Wooden Railings

Oops - Wood needs some adjustment here

This is why we are doing this

There you see it, wood railings all over

Rest of the Stairs

The Private Stairs

So what’s it like? These pictures should show it off nicely:

The added stairs also mean that the terrace can get some immediate use for laundry

The Private Terrace

It’s time to figure out how to build our way up to the private terrace in the North-West room. We’ve decided to do it the simplest way possible. All wood steps fastened on both sides to the two walls. Exciting!

Floating stairs seems scary - but why not?

Look at that! Starting to resemble our 3D mockups now

Electrical time

In order to move the electrical boxes we were required to turn off the power leading into the yard. In order to turn off the power we needed a key to the power box. If you want to get the key, you have to pay the local government roughly 2000RMB for them to open the box, shut the power down and move the electrical boxes. This took 3 people a few hours to do, but while we oversaw the work we got a chance to capture photos of the yard from some unique angles.

Mr. Wood

This is an exciting part, the stairs are all starting to get installed now. They are all being made by hand out of wood --- by one person. He doesn’t really speak mandarin, and works on his own ultra-slow schedule, but the stairs should be pretty good in the end.

His main tool

The entrance, partially fitted with the new stairs

Metal work

Just in time, the metal is all in place ready and waiting for some of the stairs that are being finished up as we eat lunch.


Not terribly exciting, but here are shots of the plumbing being installed directing waste into the well.

A glass dining room

It’s been decided-- Rather than cover the entire roof with concrete slabs, as assumed earlier, 1/4 of the surface will be turned into glass! And here’s a series of photos showing the entire process:

Getting the wind engineer to inspect the work to be done.

Building the glass frame

Passing the glass up onto the roof - no problem

It’s only 9+12+9 glass.

Viewing into the dining room

Looking towards the view of the trees above. This should make for a pleasant dining room

Digging a hole

Time to build a well. Not quite the fun kind for getting drinking water or simply falling into. But watching our worker disappear into a 2m deep pit is something special. Along the way he discovered plenty of broken porcelain cups as well.

Sunsheet coverings

Today our entrance gets a facelift once again. It’s finally rain-proof - mostly. Just in time too!

Once the worker finished sealing it up he’s gone full speed ahead with the rain-guard on all the walls

View from up top

Just some eye-candy to feast on. The place is slowly beginning to look reasonably attractive....

finishing up concrete

The last remnants of red brick are now neatly hidden under the warmth of the grey concrete.

And again, yet another main hutong entrance shot. Expect many of these over the next few months

Looking out from the NW room’s balcony entrance

Double-time on the dining room

The entrance to the NW room won’t look so barren later, but still cool now

The last night of concrete work takes place under some incandescent warmth. A view from outside we can start getting used to now.

other mohui

Day and night -- about 4 days of work to completely cover all messy redness with some nice grey concrete.

Check out the entranceway from the restaurant. There will be glass there soon

Inspecting his evening work

Relaxing on a pile of rubble after finishing up the southern garden wall’s concrete

Entrance Mohui

Gazing out towards the entrance from the lobby we can start getting some ideas of what the view will begin to look like. It’s quite a big view to cover as well: 2500x3000mm of glass. You don’t see any glass coming just yet, but at least some of these red bricks will finally begin disappearing.

The mighty entrance wall

Looking into the entrance and beyond at the private garden

Finally -- Here comes the concrete, slowly peeling its way down the wall

Concrete Slabbing

Saving both time and money, we’ve gone with large concrete slabs for upper-area roofing that can support people, but not full floor structures. These things are huge, and heavy. A total of 18 workers were needed to lift each one up to the second floor!

Restaurant main entrance

A few slabs resting above the dining room

The dining room.. The remaining 6 square meters will be glass instead of concrete!

In the kitchen

Inside the Lookout

More Grey Bricks

Here the worker is putting on the finishing touches of a grey brick wall that only functions to block the ugliness from one neighbour. The new wall is especially nice in the late afternoon sun!

Here’s the wall from down below. Next to it is the back of the kitchen.

