As megablocks -- groupings of high-rise apartment towers -- become the norm across Chinese cities, they are reshaping the way people live and consume. Gone are the courtyards and small alleys of cities like Beijing, where people largely lived on the streets and interacted in closely knit communities. Megablocks encourage social atomization in their individual, Western-style apartments. Unlike early communist-era apartment blocks where families cooked in communal kitchens and even in the hallway, the new megablocks have indoor kitchens that promote a new range of nesting habitats.
Global commerce has taken notice of the shifting lifestyle patterns of hundreds of millions of people. With China's burgeoning consumer market in its sights, Ikea opened a 42,000-square-meter flagship store in Beijing in 2006; at the time, it was Ikea's second-largest outlet in the world. A huge success, it's now a magnet for Chinese consumers. Shoppers pack the aisles to peruse a seemingly endless parade of products. Visitors wander through the faux kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, and offices, sometimes spending a leisurely afternoon lounging on the plush furniture with no real intention of making a purchase.
Above, a Chinese man steps into a spacious Ikea kitchen.