Throughout China, there are hundreds of cities that have almost everything one needs for a modern, urban lifestyle: high-rise apartment complexes, developed waterfronts, skyscrapers, and even public art. Everything, that is, except one major factor: people.
These mysterious — and almost completely empty — cities are a part of China's larger plan to move 250 million citizens currently living in rural areas into urban locations by 2026, and places like the Kangbashi District of Ordos are already prepped and ready to be occupied.
Photographer Kai Caemmerer became fascinated with these urban plans, and in 2015 he traveled to China to explore and document them. His series, “Unborn Cities,” depicts a completely new type of urban development. “Unlike in the US, where cities often begin as small developments and grow in accordance to the local industries, these new Chinese cities are built to the point of near completion before introducing people,” he told Business Insider.
See 12 eerie images from his series:
When Caemmerer found out about these empty cities, he was immediately fascinated. “As an architectural photographer, I found the notion of a contemporary ghost town to be appealing in a sort of unsettling way,” he said.
“These new Chinese cities are built to the point of near completion before introducing people,” Caemmerer said. “Because of this, there is an interim period between the final phases of development and when the areas become noticeably populated, during which many of the buildings stand empty.”
In 2015, Caemmerer photographed the Kangbashi District of Ordos, the Yujiapu Financial District near Tianjin, and the Meixi Lake development near the city of Changsha.
“It was the uniform newness of these cities that originally piqued my interest,” Caemmerer said.
“Oftentimes these 'new areas' are satellite cities located within the proximity of an older, more established city,” he explained.
Caemmerer would stay overnight at a neighboring, more populated city.
He photographed twice a day — before sunrise and just after sunset — for 80 straight days.
Luckily, Caemmerer didn't run into legal issues while photographing the cities, and in terms of safety, “These areas felt very secure,” he said.
Because of the newness of the places, Caemmerer described the cities as “surreal” and “uncanny.”
“Oftentimes, when you're in a city, you can locate yourself within the timeline of that city by identifying different eras of architecture or by interpreting the relative age of the structures and landscape around you. When visiting a city that has been built in just the past five or six years, these indicators of age are not yet visible,” Caemmerer said.
When Caemmerer did, on the rare occasion, run into people, they were usually intrigued by his archaic-looking, large-format film camera.
These images are documenting a “complex moment in Chinese urbanisation,” Caemmerer said. “Many of these new cities are not expected to be complete or vibrant until 15 to 25 years after they begin construction. They are built for the distant future, and at present, we can only speculate on what form they will have taken when they reach this point in time.”
To see more of Kai Caemmerer's work visit www.kaimichael.com
China's extraordinary 'nail houses'
China's extraordinary 'nail houses'
1/8 Nail houses in China
A general view shows the demolition of a 'nail house', the last house in the area, at a construction site in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. The owners of the house had filed but lost a lawsuit against the developer of the land to seek more compensation before agreeing to the demolition of their home. The land will be used for a high-rise apartment project. Chinese media have since seized on disputes between developers and owners of so-called 'nail houses', whose owners have stuck to their ground and resisted demolition, holding up development projects in the world's fastest-growing major economy
2/8 Nail houses in China
A half-demolished apartment building standing in the middle of a newly-built road thanks to a Chinese couple that refused to move in Wenling, in eastern China's Zhejiang province. Luo Baogen, 67, and his 65-year-old wife have waged a four-year battle to receive more than the 41,300 USD compensation offered by the local government of Daxi, a Chinese newspaper said. The phenomenon is called a 'nail house' in China, as such buildings stick out and are difficult to remove, like a stubborn nail
3/8 Nail houses in China
A 'nail house', the last building in the area, sits in the middle of a road under construction in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. According to local media, the owner of the house didn't reach an agreement with the local authority about compensation of the demolition
4/8 Nail houses in China
A three-storey 'nail house', the last building in the area, with a Chinese national flag on its rooftop is seen in the middle of a newly-built road in Luoyang, Henan province. According to local media, the house owner did not agree with government's compensation plan for relocation and refused to move out
5/8 Nail houses in China
A six-floor villa is viewed on the construction site in the central business district of Shenzhen. Choi Chu Cheung, the owner of the villa, and his wife Zhang Lian-hao, refused to accept the compensation offered by the developer who plans to build a financial centre on the site. The couple are demanding that the developer compensate them with property similar in size or raise the offer from 6,500 yuan ($840) to 18,000 yuan ($2,327) per square metre
6/8 Nail houses in China
A 'nail house', the last house in this area, stands in the centre of a construction site which will be developed as a new apartment zone in Chongqing Municipality. The owners of the house insist in seeking more compensation before agreeing to the demolition of their home, local media reported
7/8 Nail houses in China
A view of where 75-year-old Yao Baohua's house (C) still stands in the rubble of a vast development site in the city of Changzhou in China's eastern Jiangsu province. The Yao home is the last one standing in the rubble of a vast development site in Changzhou, a Chinese 'nail house', the moniker earned for both their physical appearance and their owners' stubborn resistance
8/8 Nail houses in China
Chinese authorities carry sticks as they stand guard while workers demolish houses which are claimed illegal by the local government in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province. Land seizures have been a problem for years in China, and have given rise to the term 'nail house' to describe a holdout tenant or occupant, likening them to a nail refusing to be hammered down, and violent resistance has been reported in numerous cases as ordinary people take matters into their own hands to resist eviction they deem unfair