Re­viv­ing White Pagoda Tem­ple

Baitasi Re­made is a pro­gramme for ren­o­vat­ing the Baitasi (White Pagoda Tem­ple) Com­mu­nity, com­bin­ing tra­di­tional and cre­ative ideas to ex­plore pos­si­bil­i­ties for de­vel­op­ing Bei­jing’s old ur­ban ar­eas.

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Wei Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

Af­ter the con­clud­ing of the 19th Na­tional Con­gress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China held in Oc­to­ber in 2017, res­i­dents in Bei­jing ex­pressed their ideas about the event, which achieved fruit­ful re­sults in many ways, one of which was a poster fea­tur­ing red paper cut­tings of Chi­nese char­ac­ters—民泰安康

( minta­iankang, “may the coun­try be pros­per­ous and the peo­ple be at peace”) pasted on a wall for public­ity in a hu­tong ( a tra­di­tional al­ley) in Bei­jing’s Baitasi Com­mu­nity. Baitasi, White Pagoda Tem­ple was first built dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty ( 1271– 1368).

High­light­ing Bei­jing Her­itage

The Baitasi His­toric and Cul­tural Preser­va­tion Area in Xicheng Dis­trict, one of 33 his­toric and cul­tural preser­va­tion ar­eas in Bei­jing’s old ur­ban area, has a prime lo­ca­tion. On its south, north, east and west sides are Bei­jing Fi­nan­cial Street, Xizhi­men Busi­ness Dis­trict, Xi­dan and Xisi busi­ness area and Fucheng­men busi­ness area, re­spec­tively. Baitasi cov­ers an area of 37 hectares, best de­scribed as a tran­quil oa­sis among bustling busi­ness ar­eas.

The area dates to the Yuan Dy­nasty and now cov­ers land from Zhao­dengyulu in the east, the West 2nd Ring Road in the west, Fucheng­men­nei­da­jie in the south and Shoubi­jie in the north.

Built about 800 years ago, the White Pagoda of Miaoy­ing Tem­ple was once a land­mark of Dadu (Bei­jing) of the Yuan Dy­nasty and is now con­sid­ered an an­cient build­ing within the 2nd Ring Road. Luxun Mu­seum opened in the 1950s in the area, and is also a high­light. The mu­seum was es­tab­lished based on the former res­i­dences of China’s great writer Lu Xun (1881–1936) when he stayed in Bei­jing in the 1920s.

Si­heyuan, a quad­ran­gle court­yard and a tra­di­tional Bei­jing dwelling, mar­kets of pet fish and birds, flow­ers and throngs of peo­ple present a vivid scene of Bei­jing’s old ur­ban area in Baitasi. The neigh­bour­hood, with its au­then­tic lay­out of old Bei­jing, has many his­toric and cul­tural sites.

The area has more than 5,600 house­holds, with a pop­u­la­tion of 16,000 res­i­dents. Over the years, Baitasi has faced a range of prob­lems, in­clud­ing run- down in­fra­struc­ture, main­tain­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese dwellings and dense pop­u­la­tion. In 2015, a plan en­ti­tled Baitasi Re­made was pro­posed to pre­serve his­toric and cul­tural re­sources and im­prove its res­i­dents’ qual­ity of life by up­grad­ing its in­fra­struc­ture.

Ren­o­vat­ing a Tra­di­tional Bei­jing Neigh­bour­hood

An of­fi­cial with Huarongjiny­ing In­vest­ment and Devel­op­ment

Co., Ltd. ex­plained, “Most of the in­fra­struc­ture in the area’s court­yards is weak.” Huarongjiny­ing, a state- owned en­ter­prise au­tho­rised by the Peo­ple’s Gov­ern­ment of Xicheng Dis­trict, is re­spon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out the plan of Baitasi Re­made. Large- scale de­mo­li­tion used in pre­vi­ous years isn’t suit­able for Bei­jing’s present- day needs in the old ur­ban ar­eas, which need grad­ual im­prove­ment.

Af­ter the plan was pro­posed, Baitasi be­gan to re­lo­cate its res­i­dents. The plan adopts the prin­ci­ple of vol­un­tary re­set­tle­ment, but it’s dif­fi­cult to carry out.

Ac­cord­ing to Tian Na, vice­m­an­ager of a depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for com­mu­nity projects from Huarongjiny­ing, only af­ter re­set­tle­ment of all the res­i­dents of each court­yard is com­pleted, can the court­yard be ren­o­vated and de­vel­oped ac­cord­ing to a plan to pre­serve hu­tong cul­ture.

For ex­am­ple, no. 50 on Fusui­jing, a small court­yard, be­came a high­light af­ter its ren­o­va­tion. In the court­yard, rooms fac­ing the south are clean and bright, and it has a sim­ple yet fash­ion­able

style. The rooms’ up­per spa­ces are fully utilised, in­creas­ing hab­it­able ar­eas to of­fer com­fort­able and safe con­di­tions. The in­di­vid­ual units are di­vided into sit­ting rooms, be­d­rooms, kitchens and bath­rooms.

