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139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Beijing to evict residents of old courtyard homes

BEIJING, Jan 11 (Reuters) - China will evict residents of traditional courtyard houses in the capital in time for the Olympic Games in 2008 to protect the city's cultural heritage, Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

Entire blocks of the city's old alleyway, or hutong, communities on which courtyard houses traditionally sit, have been demolished and replaced with office towers and apartment blocks, sparking protests from residents told to relocate.

Courtyard houses, known as "siheyuan" in Chinese, used to be one of Beijing's most distinctive features, and whole families would live in rooms off one central, four-sided courtyard.

"Currently, many of the siheyuan courtyards have turned dilapidated and some are in danger of possible collapse," Xinhua cited Mei Ninghua, director of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Heritage Bureau, as saying.

But it did not say what would happen to the present residents.

Traditionally low Chinese structures have been making way for forests of skyscrapers in Beijing, though some old courtyards have been renovated and turned into chic, ultra-expensive residences costing thousands of dollars a month in rent.

Many have already been demolished, however, and replaced by block after block of uniform high-rises to house Beijing's growing population as the economy races ahead.

"The courtyards, featuring typical classical roofs, decorated with corridors and old pomegranate trees, often impress visitors with their grace, tranquility and elegance and are regarded as an important part of traditional Beijing culture," Xinhua said.

Other architectural schemes have been criticised for looking out of place in Beijing, home to UNESCO world heritage sites like the old imperial palace the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.

Paul Andreu's National Grand Theatre, a gleaming half-dome of glass and titanium, has become a centre of controversy over whether it belongs next to the Soviet-era architecture of Tiananmen Square.

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
China: Under Construction

HANGDIEN, SOUTHERN CHINA(CBS) This Letter From Asia comes to you from Hengdien in Southern China. We all know that China is rising. Look at how many things we buy from this country. And every time an American buys something with the label “made in China,” it helps to make China – because this country is seemingly under construction from one end to the other.

A lot of what China is building are simply better places to live because with a fast growing economy living better is now possible. And thanks to the success of capitalism some will live better than others…a housing development outside Shanghai is called Thames Village and has a distinct English theme.

Yes, there’s a statue of Shakespeare, and, yes one more time, Winston Churchill stands overseeing it all.

But it’s the houses that are the draw…it will cost up to a million dollars or more to live in one of these showplaces. That means only the lucky few will ever live here…since for the vast population of China the annual income is about a thousand dollars a year.

But it’s not just shelter…take a look at the Shanghai. On an island once better known for its small farms, there is a skyline that would be the envy of any metropolis.

It is called Pudong, the centerpiece in China’s ambition to be Asia economic capital. And if you think it’s impressive now...the Chinese government just announced that it will invest the money to continue developing Pudong until it is twice its current size.

Now let’s switch cities to the mother of all construction projects….Beijing. The building here is two-fold…first, an entirely new business district with high-end apartments, five-star international hotels, and skyscraper after skyscraper of offices.

But look around a few corners and you see that other construction project…the new venues going up fast for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

China can do all this quickly for a variety of reasons…but the most important one is that no person can own land here. When the communists took power, they ended land ownership – so land belongs to the government and when they need it for, say, a sports stadium there are no appeals, no courts, no way to stop it.

That means the disappearance of something Beijingers miss… the hutong neighborhoods. They are centuries old collections of often one room houses usually with no plumbing… toilets are at the end of the block.

In one hutong, for instance, our favorite Peking Duck restaurant. Best to call us if you want to go there, because it’s easy to miss the last turn down the right alley.

And there is another reason to call us…because these neighborhoods are disappearing at the drop of a bulldozer.

And that is a price to pay for progress…after the skyscrapers are finished and the streets congested with new traffic…the cities will not only never look the same…they will never quite be the same.

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Architect dreams of a greener Tiananmen
Ma Yansong also seeks to modernise Beijing's hutong landscape

5 October 2006
South China Morning Post

Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing has been the political centre of China for decades, but under one man's vision, it would become a leafy central park.

Replacing Tiananmen's paving stones with trees is among several initiatives dreamed up by maverick architect Ma Yansong , 30, in his Beijing 2050.

Mr Ma's design out of his Beijing-based MAD Architectural Design Studio won an international competition in April to design the fourth high-rise in a landmark residential tower complex in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. In its presentation for the Absolute World South Tower, the firm said it would be "the sexiest building on the planet, a high-rise that resembles perfect female curves under a tight skirt". It was dubbed the "Marilyn Monroe building".