Grey Bricks

Today is grey brick day again. This time an important visual part of the second floor will be raised up high in order to add a mask of traditional grey bricks on top of the new modern structure within.

Check out the view of the bell tower!

2 hours later, it is all done.

The view from within the balcony walkway

Looking at it from the courtyard

Raising the Second Floor

Here comes the second floor, structural beams and all.

On the right side is the dining room, the left is a kitchen - mostly

Up comes the kitchen

Cutting day

It’s time. Forget about safety, about cranes, tools and most other common sense. Today is completely about destruction, and big, heavy falling objects.

18 year-old up on the top, straddling the tree for dear life.

Absolutely insane worker standing beneath the falling branches holding a chainsaw on full throttle the entire time

Guiding the branches towards the floor, sometimes.

Luckily the south room’s walls and floor can take the weight

Alone on the tree still..

Crazy guy still at it with the smaller branches on the ground

Examining the large cuts of trunk.

Cutting a few thin ones too...

Loaded up and ready to go!

Mr. Guo with his gift. 15 minutes of work and he has a brand new meat cutting board.

Last moment with our tree

Tomorrow the government has promised to take down the tree, so here are a few last moment shots of what the place looks like with a giant 50 year old 25m high tree.

Lobby roof up

It’s time to get our most important central public space up. The walls have mostly been there for quite some time now, but now we get to put in the support beams for the roof and then pour in the concrete base for the floor.

Our main foreman Mr. Liu, with Mr. Guo looking on..

Concrete’s been poured in and smoothed out

Inside’s a bit dark now.

View towards the south east - the entrance.

Close up of the concrete base. This will be our kitchen!

In come the Heaters

The question of how we would heat The Orchid has always been a big one. Cooling is a bit more straightforward since there are only so many options that are in the slightly affordable range. But heating - so many possibilities. The Hutongs of Beijing have always been notorious for making it through the cold winters. In Beijing’s recent history even as close as those growing up here in the 80’s, the hutong winter life was painful. Getting out of bed was difficult enough, but simply thinking about managing the coal for the heating took up so much time, and in the event of a problem it wasn’t unheard of for many people to die of cold through the night. Modern Beijing’s hutong life has changed a lot ---- since last year. The government has been briskly adding in power capacity throughout each neighbourhood, and then subsidizing electric heaters as well as the cost of the electricity from 10pm to 6am. It is still a more expensive proposition for many poor people living here, but the majority is quite happy about it. As far as efficiency is concerned, there are better ways to do things. And certainly the benefit of options comes more easily to those starting from scratch like us.

It was always in our mind to simultaneously increase comfort and raise electrical efficiency by using floor heating. We had hoped originally to somehow use a large array of solar water heaters to convert heat for both regular water consumption as well as floor heating, but this quickly started to look like we’d need an entire additional set of equipment to deal with all those days of inadequate sun. In the end we settled for air-source heat pumps. This is essentially what most people have sitting outside, attached to their indoor AC units, except the outside unit is far bigger. Due to 220V limitations we had to settle for a smaller size unit, and buy two of them to meet capacity. The benefit of these units are the fact that they handle normal AC in the summer and then do all water heating needs in the winter. Also they are the most efficient at providing hot water for floor heating in the winter than all other means available in the area. They also weigh 300kg each!

Receiving the units on the street, and marveling at their size

Our workers wondering if we’ve thought this through properly

Installation company attempting to use the wheelbarrow to move them in

No problem.

Roof raising fun

Here are some great shots of this evening’s roof raising ceremony. For the purposes of good luck upon finishing a roof, certain cuts of pork ribs were purchased along with some incense. Then, to keep spirits high we treated the workers to a great cut of meat, in this case pork face, for an added boost to the usual dinner and we held a mild celebration before continuing a bit of work and then sleeping.

Restaurant is raised

Now is when things begin getting extremely interesting. A major second floor being raised overnight adds a lot more dimension to the yard and makes it feel like everything is moving along towards our architectural renderings (stay tuned for those!).

Southern wall of the restaurant dining room is up!

