Sometimes, cutting-edge technology and the newest luxury items can’t outweigh old world charm. Sparked by a growing demand for an upscale experience without having to travel abroad, imitations of classic European structures are becoming fashionable in China.
China’s growing interest in wine culture and etiquette has made AFIP Town, a replica European town affiliated with Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, a smash hit. Modeled after a French town near the Palace of Versailles, AFIP town is located in Miyun county in suburban Beijing. It features the first wine-themed art center in China, a luxury restaurant, and guest accommodations.
Wine-themed trips to the town have been on the rise ever since it was founded in 2009, and many travel agencies offer tours of the town, Leng Tianji, chairman of AFIP Town, said.
Wang Lei, 27, works at a multinational company in Beijing and loves to travel. Wang, who visited AFIP Town, said the scenery was fashionable, and the experience was much more affordable than traveling to France.
European towns and castles feel mystical and honorable, Wang said. But because of the demand from his job, Wang doesn’t have time to take an extended tour of Europe.
“So it was an exhilarating experience for me to go there on the weekends with friends,” Wang said. “The sights there might not match original ones, but who cares?”
As it turns out, the owners of the original European properties care a great deal about this outcropping of architectural copying.
Last April, the property development arm of China’s largest metals trader began building a replica of Hallstatt, a small village in Austria that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 6-billion-yuan copy of the alpine hamlet has stirred controversy, media reported.
“This house is my personal art of crystallization,” Monika Wenger, a local village hotel owner, told the Guardian. “People come here to copy my hotel, for me, like a painter’s paintings, like copying someone else.”
The appearance and existence of imitation real estate projects reflect Chinese interest in foreign styles, said Li Kaihe, chief architect with Huaian Modern Garden Construction Engineering Ltd., adding that many of these projects have sold very well.
The replicas are mostly used for commercial purposes. Some European-style buildings in China have opened as shopping malls, including the Beijing Scitech Premium Outlet Mall in Chaoyang district.
Sales at the Beijing Scitech Premium Outlet Mall reached 2 billion yuan (US$317 million) in 2011, up 70 percent from the previous year, according to its website.
The market potential for European-style shopping districts is attracting foreign investors. An Italian firm has built a similar mall in Tianjin called Florentia Village. The company is planning to build several villages over the next four years in cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing, said Ivano Poma, chairman and CEO of Florentia Village.
photo credit: scitech outlet