Mr Ma unveiled the Beijing 2050 project at the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale last month, outlining a rendering of the future landscape of the capital. He and his team have sought to modernise the city's traditional hutong areas (courtyard homes along alleys) to make them more livable. Such homes have become popular attractions among overseas visitors. "But take a look at how people have been living there. They don't even have basic hygiene facilities, such as separate toilets and showers," Mr Ma said.

He said people would have to surrender part of the old blocks to make room for modern facilities, "but the essence of the hutong landscape remains". Mr Ma and his team also designed a floating island - a cloud-like structure among the capital's skyscrapers to add a futuristic touch to the otherwise dull cityscape.

Mr Ma said the motivation behind these projects was to spur a sea change in town planning and design on the mainland.

"In China, particularly during the past one or two centuries, people have had little faith in long-term planning, as things have rarely turned out as intended because of social and political changes.

"Is there any long-term plan for the city that goes beyond the 2008 Beijing Olympics? No, and that's scary because 2008 is less than two years away."

The Yale-educated architect returned to the mainland at the end of 2003, setting up MAD in a small flat. For more than a year, his small team of young architects fought to make their mark by entering international and domestic design contests.

The studio moved into a large old factory workshop in central Beijing after two years. It has attracted more than 20 young architects from the US, Europe, Hong Kong and the mainland.

Mr Ma said he enjoyed working with people from different cultures, and valued the expertise and different ways of thinking they had brought in. His studio has won several projects on the mainland, including the design for a Hong Kong Phoenix TV studio in Beijing. But his designs are not without controversy. Even his acclaimed design for the Absolute tower has been questioned by some for its outlandish design, whopping budget of US$130 million and the high level of engineering it might require. But the Beijing native said he would not compromise his artistic vision to win projects.

"We [MAD] are not the kind of studio fighting to win every project that comes around. But those who come to us know what we stand for and what we can deliver."

Mr Ma said that after winning the design competition he decided that he would help other young people like him see hope in the future. "They should take pride in what they're doing without worrying too much about how they are judged by so-called mainstream people and the established set of standards."

Mr Ma said a good architect should first have a great interest in how people lived. "It seems that we are simply designing things to fill the city landscape, but what we are actually doing is deciding how people will live for many years to come."

He said a bad architect could do great harm to the landscape, the environment and peoples' lifestyles, and that damage could be felt for many years to come.

Mr Ma said he was not particularly targeting Tiananmen Square or trying to change Beijing's landscape by dreaming up his own vision of the city. "We are simply saying we're not happy with what we have and want some changes on the part of the public, government and policymakers."

The young architect realises that the visions contained in Beijing 2050 Project are bold, but said he believed they would become a reality.

"Tanks and even jet fighters were deployed in parades in the 1950s and 60s to mark important occasions such as National Day. Now the central government hardly stages such mass rallies any more and has even allowed turf to be laid.

"We have the grass, so why can't we have trees in the square? If the biggest venue for political gatherings can be turned into a cultural centre for the people, then this country is moving on."

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Love of heritage too little, too late to save hutongs from the developers
9 June 2007
South China Morning Post

As people enjoy free entry to heritage sites and museums around the nation today, the second annual Cultural Heritage Day, Xia Jie wonders if the new-found enthusiasm will save her 100-year-old courtyard house in Beijing's Dongsi Batiao, Dongsi's Eighth Alley.

On the day Ms Xia was born, her grandmother planted a guava tree in the family's courtyard at No11 Dongsi Batiao, which four generations of the family have called home since 1948. Ms Xia, now 33, grew up picking fruit in the courtyard, running up and down the hutongs, roaming in and out of neighbours' courtyards and wondering why she had to share her home with strangers, "tenants" the family was obliged to take in during the Cultural Revolution.

When all the tenants finally moved out a few years ago, Ms Xia was thrilled that she could at last lay her hands on the whole of the 500-square-metre courtyard and transform it into a family-run hostel and art space, giving visitors a taste of authentic Beijing life and local artists a place to showcase their work.

But Ms Xia's plans for the transformation have been stalled by the rumble of bulldozers and a bureaucratic web of decisions by different layers and arms of the government covering what is officially a protected area of old Beijing. In response, she has been forced to embark on a legal journey to fight for her home.