View from the street. A few things missing --

Best room in the house

Walls are up finally, on what should also become our most well-placed and secluded large room. You can see five huge gaps - those are all massive double-pane glass windows. The first is for the bathroom and the rest for the room itself, with the furthest one acting also as a door for entering the long and spacious garden.

Main entrance to the room facing the central garden facade

North-west room's got a new floor

Here’s a fun one. It took only one day for these walls and the facade of the stairwell to come up. Still a ways away from having stairs though, so views from up top will have to wait.

Central garden facade goes up!

Today the workers have built up the main facade bordering our central garden from the South. The facade also creates a main floor alleyway separating the two south bedrooms.

A worker standing on a make-shift platform for placing the bricks

Two hours later --- Done.

Brand new North-west Room

Oh - look at that --- A new room has been made!

In only two days the structural walls have come up and all the support beams are in place to hold up the concrete ceiling. The grey brick facade has also been placed around the private garden. If we wall in the room with glass at the front as planned then this room will have a total area of 20 square meters. That’s a nice size room for a hotel, but a very generous room considering it will exist within a traditional courtyard in the hutongs of Beijing.

Siuming and Mr. Guo discussing the plans

Private garden space facing the room

Large bathroom area facing the stairs up to the unbuilt second floor

From the bathroom facing the unfinished wall and stairs

Looking out of the room towards the small private garden.

The Lookout

A 10th room has been recovered. Loosely defined public space on the second floor has been repurposed into a wonderfully positioned luxury room with a generous amount of space, a superb view and a unique 2nd floor entrance. It would have made a great lounge space, but we feel we might have enough with the restaurant/bar and main floor lobby area. We hope you agree.

Seeing both South-west rooms - a garden room below and the Lookout above it

Another view from the main yard.

Here’s why it’s called the Lookout. That’s the bell tower right there..

South Room Fisheye

Those familiar with our constantly updated building plans might also be aware of the plans for the South room. Looking from the point of view of Sketchup, this south room evenly fits in two identical small bedrooms with adjacent bathrooms. The reality -- and CAD image -- however, shows a completely different story; one that was ignored until today. As of now, the walls and foundation are in place. A lot happens overnight! A cursory glance at it shows that if these are both supposed to be wonderful bedrooms with attached private gardens, then aside from beds, they will not have space for much else! Two solutions can be taken at this point: Either the foundation wall separating the garden area moves in by up to 40cm to make the rooms bigger (and gardens smaller) or the main wall separating both rooms comes down, turning it into one extremely large room with an equally generous garden. We have nearly instantly decided on the second option. Recovering the lost room will be a job for another day. The idea of having two rooms minimized but functional doesn’t bode too well for us.

Youngcall wondering why the rooms suddenly look so small

Walls going up around the foundation on the south room

Making use of the walls

When everyone’s busy, Mr. Guo’s little boy has to find ways to entertain himself. Having a yard full of bricks and pipes, glass and dirt everywhere sometimes does have its advantages:

Can’t say for certain who the little boy on the right is though. They said he’s a neighbour’s son, but he seems to spend all his time on our worksite.

Walls coming up!

The walls are now showing up on the new east building.

Mr. Guo surveying some of the work

Mrs. Guo helping to shovel

North-east building’s new private garden!

Laundry room is now up, behind the garden

View from above

Expansion and foundationing

So a decision has been finalized to remove our massive tree, but when this can happen must depend on the landlord’s connection with the city management. It is not so easy to take down a tree, legally.

In the meantime, trenches have now been dug around the area of the tree to lay both the foundation as well as the sewage system. Every few hours someone is asking us when the tree will be gone so they can continue with the foundation work on the other side.

A byproduct of this tree removal will also mean the enlargement of the ground floor indoor space (and thus the second floor terrace space as well). Of course the space must come from somewhere, and it will essentially mean a smaller central garden. No worries though, it is still going to be plenty nice, and green.

Foundation being put in, brick by brick

Foundation setting..

