Her neighbours might not agree with her, but watching Beijing grow ever skywards has been great armchair entertainment for one of Building's graduate panelists

The lady next to me narrowed her eyes slightly, signalling both her failed understanding and the end to our superficial lift chat.

Let me explain. I live in Beijing and I had just expressed the somewhat controversial opinion that I don't mind the construction work surrounding the apartments in which she and I both live. In fact, I like it. Indeed, it was one of the reasons I chose to live there in the first place.

From my living room window, without any effort whatsoever, I have a bird's-eye view of at least seven major construction sites and further afield five more towers are in various stages of development. Traditionally Beijing has eschewed the Eastern fascination with glitzy super-tall structures such as those that adorn the skylines of Shanghai and Shenzen. This may have something to do with the historical ruling that no building in Beijing was permitted to rise above the Forbidden Palace. Recently though, this ruling has been overturned and a number of impressive buildings are taking their place on the Beijing skyline.

The mixed-use Yintai Centre, which is planned to open next summer, at 250 m high is already taking shape on my horizon and, just around the corner, the foundations are being prepared for the China World Trade Tower 3, which at 330 m, will be the tallest building in Beijing and seventh largest in the world when it is completed in 2008.

Before arriving here last November I knew shamefully little about mainland China, but what I did know was that economically it was developing rapidly and that there was some building going on. Not only where I live, but practically everywhere you look, Beijing is being redeveloped. Last year half of the concrete poured in the world was devoured by China's cities and the sudden demand for steel has sent the market sky high, with the effects reverberating all round the globe.

Evidently I am not alone in my fascination with this place, based on the number of international engineering and construction firms here. It remains impossible, however, to set up and operate in China without careful planning and significant investment, not only financial but also in time to sort out the myriad administrative hurdles. After which, international firms are still limited to operating in fields where they are certified and are restricted, depending on their certification, in the size of projects they can undertake. China's construction and contract laws have developed quickly but still have the reputation of being vague, which increases the risk associated with investment here.

With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of mostly migrant Chinese workers, it is still common to see large areas dug by hand

Nevertheless international construction firms are reaping the rewards of their presence here. International technical construction expertise has had a major impact on the local construction market. China's desire to clearly show the world, when all eyes turn to it for the 2008 Olympics, that it has evolved from one of the world's poorest and most isolated countries to a first-world superpower has provided construction firms with a platform to flourish and show off their most exiting ideas. Whether the industry will face recession after the Games, as some detractors have suggested, remains to be seen.

Inevitably, there are differences in the construction industry here and with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of mostly migrant Chinese workers it is still common to see large areas dug by hand. Much needs to be done with working conditions and health and safety for these workers, who keep the sites operating round the clock seven days a week. That said, China is catching up quickly in understanding, using and developing the technological innovations brought by international firms. It is not hard to envisage in coming years the focus of the massive, once state-owned Chinese national construction giants switching from domestic to international work.

I read that Beijing is now the most polluted city on earth and living here is apparently the equivalent of smoking 70 cigarettes a day.

No doubt this is not helped by the dusty construction work, which must cease months before the Olympics start to allow the dust to settle. But Beijing is an unexpectedly beguiling and exciting place to be and I admire the ambition, scale and timeframe with which the city is being transformed. I'm looking forward to seeing the city in its finished form but, as I pointed out to my friend in the lift, I'm also enjoying the journey there.