In the past few decades, despite the government's commitment on paper to heritage conservation, two-thirds of Beijing's 3,000 hutongs - some of which have formed the capital's core since the Yuan dynasty - have been torn down as heritage protection has lost out to development. The threat to Dongsi Batiao is only the latest case.

The alley's residents first heard about demolition plans for the hutong in mid-April when the Dongcheng Housing Department put up a notice saying all odd-numbered courtyards between No1 and 23 Dongsi Batiao would be torn down for a development. They were told to move out by May 26 and the demolition permit was to remain valid until September 30, the day before the country's long-awaited Property Law takes effect.

Then, on May 14, Ms Xia found herself the unexpected centre of media attention after developers tore down No9 Dongsi Batiao. For the first time, two government-affiliated newspapers offered extensive coverage of the proposed destruction. The coverage forced the Dongcheng authorities and the developer to hold a press conference the next day to insist the demolition could take place because the heritage-listed homes were not protected.

They said the initial approval for redevelopment was obtained in 1999 on the basis that the buildings were in a dangerous state. The developer said the Dongsi Batiao section in question, which contains about 70 households and more than 100 residents, would be used to build a new office and residential complex housed in historic-style buildings, which would be much tidier than the existing ones.

As revealed by the two newspapers, a Beijing municipal government department gave the final nod for redevelopment of old and dangerous buildings in Dongsi Batiao in January. And, on the strength of this document, the Dongcheng Housing Department issued a demolition permit and the developer, the Zhongbaojiaye Properties Development Company, proceeded with demolition.

However, it was also revealed that the Beijing Heritage Bureau had opposed the demolition on the grounds that Dongsi Batiao was within a "historical and cultural preservation area". The Dongcheng Heritage Management Centre, on the other hand, said that there were no listed heritage sites in that specific stretch of the hutong.

Dongcheng authorities also said heritage experts, which must be consulted on any construction work in the old town, voiced no opposition to the demolition plans. But Xu Pingfang , from the Archaeological Society of China, a panel expert who has openly opposed Dongsi Batiao's redevelopment and who was not consulted on this occasion, said the decision-makers had "mixed up the laws".

As a first step to untying this administrative tangle and keeping her home, Ms Xia filed a request for administrative review of the Dongcheng government's March decision permitting the demolition to go ahead. The request has been accepted but it will take many more weeks until she knows what her next step in the process can be.

No further courtyard has been torn down since the sacrifice of No9. And three days after May 26, the deadline for all residents to move out, local media reported the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said there would no longer be "extensive demolition" at Dongsi Batiao. But Ms Xia said everyone knew the administration had no decision-making power on the matter. And she and other residents had not yet received any formal notice from any government department or the developer saying that the demolition had officially stopped.

"Forced demolition is happening all around the country and it is against the law. So we are very lucky that our cause has attracted so much attention," Ms Xia said.

The administrative logjam has ironically also proved frustrating for the developer. Bai Hua , the company's deputy general manager, said late last month that the "situation with the government is changing every day, it's difficult to comment".

Hua Xinmin , a 10-year veteran crusader for the protection of Beijing's hutongs, says Beijing does not lack laws to preserve the old town - the problem lies with the lack of a united vision between government departments and some officials' disrespect for the law.

"There have been many government documents over the years, but the tearing down of the hutongs has not stopped," Ms Hua said.

As far back as 1983 a central government-approved plan stressed the importance of preserving historical buildings as well as the surrounding environment. A subsequent string of decrees has also stressed the importance of protecting the old town, meaning the area enclosed within the second ring road, where the Ming city wall used to stand.

The preservation documents for the area include the "Plan for Beijing Old Town's 25 Historical and Cultural Preservation Areas" issued in 1999 and the State Council's Beijing Municipal Development Plan (2004-2020) released in 2005, which demands authorities preserve the whole of the old town, and "must stop all large-scale demolition and construction".

Two key principles underlined in the State Council document are the need to "preserve historical authenticity" and "protect the wholeness of traditional outlook".

And yet the destruction continues. The Zhengjue Temple, built in the Ming dynasty (1445) and which used to sit right outside Ms Xia's courtyard, was bulldozed in 2003.

"If a temple of 500 years can be demolished, what is the heritage significance of our buildings which are only 100 years?" a devastated Ms Xia said she thought at the time. "They first destroy the heritage, then they say there's no heritage."

Ms Hua says the debate about what stays and goes should not be about heritage value of the individual buildings. She says Beijing's old town, with its intricate grids and flows of the Yuan capital, is a piece of artwork as a whole.