Such a dead tree

Our biggest setback yet has just occurred. Against all logic and that which we all consider sane, the landlord’s 27 year old son has unbeknownst to us peeled off a large 30cm tall ring of bark off our wonderfully tall tree. Starting this morning, nearly all the leaves have either dried up or fallen off. The place looks as though autumn has hit early. More likely we should do a heavy metals test in our water system to see if a high amount of mercury was the underlying seed of his amazing stupidity. Apparently he did this a month ago to help us ‘move’ the tree. So smart he is. The tree is only now beginning to show the effects of his actions.

What will we do? In our state of shock we had workers cover it with clay to at least seal it off from parasites. However, the damage is done and the likelihood of the tree recovering is almost certainly nil. If we don’t have any better ideas we will cut down this great 30 meter Chinese aspen and attempt to replace it with a 4-5 meter tall paulownia tree in the next few days. Not quite the same, but the new tree is a fast grower and at least looks a lot better than the aspen.

Better to be a forest than a tree. What loss one dead tree gives can hopefully be countered by the multitude of smaller trees we plan to plant in its place. Beyond the paulownia, we have plans for several smaller trees in the North courtyard and several of the gardens. It will be green no matter what.

Inspecting the damage

Covering it with clay and doing a tree dance.

A big view

That was quick. Overnight the newest and best built building has fallen down. We now own a lot of red bricks which will certainly have a place in the new structure. All that remains to be done with the old building is level the base of the southern half of the property by 0.5 meters and take apart the south-west room. Once that is done, we can pull down the fake outer wall, taking with it the neighbouring restaurant’s micro-warehouse. We are leaving that until the last moment for ultimate surprise effect.

For now, revel in vast openness of The Orchid and the awesome destruction which has taken place in less than one week.

There once was a building here. Now the wall supports all the electrical boxes until we learn where else to put them..

Youngcall and Siu Ming standing in the future garden along the southern edge

This yellow wall and doors is all that keeps the restaurant staff at bay. Since we left the door open for a few minutes a couple of old dishwashers have wandered in to watch. 25 meters beyond the door is the main road.

Such a big yard

In the blink of an eye, the entire mid-section of zijianfang, the junky and poorly constructed buildings not actually registered on the title deed have disappeared. In their place are one giant pile of bricks, old fully greased-up kitchen finishings, worthless nicknacks sitting in center of the yard, and four whole truckloads lying either in the main hutong road or by now trucked far outside the city.

Still one and a half destruction jobs to go. The city is going through some political changes this week as two of the wealthier inner-city districts eat up two of the poorer ones while all the heads of these new mega districts get replaced. As a result, three days of special inspections are taking place, which will prevent people like us from moving rubble outside our property until each evening. It isn’t supposed to make much sense, but maybe it is supposed to slow us down.

Still -- hopefully by Monday we will cross the bridge towards bringing bricks in, rather than out.

No cameras

Unfortunately we had hoped to have live feed of everything posted on our main page. Couldn’t get that working so we resorted to frequent surveillance cam updates. Still, we put up the wrong camera and the footage was worthless. Perhaps we’ve given up on showing much photo evidence of the destruction process and have set our sites on getting things working for the full construction... we’ll see.

For now maybe we will get some photos thrown up soon from regular camera or two.

Where to strike

The first question we get nowadays is ‘how much work will you do on the place??’.

Outlined with fancy Chai labeling below is our current layout showing the buildings that stand right next to the red shaded buildings that will no longer be in 10 days time.

Somehow, in that short time period 30 trucks will be required to come into the city and move out all the garbage and rubble. I suppose the answer to the above question is: A lot of work.

What a mess!

So if you’ve made it this far, you know it’s true. All of this is happening within 10 hours. You also might know that this will soon be a hotel. However, if you look really closely... extremely closely -- you simply notice a big mess!

If you had spent a good part of the year wandering through hundreds of other properties like this, these messy areas with laundry strewn about wouldn’t weaken the imagination one bit. As a result, it’s always the same problem of an incredible let-down during each visit by friends in the last few weeks. Without any of us try to add to the hype, the sheer fact that we have selected this site means that we are more than impressed by it. So when someone makes a visit, they have to try hard to conceal their amazement of our delusional insanity.

It is not insanity though, it is a highly effective algorithm for predicting financial success based on the total area of the property combined with the accurate position of the stars.

Thank Eva for the photos: