Feature: The Changing Face of Beijing: Against the Wall
Beijing’s building projects—and the controversies they frequently entail—have not been confined to the city’s center. In 2002, about an hour north of the Forbidden City, Chinese real estate mogul Pan Shiyi opened a luxury resort on a 2,000-acre site along a stretch of the Great Wall. The project generated protests from preservationists, but rather than an abomination, Shiyi created a reverential resort that juxtaposes the ancient and the avant-garde.
The Commune by the Great Wall has no golf course, manicured landscapes, or even a swimming pool. Rather, 11 houses and a clubhouse—each designed by a different architect—dot the sloping terrain. The Suitcase House, an oblong timber structure that juts from a hillside, includes a piano room, library, lounge, and fully equipped spa. The clay-colored Cantilever House "evokes the mountain inside the house," says architect Antonio Ochoa, who describes the structure as "erotic, sensual, warm, and broad." Indeed, the house’s glass walls offer an expansive and inspirational view of the sun rising over the resort’s primary attraction, the Great Wall.
"Although we offer dining and a spa, people don’t come here for that," says Yves Wencker, general manager of the Commune, which is part of the Kempinski Hotels chain. "They come here to experience the Wall."
The Commune rests against a stretch of the Wall rarely visited by tourists. Guests typically stay at the hotel for a couple of days at the beginning or end of a tour of China. (The absence of noise in the area makes it an ideal place to recuperate from jet lag.) However, the hotel also has several repeat guests who stay for two to three weeks at a time. One regular brings his personal tai chi and calligraphy instructors with him, and spends most of his days meditating on the Wall.
Each of the Commune’s houses comes with a private butler and chef, and the resort’s clubhouse includes a courtyard restaurant, terrace lounge, ballroom, art gallery, and movie theater. Last year, the property opened 11 additional buildings, called Chateaus, that consist of single bedrooms and shared living spaces. "You have to be a social person," says Wencker of a stay in one of the Chateaus. "People either love it or they hate it."
The impassioned feelings that surrounded the Commune’s construction now work to the resort’s advantage. When asked about his competition, Wencker smiles. "We have none," he says. "This project created such an uproar, no one else will be able to do anything like this again."
Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski