BEIJING — Chen Lan’s new home wasn’t anything fancy. But it had high ceilings, big windows and, most important: She could afford it. And she and her husband were surrounded by other pioneering artists, among them the edgy and famous dissident, Ai Weiwei.

Chen had been priced out of Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, a gallery and studio complex carved from abandoned military factories. “When we moved there in 1999, it was us and the workers,” she said. But over time, the community gentrified. Studio costs spiked to about $150,000 a year.

So in 2015, they moved to an old automobile factory sprawled across several overgrown blocks in the suburbs, which Ai and others had turned into an artists’ colony. The new place cost about $4,000 a month. Chen signed a 10-year lease.

“I was so happy,” she said.

She poured herself into decorating, artfully deploying heavy concrete vases and long-stemmed flowers throughout the open floor plan. 

Then a few weeks ago, her landlord told her they were being evicted. So were the other artists. The area will become a high-tech hub, or maybe a protected wetland. No one is quite sure.

“I do not know where to go,” she said. “Everywhere is too expensive.” 

Beijing, a city with more billionaires than New York, is in the midst of a crushing housing crisis. By some estimates, it’s the least affordable city in the world, where the average rent is about 1.2 times the average salary. Those spiking rents, coupled with ambitious redevelopment projects, have crowded many artists out.

“Artists — like most of the working class — [have been] pushed to the city’s fringes,” Michael Meyer, author of “The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed,” said in an email.

The Left Right Art District, where Chen and her husband live, was a reaction to that economic reality. The suburban space was all but abandoned decades ago. Then in 2005, it got a second life when Ai moved in. Eventually, he was joined by other artists, who hosted exhibitions and regular events.

Though Ai left China three years ago, after he had been detained for 81 days and a company he was associated with fined $2.4 million for tax evasion, his work remained. his work remained. Then on Friday, a wrecking crew came through, knocking down one wall and shattering several windows. The rest of the building will be demolished soon.

 “Farewell,” Ai wrote on Instagram. “They started to demolish my studio ‘Zuoyuo’ in Beijing with no precaution.”

In interviews, Ai said he was planning to leave the studio anyway, since his lease was up last fall. But he was surprised the demolition happened without warning. Reached by phone, Ai’s landlord said only that Ai wasn’t telling the full story.

Sunday, a handful of Ai’s assistants sat eating watermelon and swapping stories. Zhen Wei pulled up Ai’s Instagram, scrolling through the major works that started their life there. There was Yu Yi, a 50-foot mannequin made as if from a bird’s nest. Stools, from 2013. A prototype for Law of a Journey, a black rubber life raft with 20 black figures.”

Inside, dozens of wooden boxes sat scattered. Outside, bulbous blue vases from Ai’s 2006 “Pillar” series sat among the weeds. Vines were growing among twisted metal bars, reclaimed from schools destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Around Beijing, other artist spaces face the same fate. 

Caochangdi, for example, is home to more than a dozen galleries and artists, the biggest arts district after 798. In the past month, the de Sarthe and X Gallery, have been told they are being evicted. Others say they expect they’ll soon be asked to go, to make room for a new building project. 

At another artist collective outside Beijing, many worry that their livelihood is at risk. In one studio, Tang Tizhen houses several paintings of Chinese characters and flowers. She’s been painting her whole life, she said, though mostly as a hobby.

She moved to the collective five years ago, because she couldn’t afford the rent at her old place in the city. She likes the atmosphere, and the chance to meet other artists who have studios on the same block. But she worries this neighborhood is also becoming too expensive.

It’s a constant struggle, she says. There’s little government support, and it’s hard to draw art buyers so far from the city center.

If she has to move again, she’s not sure what she’ll do.

“Art,” she said, “is my life.” 

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Ai Weiwei had been personally fined for tax evasion, when it was actually he company he was linked to. The artwork Law of a Journey was incorrectly described as depicting soldiers.

Luna Lin contributed to this report.