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Doctor ordered to demolish 'mountain' built atop penthouse apartment in Beijing

The conversion of a rooftop apartment in Beijing into a mountainous idyll, complete with rocks and landscaping, has drawn the ire of some neighbors.How Hwee Young / EPA

BEIJING – A doctor who spent six years and $130,000 transforming his penthouse apartment into a mountain retreat has been told to tear it down by officials who said the work was done without permission.

Zhang Biqing, who founded a chain of Chinese medicine clinics, bought the 26th-floor dwelling and then moved rocks, wooden panels and shrubbery to the roof using a service elevator.

The bizarre residence sits atop one of several high-rises in a very affluent corner of the city’s Haidian district.

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According to local media, construction of the villa has been going on for six years.How Hwee Young / EPA

Neighbors fear the two-story structure has damaged the building’s internal pipework and foundations, and say they have long complained about noise and disruption from construction.

“I’m really worried about the safety,” said one woman who lives in the building but did not want to give her name. “It’s so heavy and might damage the foundations of the building. We complained to the building management, city management, and people’s congress, but no one responded.”

The district government on Monday issued a compulsory demolition order after officials said Zhang did not secure prior approval.

According to regulations, the district government has to order compulsory demolition of a building as soon as it is identified as illegal, Wang Qiang, a spokesman for the Beijing Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development told the English-language China Daily news site.

Unless Zhang can secure permission by proving the structure is not unsafe, it will have to be torn down within 15 days. 

A close-up view of part of the structure.Tian Li / NBC News

Zhang, a doctor of Chinese medicine and the founder of a chain of medical clinics that offer acupuncture, told the Beijing Times newspaper Tuesday [link in Chinese] that he would demolish the alterations if requested.

He told the newspaper he spent $130,000 on the work, which he said was to make the rooftop pipework look prettier. He said the project began with a small number of plants and some bamboo, but that he was forced to add wooden structures to stop his additions from blowing away. Much of the rock-like edifice is actually painted materials. 

However, the Beijing Morning Post [link in Chinese] said neighbors have complained about damage to their pipes and walls due to the rooftop construction.

Another woman who lives on the 20th floor but declined to give her name said: “Our freight elevator is always full of his materials. It’s so filthy.”

Li, a man in his forties who rents an apartment in the building, said: “He blocks the good fortune from people who live below him.”

Neighbors have complained about the architectural oddity, which covers more than 10,000 square feet, saying they fear it could collapse on top of them.Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images

An apartment similar to Zhang's original unaltered property is currently listed for sale at $3.6 million.

Guo Zheqiang, a real estate agent, said Zhang’s rooftop terrace was part of his property, so he would have the legal right to make alterations to the space.

A Chinese journalist reports after unsuccessfully trying to speak with the owner of the rooftop structure.How Hwee Young / EPA

Almost all add-on structures or alterations to residential buildings are illegal in China, according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post. “However, this hasn’t stopped thousands of owners of top-floor or ground-floor properties from adding rooms, and even floors, to their homes, or encroaching into public space by putting up additional walls or fences,” the newspaper reported.

It added that the case echoed that of Hong Kong politician Henry Tang Ying-yen, who appeared in court in June over allegations that he had failed to secure the correct permissions for the construction of a 2,400 square-foot basement under his villa in the city.

The underground extension, which was discovered by planning officials, reportedly boasted a wine cellar, home theatre, gym and a Japanese bath

NBC News' Alastair Jamieson and Tian Li contributed to this report.

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