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In Beijing, office buildings rise to meet the demand
By R. Scott Macintosh
Published: WEDNESDAY, MAY 31, 2006
BEIJING: Bursting through an ever-increasing number of concentric highways, China's
capital is a sprawling city, as flat and round as a pancake. But, as the city continues to
spread with the construction of a sixth ring road, development also is stretching skyward.
In the next two years, as Beijing prepares for the 2008 Olympic Games, the city will build
five of its tallest buildings. The new skyscrapers, all in the Central Business District, will be
partly the result of a municipal plan mapped out in 2001 that has allowed the area to
become Beijing's center for finance, telecommunic ations and media and a magnet for
multinational companies and foreign investment.
"The CBD will become the largest office market in Beijing by 2008," said Anna Kalifa, head
of research in Beijing for Jones Lang LaSalle real estate. "There will be a lot of things to
do, a lot of shopping and a lot of amenities."
Right now, however, the largest stock of new office space is at Zhongguancun Science
Park, just inside the fourth ring road, in the northeast part of the city. Tenants of the park
inc lude research and development centers for high-tech giants like IBM and Microsoft and
many university laboratories and engineering centers.
Last year, according to Colliers International real estate agency, the total office supply in
the city was 788,000 square meters, or 8.5 million square feet, nearly twice the space it had
in 2004. Sixty percent of that new space was in Zhongguancun and the Central Business
Meanwhile, billboards line the third ring road on the north side of the city urging passersby:
"Tell CBD, 'You're not perfect.'" There, in the Olympic corridor, $2 billion is being spent on
sports facilities, including an 80,000- seat stadium. After the Games, the buildings will be
turned into convention and exhibition centers; a telecommunications center also may be
adapted to commercial purposes.
Yet in the core of the Central Business District, whic h covers 30 hectares, or almost 75
acres, there already has been an investment of about 20 billion yuan, or $2.4 billion, in
More than 60 percent of the city's foreign-funded companies have offices there, and
multinationals, including about 120 Fortune 500 companies, account for a third of all
companies with offices in the district, according to the Beijing Central Business District
Administrative Commission. They inc lude Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Ford, Samsung, Time
Warner and UBS.
When they are finished, the district's five new skyscrapers will add more than 1.5 million
square meters of floor space, mostly offices.
And over the next two years, as parts of the buildings are completed, they will succeed one
another as the tallest in the city.
This year a 63-story tower, the tallest of three that eventually will make up the Yintai Center,
is to be finished and, for at least a brief period, it will hold the title of tallest building in the
city. The tower will include a Park Hyatt Hotel with 180 luxury apartments and 48 serviced
Merrill Lynch, the investment bank based in New York, is one of the investors, with $30
million in the project.
Next year, when Beijing Fortune Plaza finishes its five-tower complex, the title will pass to
its tallest building, which will rise 260 meters, or more than 850 feet. The towers will be part
of a 720,000-square-meter mixed-use development that includes offices, apartments, and
hotel, retail and convention space, the largest such project in the district.
Then, in 2008, the third tower of the China World Trade Center is scheduled to be finished.
At 330 meters, it is to be Beijing's tallest building, outdone in height only by the antenna of
the Central Radio and TV Tower on the city's west side.
Perhaps the most highly antic ipated project is the China Central Television headquarters, a
complex trapezoidal structure designed by the Offic e for Metropolitan Architecture, the
architect Rem Koolhaas's firm based in Rotterdam. The Television Cultural Center, a
second building planned for the 10-hectare site, will inc lude a hotel, a theater and
China Television also has purchased about 3,000 square meters in the Winterless Center, a
development in the district core with two towers, a shopping center and a hotel.
As the district's development accelerates, the area is expected to gain 444,000 square
meters of office space by the end of the year and another 572,000 at the end of 2007. Top-
end, or Grade A, office space is expected to top 2 million square meters in the district by
Historically, the quality of Chinese construction has been an issue for investors and tenants,
particularly multinational companies. While Grade A offices now are generally of good
quality in major cities, there still is variation in the middle- to lower-end developments.
"Large cities can uphold quality better, and projects with foreign investors generally have
better quality, particularly in the construction details," said K.W. Chau, dean of architecture
at the University of Hong Kong. "This may be due to different expectations of consumers in
the mainland and standards of workmanship."
The city's increasing supply of top-end office space is creating more office vacancies and
causing rents to fall in lower-grade offices, according to Richard Middleton, managing
director of Greater China with Cushman & Wakefield, the New York-based real estate
"It's a very interesting situation in the CBD, because there is a large supply of office space
coming on and very large demand from both Chinese companies and multinationals, who
are expanding aggressively," he said. "What we're seeing is that the higher-quality buildings
on market will attract new tenants, and we'll see an upgrading of tenants moving to better
buildings - a flight to quality."