"This is not a question whether the targeted buildings have heritage value or not," she said. "This is about protecting Beijing's cultural environment. We are trying to protect the hutongs, not an individual house."

However, the diversity of property ownership rights in the hutong further complicates the problem. While Ms Xia's family is owner of their courtyard, many other residents are only renting the hutongs from the government and, like Zhao Jinfu, are happy to move if the compensation is reasonable.

She lives with four other family members in a room of less than 10 square metres. Her complex now has 18 households living in add-ons to the original shared courtyard.

"This is not heritage. It's only an old and broken house," Ms Zhao said. "It's a pity that I have to move out after 50 years. But this house is not good, and I want to live in a better place."

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Demolition of China's heritage is attacked by minister
12 June 2007
The Daily Telegraph

CHINA'S record of bulldozing swathes of historic city quarters in its rush to development has come under attack from one of its own construction ministers.

The country's cities had been "devastated'' by the "senseless'' actions of its officials desperate to construct "new and exotic'' buildings, said Qiu Baoxing, the vice construction minister.

Mr Qiu, who has an increasing reputation for criticising the drawbacks of China's rapid growth, then strayed into even more sensitive territory, comparing the effects of modern commercial development with two of the major disasters of the era of Chairman Mao.

China Daily, the English-language daily, quoted him saying that what was happening to China's heritage was a "third round of havoc'' after the Great Leap Forward, Mao's catastrophic experiment in mass industrialisation in the 1950s, and the Cultural Revolution of the following decade.

"Some local officials seem to be altering the appearance of cities with the determination of 'moving the mountain and altering the water course','' he was quoted as saying at a conference on urban culture and city planning in China.

The conference came after the second national cultural heritage day, a belated attempt by the government to encourage preservation in an era of rapid economic change.

Mao's hostility to traditional Chinese culture, followed by redevelopment under the raw capitalism pursued in the three decades since his death, has reduced most Chinese cities to grey patchworks of housing blocks, glitzy office developments and increasingly packed roads.

Recent attention has focused on the hutongs of Beijing, old alleys lined with grey-brick, gabled courtyard houses, and the shikumen of Shanghai, a distinctive cross-breed of Chinese and Western housing, partly because of international interest and partly because so little survives in other cities. In some cases, even historic temples have been torn down.

There have been signs that the government has become more responsive to local and international pressure. A development in a hutong north-east of the Forbidden City was put on hold earlier this month after it was condemned by local newspapers.

But the destruction of Qianmen, one of the most famous of old Beijing's districts, south of Tiananmen Square, has continued unabated. Officials say that it will be replaced by courtyard-style housing.

But such schemes came under fire from the government's representatives at the conference. "It is like tearing up an invaluable painting and replacing it with a cheap print,'' said Tong Mingkang, the deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Renovation to benefit thousands of families
29 November 2007
China Daily

Thousands of traditional houses in 40 hutong in Beijing are to be renovated by July, as part of a massive effort to improve the safety and living conditions of nearly 10,000 families.

It is the largest renovation of the old houses in Beijing since 1949.

A total of 9,635 families living in 1,474 courtyards in the hutong are involved, the municipal government said on its website on November 27.

The municipal authorities have allocated 250 million yuan ($33.8 million) for each of the four districts to be renovated - Dongcheng, Xicheng, Xuanwu and Chongwen.

During an inspection of the project's progress on November 26, Beijing Vice-Mayor Chen Gang said the focus will be on improving residents' heating and toilet facilities.

The authorities will also hire conservation experts to ensure the renovation work does not damage the look of hutong that so many have come to associate with the capital.

The Beijing municipal commission of urban planning and the Beijing municipal construction committee, which gave detailed guidelines for the renovation, stressed the project will preserve historical items and the look of the traditional siheyuan (courtyards).

No changes to the width or layout of the hutong will be allowed, to ensure their original appearance is maintained.

The use of old bricks and stone materials will also be encouraged to achieve traditional facades.

A worker on a renovation site in Xicheng district told Beijing News that even the new windows will be in the old style - glass in wooden frames instead of the popular aluminium alloy ones.

He said even small towns in China no longer use such wooden frames now.

But the renovation will add many new facilities to the houses too, improving people's lives.

One resident told Beijing News his renovated home benefits from an electric heating system, which saves him the trouble of relying on a coal stove that causes him to choke on hazardous fumes in winter.

