Beijing Travel: Commune by the Great Wall
Seeing China in Style: The Great Wall Commune & luxury train services offer tourists the high life
As a disgruntled Chinese emperor once remarked: give an architect the chance to show off and he'll take it. Offer 11 leading Asian architects US$1 million each to design a dream residence, and the results are clearly going to be on the flamboyant side.
Construct these super homes in a verdant valley by the Great Wall and you have the makings of an avant-garde icon, an uber-stylish beacon for China's architectural renaissance.
The Commune by the Great Wall neatly encapsulates the paradox that is China today. For a start, there's the name. Anyone who rocks up to reception expecting to see peasants tilling the good earth around them will be sorely disappointed. This is strictly the preserve of the (relatively) well-off and famous.
In plain view of a stretch of Shuiguan Great Wall, built with the sweat and blood of countless Chinese laborers, we now find an exclusive resort for tourists and local nouveaux riches.
Located about an hour outside of Beijing, the Commune is the brainchild of China's first couple of design, Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin. Theirs is a true rags-to-riches story that reads like a Chinese fairytale. At 14, Xin was making shoes in a Hong Kong factory, but managed to break away to study in England. Her husband grew up in poverty in rural China. Nowadays they are China's hottest trendsetters, championing a new wave of Chinese architecture. In 2005 the Shiyi-Xins handed over management of the Commune to Kempinski Hotels, who have now added more villas and a whole range of resort-style amenities.
Despite the change of hands, some of the original villas remain perennial favorites. The Suitcase House, designed by Hong Kong architect Gary Chang, features an in-house sauna, beds and bathrooms hidden discreetly beneath the floor, and a flat plastered roof for barbecues. The Cantilever House, by Chinese architect Antonio Ochoa, is beautifully light and spacious, and has stunning views of the Great Wall and Commune valley from the rooftop terrace. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma's six-bedroom Bamboo Wall House has an expansive bamboo-framed tearoom hanging over water, perfect for al fresco relaxation in afternoon sunshine.
Yves Wencker, General Manager of the Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski (as it is now known), is clearly passionate about his little oasis of calm and cutting-edge design.
"We have a very unique blend of contemporary architecture and art in a natural location by a historical landmark. Our concept is of a shared landscape. The luxury is the space, 8 square kilometers of private land and a private path to an unrestored part of the Great Wall. It is a true haven of peace and serenity in a fast-paced country, away from the rush of the megalopolis."
If you can't justify the room rate, then it's still possible to visit the Commune to check out the original villas (as long as there's nobody staying in them of course).
With international pieces by such luminary designers as Newson and Starck combined with modern takes on traditional Asian furniture, villa interiors are a showcase of contemporary creativity. One glimpse at the sinuous battlements on the nearby ridges, however, and it's clear that old, rather than new, is still the major attraction here.
More info: communebythegreatwall.com
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Commune By The Great Wall Access
It is possible to take a taxi from the Badaling section of the Great Wall to Shuiguan or if driving from Beijing take the Badaling expressway to the Shuiguan exit and follow the signs for about 2km.
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