In Dalian, a northern Chinese port city on the Yellow Sea, the hottest architectural trend is straight out of 19th-century Paris.
Dalian is going through a period romance with Western architecture, driving a Beaux-Arts boom in new residential buildings. Over the past few months, several American architecture firms known for their neoclassical designs have started construction on a variety of projects: from luxury apartments in mixed-use developments to expansive single-family villas. Their wealthy Chinese clients want homes in authentic-looking Beaux-Arts style: 19th-century and early 20th-century Paris-influenced design that features ornate details on large facades. They also are demanding interior designs that are sensitive to their own traditions.
Dalian, a city with a population of about 5.9 million, has a culturally blended past. Originally under the Qing dynasty, China's last imperial rule, Dalian fell under British, Russian and Japanese rule at different times over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, resulting in a city comprised of a variety of buildings. Western classical architecture denotes sophistication for some Chinese home buyers, developers say.
Local developers have sought out American architects as a way to guarantee authenticity. 'There's a lot of neoclassical in China, but it's done by architects who just take an image and design from that,' says James Sun, vice president of Dalian Yifang Group, which is developing a villa community in Wolong Bay near Dalian. 'It would be like asking an American or European to design a Chinese temple.'
Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York, known for luxury buildings such as Manhattan's 15 Central Park West, is designing Dalian AVIC International Square, a mixed-use development in neoclassical style. It will cover four city blocks with a total of 1,600 homes. The first phase, set to be completed this year, will include apartments with one, two and three bedrooms, from as small as 323 square feet to 1,830 square feet. Prices will range from 700,000 yuan, or $114,000, to 4 million yuan, or $652,000.
Peter Pennoyer, a New York City-based architect, is creating duplexes and townhouses for the Xiao Yao (pronounced She-ow yow) Bay residential community of 900 homes. The complex, which also will offer a clubhouse and other amenities, is about 30 minutes outside of Dalian. The first phase--60 homes--will begin selling in May, with prices starting at about $782,000. Made of concrete with limestone and brick veneers, the three-level, 3,000-square-foot homes will include a garage, an entertainment room, maid's quarters, living rooms, two kitchens and three bedrooms.
On a smaller scale, San Francisco-based architect Andrew Skurman is designing two, 15,000-square-foot homes, one in the Georgian style and one French Classical, each with stone cladding, five to six bedrooms and bathrooms, a wine cellar, an exercise room and an indoor pool. The homes, which haven't been priced and will be sold upon completion, will be located in the St. America development of about a dozen custom homes that overlook Dalian's rocky coastline.
On the southwest edge of the city, Aric Lasher of HBRA Architects in Chicago, is designing a community called French 1710. The first phase will have 37 connected townhouses and four single-family homes, ranging from 4,800 square feet to 6,900 square feet. Two future phases are planned, for a total of 265 homes.
To make the designs more historically accurate, Mr. Lasher drew inspiration from historic 17th- and 18th-century French buildings, giving the homes for French 1710 carved stone details such as niches, balconies, and keystones, along with slate roofs. The first phase is set to be completed in 2015. Each will have an estimated sales price of $653,000 to $1.3 million.
Mr. Lasher says some early design sketches he saw from the client were 'extremely unregulated and unintentionally eclectic'--a problem that had to be addressed, as they lacked the proper composition and proportion for authentic style.
The luxury market in Dalian has been heating up, with growth of the local economy and urbanization driving demand. It now makes up about 30% of the residential market. On average, Dalian's residential home prices climbed 8% in 2013 to $176 per square foot, according to DTZ, an international property consultancy. That figure is nearly double what it was in 2009.
Also driving demand for high-end properties is the fact that about 30,400 of China's millionaires live in Liaoning province, in which Dalian is a major city, according to the Hurun Research Institute, which tracks China's wealthy individuals.
For luxury buyers, low-rise dwellings remind them of traditional neighborhoods where the modern middle class no longer wants to live. Beaux-Arts architecture is a good fit for larger buildings.
The local appetite for Beaux-Arts architecture 'may be even exaggerated because they were starved of it' in the Cultural Revolution and to the end of the 20th century, says Paul Whalen, one of the architects of Robert A.M. Stern's project.
The lack of land in Dalian, as in most of China, is also an issue. Even pricey homes are often in high-density areas, proving challenging for design.
Cultural differences add to the challenges. Many Chinese prefer living rooms and master bedrooms to face south because they are considered the most important rooms and should get the best sun during the winter. Bedroom windows have to be strategically placed, as Chinese buyers who adhere to the feng shui sense of balance don't like beds to either face or be placed against windows. Also, the end of each hallway must have a focal point for, say, a piece of artwork or a fountain.
All of the architects had to design two kitchens for each home: a Western kitchen with sleek countertops and stovetops for light cooking and entertaining, and a 'hot' or Chinese kitchen, for deep-frying and butchering meat.
In most of the projects, local architects take over once the initial designs are completed because structural and mechanical building standards vary. Some plans can be misread or details can be literally lost in translation. 'We work through an interpreter,' Mr. Skurman of San Francisco says, 'so I never have had a real conversation with the principal of the development company.'
Still, the Dalian projects are an architect's dream: Budgets are malleable and developers want the best in materials. The local developers also are open to suggestions and see their projects as an investment in bringing the country into the 21st century. Their goals, Mr. Pennoyer says, go beyond 'simply building and turning a profit.'
Anton Glikin/Peter Pennoyer Architects房产图片：大连的学院派风格豪宅当地开发商通过聘用美国建筑师来确保建筑风格的纯正地道。大连一方集团(Dalian Yifang Group)副总裁孙舰表示：“中国新古典主义风格建筑很多，但它们都是建筑师照葫芦画瓢设计出来的。这就像叫美国人或欧洲人来设计中国寺庙一样。”一方集团目前正在大连附近的卧龙湾开发一个别墅区。
以设计曼哈顿中央公园西15号(15 Central Park West)等豪华建筑而著称的纽约罗伯特·斯特恩建筑师事务所(Robert A.M. Stern Architects)正在设计大连中航国际广场(Dalian AVIC International Square)，这是一个新古典风格的综合开发项目。该项目将覆盖四个街区，共包括1,600套住宅。一期工程定于今年完工，将推出一卧、两卧和三卧公寓，面积从323平方英尺（约合30平方米）到1,830平方英尺（约合170平方米）不等，价格将在人民币70万元至400万元之间。
还有一些规模比较小的项目。旧金山建筑师安德鲁·斯库尔曼(Andrew Skurman)正在设计两座面积15,000平方英尺（约合1,394平方米）的住宅，一座是乔治亚风格(Georgian)，另一座为法式古典风格(French Classical)，每座房子都带有石材覆层，有五到六个卧室和卫生间，一个酒窖，一间健身房和一个室内游泳池。这两座房子位于一个名为St. America的开发项目内，目前尚未定价，将在建成后出售。St. America有十几幢为客户量身打造的住宅，可俯瞰大连峭石嶙峋的海岸线风光。
芝加哥建筑事务所HBRA Architects的阿里克·拉舍(Aric Lasher)正在大连西南边设计一个名为French 1710的小区。第一期工程将包括37幢联排别墅和四幢独栋别墅，面积在4,800平方英尺（约合446平方米）到6,900平方英尺（约合641平方米）之间。未来还有两期工程，总共计划建265套住宅。
追踪中国富有人群的研究机构胡润研究院(Hurun Research Institute)的数据显示，中国目前有约30,400名富豪居住在辽宁省（大连是辽宁省的一个主要城市），这也是推动大连高端房地产市场需求的一项因素。