“Basically, Ordos is Texas,” explained Michael S. Tunkey, an American architect based in Shanghai whose firm has designed an opera house that, along with half a dozen museums and a boutique hotel, will anchor Mr. Cai’s new cultural district.
He was referring to the wide open spaces, the frontier attitude and the seemingly endless flow of money (at least in good times) from natural resources. Ordos has rapidly become wealthy, largely because of huge deposits of coal, the primary fuel for China’s economic expansion.
Not long ago, residents of this region 350 miles west of Beijing lived in elaborate tents called yurts. Now, with a population of 1.5 million, many live in homes that would make New Yorkers jealous. According to Bao Chongming, the regional vice-mayor, they have the second highest per-capita income in China (trailing only Shanghai, the country’s financial capital) and an annual economic growth rate of 40 percent.