New homes will also have utility meters installed to encourage residents to save energy and water.

Some courtyards will also be given new drainpipes and flush toilets.

Dongsi resident Sang Nanhua is one of those looking forward to a new home.

"In the past, it was too cold and inconvenient in the dead of winter to go out of the house and use the public toilet," Sang said.

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Beijing to move 200,000 people out of sites of historical value by 2010

BEIJING, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) -- Some 200,000 Beijingers will be encouraged by the municipal government to move out of the old city proper and sites of historical value by 2010, in efforts to safeguard historical and cultural sites.

The move is part of a larger plan to reduce the population of the city's urban core by 700,000 people by 2020.

Under the Old City protection regulation promulgated on Monday, the municipal government has put 16,410 square km of such sites into preservation, in order to keep their original appearance.

The preservation spectrum covers all areas of the 850-year-old capital within the city's No. 2 Ring Road, and such protected heritage areas as the Summer Palace, the Badaling Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven. Relocation is expected to be voluntary, although it was unclear if this would be the case if the target figure for relocation was not met.

"The final target of the relocation is to reduce the population in the preserved areas from 1.8 million at present to 1.1 million by 2020. The project is going to be an enduring work, and it will be done step by step," explained Chen Jianju, an official with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning.

He said that the commission considered relocation to be the best way to preserve the original state of the sites, since the current population density has made protection work extremely difficult.

Sui Zhenjiang, director of the Beijing Construction Committee, told Xinhua that residents in the old city area often live in houses as cramped as around 20 square meters per household. Some of the houses are worn down and dangerous to live in.

"Through relocation, these people will be able to move into new apartment buildings. The government will make its utmost effort to mitigate negative effects in relocation," he said.

The planning commission said that the municipal government will compensate and provide subsidized housing for those resettled, in line with relevant laws and regulations. The commission has asked authorities in local districts to evaluate how much those relocating will get for giving up their houses.

Recently, Beijing residents were paid some 10,000 yuan per square meter in resettlement compensation for moving out of houses to be pulled down in the city's downtown areas to make way for new urban planning or real estate development.

The move to preserve what remains of Beijing's historic core, made up in large part of hutongs, or narrow streets, has come too late for many areas.

Xinhua reported a field survey by The Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture in December 2006 that showed the city had boasted more than 3,679 hutongs in the 1980s, a number that plunged 40 percent as the city sought to make space for urban roads and skyscrapers.

Only 430 hutongs, 33 percent of the 1,320 hutongs surveyed, have been able to preserve their original character.

Hutongs are lanes lined with traditional Beijing courtyard houses. A traditional form of urban construction, they once formed a dense latticework in Beijing and are a traditional cultural feature of the city.

Hutong is originally a Mongolian expression meaning "well". In the old days, people lived together around a well and the "passages" they made formed today's hutongs.

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
5 October 2010
China Daily

Put on your walking shoes or get on a bike and discover for yourself the fast-disappearing hutong of the country's capital city. Tiffany Tan reports.

People fly around the world to see the sights but often miss the gems in their own backyard. For Beijing residents, these include the capital's trademark hutong, or alleys, that offer a glimpse of Chinese history, local life and ancient architecture. Because of rapid real estate development, less than a thousand of Beijing's hutong remain, down from at least 3,000 in the early 1950s, say conservationists. More are slated for demolition. And that should be reason enough to put on your walking shoes or hop on a bike to tour "a vanishing Beijing".

Longest hutong: Dongjiao Minxiang, Dongcheng district

The history of Dongjiao Minxiang, southeast of Tian'anmen Square, stretches back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when it served as an important passageway for rice bound for the north and south. In the succeeding Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, it hosted offices of the imperial ministries.

In the early 20th century it was designated as an embassy zone, which explains the foreign architecture dotting the 1.5 km alley. These include the former United States embassy complex (built in 1903, that now houses some impressive bars and restaurants in Ch'ien Men 23), the former British royal chartered bank (built in 1919 and now a hotel) and St. Michael's Church, which was built in 1901 and still holds daily masses.

Oldest hutong: Zhuanta, Xicheng district

Zhuanta, off South Xisi Avenue, is more than 700 years old. There are reportedly older alleys, but only Zhuanta's claim is backed up by historical data, researchers say.

"This is the only one that we can be sure originated in the Yuan Dynasty, as the name of this hutong was mentioned in a Yuan Dynasty opera by Guan Hanqing, the most famous playwright from that era," says Hu Xinyu, a volunteer with the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center.