Go­ing to the toi­let— a headache for peo­ple who live in a hu­tong is re­solved in this court­yard. In the past res­i­dents had to walk out of the court­yard to go to a pub­lic toi­let in the hot sum­mer or freez­ing win­ter. Toi­lets are now built in­side the court­yard, which is much bet­ter. Ac­cord­ing to Tian Na, im­proper struc­tures which caused small court­yards to be­come crowded have been re­moved to pre­vent po­ten­tial risks.

Court­yard ren­o­va­tion fol­lows the “Mi­cro ++: Ex­pan­sion of Court­yard Func­tions and Up­grad­ing of Dwellings” plan de­signed by Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity’s School of Ar­chi­tec­ture.

The court­yard is a sam­ple of the project, ex­plor­ing new de­signs for ren­o­vat­ing court­yards in his­toric and cul­tural preser­va­tion ar­eas. More func­tions are added for the tra­di­tional court­yard and its space is also ex­panded, en­hanc­ing qual­ity of life.

Af­ter ren­o­va­tion, each room is about 15 square me­tres, but can con­tain three or four peo­ple. Tian Na said, “We’ll in­vite res­i­dents to visit and they can co­op­er­ate with us if they like it.” The gov­ern­ment ex­pects that this de­sign should be ac­cepted by most res­i­dents. It was awarded the 2017 La­farge­hol­cim Award.

Tian Na said, “Three fam­i­lies have en­tered into agree­ments with us and we are still work­ing on the project. Res­i­dents’ de­mands are dif­fer­ent and their di­verse needs bring greater dif­fi­cul­ties for the re­set­tle­ment.” Af­ter sort­ing out the area’s hous­ing re­sources, each project will be de­signed and ren­o­vated by ar­chi­tects ac­cord­ing to Bei­jing’s tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture.

“In Qingta Hu­tong, res­i­dents of five court­yards have re­set­tled. Two sep­tic tanks have been equipped for nearby court­yards,” said a man­ager of Huarongjiny­ing. “We plan to ar­range eight court­yards nearby, where res­i­dents haven’t yet re­set­tled, into a joint ren­o­va­tion. First, im­proper struc­tures should be re­moved and toi­lets, kitchens and other pub­lic spa­ces and in­fra­struc­ture will be built and ren­o­vated. We can also pro­vide de­sign sup­port for res­i­dents if they want to cus­tomise. Pub­lic spa­ces, in­clud­ing toi­lets and kitchens, don’t

re­quire a pay­ment but res­i­dents need to pay for main­tain­ing th­ese fa­cil­i­ties, and the ren­o­va­tion of their pri­vate spa­ces.”

In Baitasi, 323 fam­i­lies in 99 court­yards have re­set­tled. By 2020, 15 per­cent of the area’s pop­u­la­tion com­pris­ing 15 per­cent of the court­yards will re­set­tle. Aside from the court­yards, pub­lic spa­ces in hu­tongs also need to be up­graded for im­prov­ing qual­ity of life. Huarongjiny­ing so­lic­its de­signs from around the globe for pub­lic spa­ces in eight hu­tongs, in­clud­ing Gong­menk­ouer­tiao and Qingta Hu­tong in Baitasi based on de­mands of res­i­dents.

This is a rare op­por­tu­nity for the pub­lic. Peo­ple who know Baitasi’s back­ground, in­clud­ing its cur­rent in­fra­struc­ture con­di­tions and res­i­dents’ needs, can make sug­ges­tions for im­prov­ing its en­vi­ron­ment and life in the hu­tongs.

De­sign­ers’ have to think about creat­ing a bet­ter com­mu­nity. Peo­ple need park­ing lots for mo­tor ve­hi­cles and bike- shar­ing bikes, places for hang­ing clothes, beau­ti­fi­ca­tion of walls, pipes and win­dow guardrails, waste sort­ing sta­tions and green spa­ces along roads. In 2018, new pro­grammes will be im­ple­mented.

There were long-term prob­lems such as mo­tor ve­hi­cles that en­croached on non-mo­tor ve­hi­cle lanes, nar­row side­walks that were dif­fi­cult to use or were oc­cu­pied, and lack of dis­tinc­tive cul­tural el­e­ments in three ma­jor streets in Baitasi: Shoubi­jie, Funei­da­jie and Funeibei­jie.

Up­grad­ing th­ese ma­jor roads is un­der way, where the en­vi­ron­ment is im­prov­ing by adding land­scap­ing, ren­o­vat­ing pub­lic ser­vice fa­cil­i­ties and build­ings, di­vid­ing side­walks and mo­tor ve­hi­cle lanes, pro­tect­ing tra­di­tional build­ings and aca­cia trees on both sides of the streets and in­stalling en­ergy- sav­ing light­ing.

Ren­o­va­tion: Bei­jing Meets West

No. 41 on Qingta Hu­tong, a com­mu­nity mu­seum, or­gan­ises a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties from Mon­day to Satur­day. They in­clude paint­ing, mu­sic, tea cer­e­monies, hand­made craft mak­ing and read­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, at­tract­ing res­i­dents.

