China’s Illegal Rooftop Lairs Trade Safety For Spectacle

China’s Illegal Rooftop Lairs Trade Safety For Spectacle

Why stop at the penthouse when you can put something on the penthouse? Something like a traditional Chinese pagoda, an American style suburb, or even a mountain? Time to scale China’s unusual — and often illegal — high rise structures.

Building on buildings is not a new thing in China — or in many cities with tall buildings. For years now, people have put pigeon coops on apartment and office buildings without permission. There have been shanty structures erected on apartment buildings — sometimes without permits. Below you can see illegally built pigeon coops in Fuzhou from 2010:

In the last few years, there have been an increasing number of “rooftop structures” (楼顶搭 or “lou ding da”). Or rather, there have been an increasing number of people noticing them. Some of the structures are built by the building owners and are apparently overlooked or ignored by the local governments.

The problem with these buildings are the obvious structural concerns. They were built without permits, so they might be hazardous, which worries residents. Sometimes people who build these structure even lock the rooftop fire escapes, blocking access to them. Then, there’s a feeling that these structures are ignoring things like, well, rules. They are public displays of people doing whatever the hell they want.

Let’s have a look at some of these rooftop structures from over the years. Note that not all of them are still standing.

Originally, this rooftop villa in Shanghai was supposed to be a pigeon coop, but other residents complained. So, the resulting structure ended up like this and is connected to the top floor apartment. The above photo is from 2010.

Spotted in Zhangzhou last year. A resident complained that someone was building an illegal rooftop home sans permit. The fire escape door to the roof was locked, too, blocking outside access.

Sometimes the rooftop structures are simple and relatively hard to spot, such as this 2011 rooftop metal housing, located in Fuzhou.

In Suzhou, there’s a Jiangsu style complex on top of an apartment building. It’s rumoured to belong to a government employee and went up in 2007. On People’s Daily, one of China’s largest news sources, there’s speculation that the structure went up illegally. That is, however, unconfirmed.

There’s a shopping mall in Henyang with a rooftop apparently as big as several football fields. 20-five dwellings were built on top, but since they were built without a permit, the owner was repeatedly told to tear them down. According to, an agreement seems to have been reached: the houses cannot be sold, and thus, they won’t be torn down. Demolishing the houses could possibly cause the building’s roof to leak.

And here are four rooftop houses on a shopping center in Zhuzhou.

This is perhaps the most infamous rooftop structure in China. First erected in 2007, the opulent add-on mountain looks like something the last boss of a video game would inhabit. The building’s owner, Zhang Biqing, has been building this rooftop lair for the past six years. However, the Beijing government ordered its demolition. Work began on that last Thursday, reports China Daily.

Photos: FZNews, FJsen, People’s Daily, T3, HF365, WinCn, Sohu, Sohu, 163

Fly over video: ShanghaiIst

Eric Jou contributed to this report.

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.

Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.


    • Stop being an obnoxious little shit, yeah it doesn’t relate much to games but hey, it’s still pretty damn cool.

    • Because it’s all kinds of awesome. That’s why.

      Oh and you must have missed the ‘IN REAL LIFE’ part.

    • *gaming and Asian culture. That’s where the “otaku” bit comes from. Though the word’s Japanese, the site covers most Asian culture, as far as I know.

      • *gaming and Asian culture. That’s where the “otaku” bit comes from.It doesn’t actually, or at least the word doesn’t imply those things on its own. However, “otaku” originally meant “your house” so in the end, this article does belong here.

    • If it is such a problem for you, then why are you commenting? Just skip the article.

    • It astounds me that you took the time to log in, click the article, read the article and comment on how irrelevant it is to the site. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Your visit to the article still counts as a page view, buddy.

  • Yeah… it’s one thing to have the US site’s “otaku” thing bring on all manner of anime and cosplay stories that have little to do with gaming… but Chinese rooftops?

    Next thing we’ll start having monthly writeups on Happy Meal toys. Because, you know. They’re made in China. That’s in Asia. And otaku stuff is Asian. So it totally makes sense.

  • I’m usually the first to moan when Kotaku pumps out a shitty article, but this is pretty damn interesting. That rooftop housing street is just surreal. It seems if you leave a rooftop unattended for a few months in China, someone will build a house on it.

  • dont know whether i should say damn thats pretty cool or just be horrified, think i would be paranoid having a house like that on the roof… how is it even anchored down incase of strong winds… is it even anchored? then theres the mountain /facepalm sometimes people scare me

  • Everything I hear about the quality of life in China makes me more thankful to be in Australia. China looks horrible. Well, the cities, anyway.

  • Maybe I’m missing something here, but how the hell could these really be constructed secretly? I mean all the materials have to be gotten onto the roof somehow, which means either hiring a crane, or bringing them up via the internal elevator, neither of which is terribly inconspicuous (and the latter would seriously hamper the size of structure you could build. Or are these cases of paid blindness we’re talking about?

    Oh, and as for fears of the roof leaking in that building if they tore the roof houses down, I’d be a bit more worried about the entire ceiling collapsing under the load of structures it wasn’t intended to bear…

    • With 1.4 billion people in china and 20 million in beijing, my guess is that there would be so much going on that you wouldn’t noticed, and knowing the chinese government, complaining about construction noise wouldn’t be looked into as a priority.

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