Zhuanta's defining landmark is a brick tower for which it was named, built in honor of a Buddhist monk after his death in 1246. The tower has been under renovation since 2008, so only an outline of it can be seen through scaffolding and green netting.

Another site of note is yard No 84, the former residence of Lu Xun, one of the greatest Chinese writers of the 20th century. But there's not much to see in the dilapidated courtyard, and it looks like it will soon go the way of the opera houses that once crowded the hutong during imperial times.

Hutong with the most archways: Chengxianjie, Dongcheng district

The hutong was renamed Guozijian in 1965, in honor of one of its most important buildings, the Imperial College, China's highest educational institution from the Yuan to the Qing Dynasty.

Beside it is Confucius Temple, established in 1302, where academics and emperors paid their respects to the eminent Chinese teacher and philosopher.

The alley, which faces Yonghegong Lama Temple and features cafes and souvenir shops, is a popular tourist destination. But the residents seem oblivious to the hustle and bustle as they concentrate on their card games, chitchat with neighbors and do their daily exercises.

Narrowest hutong: Qianshi, Xicheng District

It's easy to miss the passage to this dead-end hutong, Beijing's narrowest at 70 cm. Here, people coming from opposite directions need to turn sideways to pass each other. But at least, they don't have to worry about cars blocking their path.

The reason the hutong builders scrimped on space lies in its name. Qianshi, meaning "money market", was the official currency-exchange center during the Qing Dynasty and became home to banking firms during the Republic of China (1911-1949) period.

The alley, located west of Qianmen pedestrian street and north of Dashilan commercial street, was apparently made narrow to make it hard for thieves to escape.

Sadly, few traces remain of Qianshi's bustling, prosperous former life - barely discernible bank names on the brick walls and couplets wishing for "profits as high as the mountains" painted on courtyard gates.

Most winding hutong: Jiuwan, Xicheng district

This hutong has 13 turns, nine of which are at a 90-degree angle, thus its name Jiuwan or "nine turns". Contrasting atmospheres lie within its belly: bright and airy sections dotted with flowers and vines contrast with narrow, desolate paths between cement or brick walls.

This is one of the most popular sites on 90 Percent Travel's "extreme hutong" tour, in part because foreign visitors are amused by the myriad cell phone numbers for local plumbers on the walls.

There are at least two other hutong in town with a similar name, so make sure you look for the one behind the century-old Methodist Church on West Zhushikou Avenue. And remember to enter Jiuwan from its east end to ward off back luck, residents say.

Shortest hutong: Yichidajie, Xicheng district

You won't find a sign identifying this 20 meter strip of road as Yichidajie. In fact, street numbers say it's part of Yangmeizhu Alley, a diagonal road lying east of Qianmen Avenue.

The key to finding the hutong lies in asking elderly residents for directions since the younger ones don't seem to know.

There are less than 10 doors along Yichidajie, including three restaurants, a trophy store and a seal-carving shop. This 70-year-old alley used to have a smithy and calligraphy shops, says Bu Tianxing, a tour guide at 90 Percent Travel. A few minutes farther east on foot is Liulichang antique market.

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
A square of blue sky in city
24 January 2011
China Daily - Hong Kong Edition

Independent architect and interior designer Wong Suiming has dedicated himself to the small hutong renovation projects that many architects won't tackle.

"You have to really like this kind of work," he said, when explaining his love of hutong esthetics.

He isn't interested in massive structures or concert halls but rather the small spaces that people connect to on a daily basis.

Wong renovated his hutong home four years ago after pouring in time and energy. Upon entering his courtyard home from the alleyway, visitors immediately notice Chinese yin and yang at work.

The entryway floor is composed of river rock with a bamboo plant placed Zen-like against a white brick wall, close to a fish bowl. The metal door to the home is to the left, where a large wooden framed window adds another element to the small garden. Wood, metal, earth, water and fire - from low lighting around the pebbles - give a sensation of peace.

The metal door pushes into an open-concept living/dining and kitchen area, where the five elements continue. The ceilings are high, with whitewashed walls and brick interspersed with raw wood beams in the traditional fashion. A large mirror hangs on the wall, making the space feel open.

The loft bedroom is shielded behind blue fabric but the wooden beams supporting it add a cozy feel to the main level. Wooden-framed windows let in natural light and lamps provide the remaining glow.

