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Swire Properties is undertaking a commercial project in the historic heart of Xian, Shaanxi province. Photo: Reuters

Commercial property projects touting ‘preservation’ as underlying theme sprout across China

  • Developers add some elements of preservation to make projects special and give them a theme, says architectural conservationist Candy Chan
  • Swire Properties is working on a US$1.58 billion urban regeneration project in the historic mainland Chinese city of Xian

Real estate developments that combine preservation of historic landmarks are becoming popular in China, with some companies taking a keen interest in such projects.

Swire Properties is working on a 10 billion yuan (US$1.58 billion) development in the historic mainland Chinese city of Xian, after its urban regeneration projects in Chengdu and Shanghai.

The Hong Kong-listed developer and its joint venture partner, state-owned Xi’an Cheng Huan Cultural Investment and Development Company, will develop Taikoo Li Xi’an, a mixed-use project at the Small Wild Goose Pagoda historical and cultural zone in the city’s Beilin district.

Large-scale preservation may not be at the core of such commercial real estate projects, but developers add some elements about preservation and a theme to make them special, said Candy Chan, vice-president of external affairs at The Hong Kong Institute of Architectural Conservationists and director at Property Conservation Co.

Swire Properties’ Taikoo Li Chengdu combines some historic architectural elements. Photo: Handout
She pointed out that the Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu and Tian’an Sunshine Plaza in Shanghai have kept historic elements that have been well-received by the public. There will be more such projects not only in the mainland, but also other parts of the world, she added.

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the Jianfu Temple built during the Tang dynasty, form an integral part of the Xian Museum, a popular tourist attraction.

“As a Unesco World Heritage Site, we recognise the significance of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda historical zone and its importance to the city of Xian,” said Tim Blackburn, chief executive of Swire Properties. “We intend to apply all our expertise and experience in urban regeneration and placemaking to create a vibrant new landmark in Xian.”

The Xian city government has been working since 2017 on a comprehensive redevelopment of the historic area, as part of a major reconstruction project to improve the urban environment, protect historic relics and broader economic development of the city.

It is Swire’s first major investment in Xian and seventh overall in the mainland after Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

A rendering of Swire Properties’ Taikoo Li Xi’an mixed-use project. Photo: Handout

Swire and its joint venture partner acquired a 119,906 square metre (1.2 million sq ft) commercial site via government tender in the heart of downtown Xian for 2.57 billion yuan. Swire owns a 70 per cent stake in the venture.

Swire is also undertaking another urban regeneration project to transform the historic Zhangyuan shikumen compound in Shanghai. The first phase is expected to open this summer. It holds a 60 per cent interest in the joint venture company set up to design, manage and operate the project.

“We have a proven track record in developing successful commercial projects with significant historical and cultural content,” said a Swire Properties spokeswoman.

“Taikoo Li Xi’an is another opportunity for us to demonstrate our ability to develop a landmark project that combines local context with international design, respecting the traditional culture while creating commercial value,” she added.

Swire completed the Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu in 2015. The company worked closely with Chengdu city officials to build the mixed-use development consisting of a shopping mall and a luxury hotel close to the 1,000-year-old Daci Temple.

The whole complex is an “imaginative interpretation” of traditional Sichuan architecture, incorporating innovative construction techniques and materials to integrate new buildings with six restored Chinese heritage buildings.

It has become a landmark and has enjoyed satisfactory sales growth since opening, the spokeswoman said.