

Despite some of the challenges in melding Chinese and Western architectural motifs, the American architects seem pleased with the projects: they get to use the best materials, and local developers appreciate suggestions in modernizing this part of China.

Eat your heart out, Paris.


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