Wong has had a lifelong passion for esthetics. He followed his passion toward architecture, where he is able to blend a love of design with a hutong lifestyle. One example of this can be seen in his use of natural lighting.

"In Hong Kong, I lived on the 23rd floor," he said. "From my window I could see 10 other high-rises; 10,000 windows looking at me. I have to get away from it."

Living in Beijing, Wong has achieved just that.

"Nobody can see me and I can look at the sky quietly."

Wong added a modern kitchen with metal and plastic doors in a unique salmon hue. The amenities shine brightly and contrast perfectly with the tiled slate flooring.

A small office is divided by large wooden-framed glass windows, giving privacy when needed. The office has a view of the courtyard garden and natural light. And though a computer sits in the corner, Wong's art supplies look worn and used.

A hallway jets off the living room and is divided by dangling beads. Wong explained that the large walk-in closet was created for his wife. Beautiful wooden shelves hold neatly organized clothing and shoes. A stairway adjacent to the closet provides additional storage in the form of pull-out drawers, which are embedded into each stair.

The bathroom is a modern beauty, with blue tiled floors and walls and a window that Wong said allows natural light in without allowing people to see inside. A bamboo tree in the garden offers a nice balance of color with the blue tiles within.

The bedroom is a loft positioned above the closet and bathroom that is large enough for a futon bed. Rustic wooden beams and charming hardwood floor provide a picturesque feel. Together, the open loft bedroom and modern Zen kitchen give the feel of a distinctly unique Chinese design.

For the past 11 years, Wong, a Hong Kong native, has been enjoying his life in Beijing.

"Ten years ago Beijingers did not like the hutong lifestyle and dreamed of living in high-rises. The hutong were dirty, cramped and uncomfortable."

All this has changed though and now his hutong property is a piece of hot property.

"This is a valuable area and you can't develop it. It is old and is worth as much as 100,000 yuan per square meter," he said.

Though there is certainly renewed value in an old Beijing, there is also a strong sense of cultural protection.

"The Eastern idea of building is impermanence. Things are made of wood, so they will be gone. Everything has to be rebuilt, even the Forbidden City," he said.

Wong patted the reinforced brick walls he put in place four years ago.

"The old architecture might have already gone but the key is to keep the alleyways and the height restrictions in place," Wong said. "If you keep these two elements, the spirit of the hutong remains."

139,485 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
History vs. history: Plan to bulldoze courtyard homes for 18th-century-style square in Beijing
17 January 2013

BEIJING (AP) - In a corner of old Beijing, the government may soon be both destroying history and remaking it.

District officials want to re-create a piece of China's glorious dynastic past by rebuilding a square near the Drum and Bell towers in 18th-century Qing Dynasty fashion. To do it, they will demolish dozens of scuffed courtyard homes that preservationists say have themselves become a part of a cultural history that is fast disappearing as construction transforms the capital.

Because of relatively recent renovation, few of the homes can claim to be more than a few decades old. But they are in crooked alleyways known as "hutongs," which formed around courtyard houses and date back centuries.

Along their lanes and within their mended walls, an old way of life is still visible -- mahjong rooms, shared courtyards, clothes hanging to dry -- against a more distant backdrop of skyscrapers.

The plan to redo the neighborhood has raised the ire of those who see it as swapping a real and living piece of Beijing's history with something static and fake.

"They want to restore the Drum and Bell Tower square to the time of the prosperous Qing Dynasty," but in doing so they will destroy a "rich accumulation of cultural heritage," said He Shuzhong, founder of Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, a nongovernmental organization.

"We believe that protecting cultural heritage is about inheriting, accumulation. It is a process of history. It shouldn't look like the prosperous time now," he said.

Dominic Johnson-Hill, a British entrepreneur who spent nine years living in the Drum and Bell neighborhood, said the hutongs "are kind of the living museums of China, or Beijing at least."

"If you go to the Forbidden City it feels quite empty, as do a lot of cultural spots. But when you go to a hutong, you feel like you are in some of the best surviving parts of Beijing," Johnson-Hill said.

The Drum and Bell towers were first built in 1272 to announce the time, and at various points in history, the square served as a lively marketplace. Today, it is different.

The homes are dilapidated and the hutongs lined with rubble. A handful of tourists meander through while locals carry home shopping bags, some of them stopping to read pasted signs advising which properties will be knocked down. At one home, pigeons warble in coops on the corrugated iron roof.

