The Odd Case of Chinese Nail Houses

Visual News
Visual News / Visual News

A quickly spreading phenomenon in the construction world has given new meaning to the phrase “standing your ground.” In China, where urban areas are among the most rapidly growing in the world, a strange fad called the “nail house” has taken root.

Residents take advantage of a relatively new property-owning law in China—which, in 2007, prohibited the government seizure of private land except for cases of public interest—by refusing to leave their houses when a new development rolls into town. Often, the homeowners are bribed or otherwise persuaded to move, but in extreme cases, developers are forced to build around them. The resulting nail houses, a term coined to reflect the owners' tenacity, rise stubbornly through the urban sprawl, bisecting busy highways and tucked neatly into shopping complexes.

Though one house interrupting a busy intersection may seem like the antithesis of a public interest victory, many developers shy away from aggressively pursuing these areas, for fear of appearing too oppressive in the media. That’s how, even in cases where the dwellings are of little real use to anyone (many nail house owners don’t actually spend much time there), such structures are able to withstand the years.

Though Chinese nail houses have recently seen heavy exposure, the concept of a nail house is not new, nor uniquely Chinese. In Washington, D.C., Austin Spriggs was offered $3 million for his house (actually worth about $200,000) as a part of a development. Spriggs refused, then took out a loan and ended up converting his home into a pizzeria as a sleek new office building rose up around it. Nail houses have even made their way into Disney movies: Before he had the brilliant idea to take to the air, Carl from Disney-Pixar’s Up posed the same type of stubborn rebellion now seen in numerous urban areas in China.

Primary photo courtesy of Visual News.