'In New York, there is a seven-year wait for projects to be approved. Everyone is empowered to make a decision. In China, decisions are quick. Everyone is in such a rush.' Staring over West Lake in Hangzhou, American architect Benjamin Wood expressed succinctly why he spends 80 per cent of his time in China and heads a 28-person office in Shanghai. Hangzhou is the site of his latest project, Xihu Tiandi (West Lake, Heaven and Earth), a retail and food and beverage site with a gross floor area of 58,000 square metres and investment of one billion yuan, on the shore of the lake. It is one of the mainland's most popular destinations, drawing 30 million tourists a year to Hangzhou. The project, belonging to Shui On Land, is similar to Xintiandi in Shanghai, which Mr Wood also designed and mayors of cities across the mainland want to copy. For Hangzhou, Shui On paid 280 million yuan to the city government for the site and to relocate the 500 people living in its low-rise, traditional homes. The first phase - which included the remodelling of a garden and public park - opened in May last year with clients such as Haagen-Dazs, Starbucks, Italian restaurant Va Bene and Crystal Jade Garden Restaurant. For the second phase, Mr Wood plans to preserve about one-third of the original homes - although some will be moved to the centre of the site - and build five-storey units, using local materials such as wood, stone and tiles. 'It will be the opposite of an urban shopping mall. It will be open and have lush landscaping. We will run underground pipes through sand, piping cold water in the summer and hot water in the winter. We will generate power by photo-voltaic cells. There will be no air-conditioning in the public space,' he said. The aim is to create a temperature that is comfortable in both winter and summer and use designs of the south China style, with a green environment. Half of the space in phase two will be retail and cultural and the other half food and beverage outlets. Shui On's investment is a bet by chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui that some of the 30 million visitors, of whom about 65 per cent come from nearby areas, will stay longer and spend more. 'The Hangzhou [Communist] party chief came to see us three times and asked us to build a Xintiandi here and persuade more visitors to stay an extra night,' Mr Lo said. To make the project more attractive, the party chief offered to sell Shui On a separate piece of land in the city for commercial use. Mr Lo said the site had not yet been designated nor written into the contract for Xihu Tiandi. 'His word is his bond,' he said. In Shanghai, Shui On is earning a bigger return from the commercial and residential space it is building round Xintiandi than from the low-rise Xintiandi itself. Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, is one of the richest cities in the mainland, thanks to a large number of private firms. Last week, the Chinese edition of Forbes magazine rated Hangzhou as the best mainland city in which to do business, ahead of Ningbo, Dalian and Shanghai. It used criteria such as availability of human talent, transport, cost of doing business and market potential. The burly Mr Wood is an unlikely figure among the pagodas and tai chi practitioners around the lake. A former jet fighter pilot and restaurant owner, he took up architecture relatively late in life. He received his masters in architecture from MIT in 1984 and in 1997 co-founded Wood & Zapata Architects with Carlos Zapata. It has offices in Boston, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Its biggest project outside China was the 64,000-seat New Soldier Field, a US$650 million redesign of the Chicago Bears' football stadium, which opened in September last year.