A previous plan in 2009 to demolish the courtyard houses and build an underground mall was shelved after opposition from civic groups and some residents. Now a less ambitious plan is on the table.

The Dongcheng district government says the new plan is about preserving history. It says it will restore the square "to its original appearance" by using maps of the Qianlong period in the Qing dynasty in the 18th century and other unspecified periods, though they are still working out designs and details are vague. Residents, however, were given notice to move in December.

The oldest houses to be demolished date from the Republic of China, 1911-1949, but most were either renovated or rebuilt after the 1970s, said Liu Jingdi, who works for the Dongcheng district Historical Appearance Protection Office.

These houses are of "no historical value. There is absolutely no cultural heritage in the 4,700-square-meter area" to be demolished, Liu said.

The neighborhood's average living space per household is just 20 square meters (24 square yards) and is rife with fire hazards, officials say. Many houses are made of wood, and the 3-meter-wide (3-yard-wide) hutongs are too narrow for fire trucks to navigate.

Those displaced will be relocated to bigger apartments farther from the city center. Residents of illegally added second and third stories won't be compensated, said Li Guanghui, deputy chief of Dongcheng housing administration.

Officials say the project will raise residents' living standards and safeguard the area's historical appearance. Heritage experts disagree, saying the existing homes should be renovated, not destroyed.

"We respect this place because it has so many histories, so many stories, so many imaginations," said He, of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center. "They think this is a dilapidated place, the dirtiest, messiest place of Beijing, which is hindering Beijing's development. They think Beijing should be big, sparkling and new."

China's breakneck economic growth and real estate explosion over the past three decades have transformed its big cities at the expense of history. A third of Beijing's narrow hutongs have disappeared since the early 1990s and another third have lost their original appearance after renovation, He's group estimates.

One hutong community south of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square was bulldozed to make way for new shops modeled on old architecture, rebuilt in 2008 with new materials rather than reusing what was there before, to the horror of heritage buffs. It is now filled with Chinese and Western brand stores.

Dongcheng officials say the Drum and Bell square won't become a commercial street and that the surrounding area will remain residential. But those in the immediate vicinity will have to leave.

Many aren't sorry, and are looking forward to newer and bigger houses.

"I wanted to move 30 years ago," said one woman, who would only give her surname, Wang.

Liu Fengying, 64, is more wistful. Liu, who remembers three earlier generations of her family living in the neighborhood, hosted visitors while wearing a winter coat and sitting on a bed that took up about half of one of her two drafty rooms. A washing line was strung across the room, and a calendar with a drawing of a young Mao Zedong hung on the wall.

"I'm not willing to leave," she said. "But if the state needs this land, then we have no choice. They will give us a bigger house, but it's just a little far out."

Johnson-Hill, the British entrepreneur, said he chose to live on a hutong because he wanted to bring up his children in a community, rather than in neighborhoods where "people live a meter apart but don't even know each other." His family lived on a courtyard with four Chinese families and wild ferrets in the roof.

"Those families are now like family to us. Our children would come home and would go to our neighbors' home before they came to our home," he said. "The best days of my life have been spent living on hutongs."

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It is true that the Hutongs of Beijing (some of them, at least) were demolished because they lack heating, indoor plumbing and electrical wiring, as well as the small floor area of the traditional courtyard residences within them. Is it really all that difficult to install any heating/plumbing/electrical systems within the hutongs that remain? Because if it is, I think such systems would damage the Hutongs' historical character.

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Beijing's Hutong Homes Offer Respite From Bustling City Streets
Bloomberg Excerpt
Sep 25, 2020

Beijingers’ relationship to the hutong is a complicated one.

There’s something to be said for the combination of privacy and small-scale community these traditional courtyard neighborhoods allow for, especially in a city of more than 20 million people. But China’s rapid economic transformation has fundamentally altered hutong life and turned it into more of a rarity, with many courtyards flattened to make way for skyscrapers. For some, efforts to spruce up the hutong have diminished their charm. Others bid them good riddance, glad to put often poor living conditions behind them.

But hutongs have been a feature of Beijing life for centuries; the name itself can be traced to the 13th century. Formally speaking, a hutong is a narrow alleyway that strings together a series of courtyards — known as siheyuan — each of which is surrounded by low-rise buildings on four sides. In casual conversation, the term “hutong” is used to describe the alleys and sometimes the buildings within them. These hutong houses are typically single-story dwellings with elaborately tiled roofs, sometimes with a patio with trees or even a rooftop terrace.

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