But more than a decade after the northern Chinese city of Kangbashi, Ordos, was built and open for people to move in, it remains mostly vacant.
When the Chinese Government built the inner-Mongolian town of Kangbashi, a district of Ordos, it estimated it could accommodate well over a million people.
However, just 100,000 or so moved in, which today results in an urban ghost city, an “urban failure” considering its billion-dollar construction cost.
Shanghai-based photographer Raphael Olivier wanted to see what the fuss was about after hearing reports about China’s ghost cities over the years.
Olivier photographed Kangbashi, a subdivision of Ordos and the sprawling 355 sqm city itself as part of his Failed Utopia series.
He told news.com.au his images focused on the city’s big developments, rather than its “empty streets.”
The French photographer found the entire city was intriguing, slightly eerie yet beautiful in parts — a far cry from the bustling, busy city he currently called home.
Mr Olivier said while the city did have people, it appeared largely empty and on first appearances its buildings and facilities appeared neat.
But on closer inspection he found many were starting to crumble and were showing the effects of being built in a hurry and corners were cut.
“There is a very strong misconception in the western media that Ordos is a ghost city, but there are people living here,” he told news.com.au.
“And while we may see it as urban failure the Chinese see it as development.
“Ordos is spectacularly interesting because it has these wide streets that are just empty.”
He said the city had a “post-apocalyptic” feel which was largely down to the large amounts of vacant, and half-finished buildings contrasted against the surrounding desert.
Mr Olivier said the fact that the city was so underpopulated and was well below the intended government target meant it could be seen as a complete urban failure.
Mr Olivier, who visited the Ordos museum, said it was a classic example of how buildings were built and maintained across the entire city.
“The buildings are starting to fall apart because everything was built so quickly,” he said.
“They built the city so fast with cheap materials and short cuts were taken.
“The buildings are designed well but the execution of the buildings themselves is low end.
“Many of these buildings were built 20 years ago and they’re already starting to fall apart.”
Mr Olivier said the Ordos Museum, which looked beautiful on the outside but falling apart or empty on the inside, was symbolic of the entire city.
“When I visited there was only a plastic dinosaur and some weird Christmas tree and a chocolate bar stand,” he said.
“It was super pathetic really.
‘The ceiling was rotting, and pieces of plaster were falling off.”
The photographer who runs his own agency in Shanghai, said he has always had a keen interest in urban development and Asia was especially interesting.
He is also planning a photography trip to Pyonyang, North Korea, in July to capture its own unique urban development.
KANGBASHI NEW AREA, ORDOS
Known as the world’s “largest ghost city”, developers began work on the new urban centre of Kangbashi just outside of the existing city of Ordos in 2003.
The Mongolian city was meant to be the shining light of China and a massive symbol of wealth and progression. But things didn’t quite go to plan.
City authorities were struck by a range of problems such as investors pulling out a series of unpaid loans.
The cost of living was also high so the government began offering incentives for people to move there or in some cases even relocated schools and facilities.
While indicators appear to show the population is increasing it remains far off the intended government target.