The com­mu­nity mu­seum was a court­yard, where three fam­i­lies once lived and var­i­ous clut­ter piled ev­ery­where. Af­ter the res­i­dents were re­set­tled and the court­yard was ren­o­vated, it be­came a com­mu­nity mu­seum, equipped with class­rooms and toi­lets. “We have great fa­cil­i­ties for ac­tiv­i­ties and we can learn a lot,” said Zhao, a woman who lives in the hu­tong.

One room con­tains tall book­shelves with var­i­ous books, wa­ter­colour paint­ings by hand­i­capped chil­dren on the walls and tra­di­tional crafts made by res­i­dents that are on dis­play in show­cases. A green map on the wall is no­tice­able. If you scan a QR code on the map, you can see videos of res­i­dents en­thu­si­as­ti­cally in­tro­duc­ing their hu­tong.

In Baitasi, four com­mu­ni­ties ex­ist: Gong­menkou, An­pingx­i­ang, Beishun and Fuguoli. Res­i­dents in Beishun have made videos to in­tro­duce Xi­langxia, Ying­menkou and Dong­gongjiang. The videos, themed on show­cas­ing hu­tong cul­ture in Bei­jing.

“This place is still a res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity af­ter its ren­o­va­tion. Aside from some court­yards that of­fer cul­tural ser­vices af­ter the res­i­dents re­set­tled, we’ll also in­tro­duce cul­tural and cre­ative en­ter­prises, in­clud­ing artist stu­dios, de­sign stu­dios and inns in the court­yards. We must en­sure a bet­ter com­bi­na­tion of en­ter­prises and res­i­dents,” Tian Na said. “Th­ese busi­nesses aren’t meant to at­tract new res­i­dents, but en­hace tra­di­tional hu­tong cul­ture.” For ex­am­ple, lo­cated next door to the White Pagoda of Miaoy­ing Tem­ple, Bazuo Ar­chi­tec­ture Stu­dio, which was re­spon­si­ble for Qingta Com­mu­nity Mu­seum’s ren­o­va­tion, Bear Brew (a cof­fee shop) and Is­vara (an inn) in­ject new en­ergy to Baitasi.

Many in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers took

an in­ter­est in Baitasi Re­made. The aim of Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Ni­cola Sal­adino in par­tic­i­pat­ing in Bei­jing De­sign Week 2017 was only in pro­mot­ing his com­pany’s ideas. But Sal­adino said,

“I didn’t think the place I de­signed would be­gin to serve as a pub­lic space in this hu­tong.”

At a small, tran­quil court­yard in Baitasi, one can see his de­sign, en­ti­tled “One Day at the Sea.” Four tra­di­tional Chi­nese struc­tures built in dif­fer­ent years en­close a quaint space, with a back­ground of the White Pagoda of Miaoy­ing Tem­ple nearby.

Start­ing from the site’s lim­ited area, the in­ter­ven­tion aims at creat­ing a sense of spa­tial depth, of­fer­ing visi­tors a chance to ex­plore. With two small struc­tures, Sal­adino trans­formed the ex­ist­ing sym­me­try of the court­yard into a more dy­namic set­ting within his­tor­i­cal build­ings.

The sun­set bathes the White Pagoda of Miaoy­ing Tem­ple; a flock of pi­geons flies over­head, pro­duc­ing the sounds of old Bei­jing with whis­tles at­tached to their tails; spar­rows chirp on tele­graph poles; part of the small court­yard is cov­ered with white sand sym­bol­is­ing the sea­side, where Sal­adino presents the beauty of na­ture with the tran­quil­ity of a hu­tong.

Sal­adino is pleased about the many nearby res­i­dents who visit the court­yard for con­certs and lec­tures and chil­dren keen on play­ing games on the “beach,” as his project be­comes a leisure venue of the hu­tong. Par­tic­i­pants of Baitasi Re­made clearly un­der­stand that their com­mon pur­pose is to trans­form com­mu­nity life.

The Par­adise of Hu­tong, de­signed by Polytech­nic Uni­ver­sity of Turin and Swiss fed­eral In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Lau­sanne turns a hu­tong into a “par­adise” by trans­form­ing its ex­ist­ing spa­ces into new venues based on a va­ri­ety of changes in­clud­ing com­bin­ing Euro­pean and Chi­nese styles, which re­de­fines the bound­aries of pri­vate and pub­lic places.

Launched dur­ing the Bei­jing De­sign Week in 2015, Baitasi Re­made aimed to at­tract pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion from around the globe. The plan has now at­tracted the em­bassies of Switzer­land and France in Bei­jing, Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity, Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity, China Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts, Hong Kong Uni­ver­sity’s Fac­ulty of Ar­chi­tec­ture, Ar­chi­tec­tural As­so­ci­a­tion School of Ar­chi­tec­ture and many out­stand­ing de­sign­ers to par­tic­i­pate in the study of Baitasi and its ren­o­va­tion through ex­hi­bi­tions, events and fo­rums.

A gallery in a hu­tong in Baitasi or­gan­ises per­ma­nent and ir­reg­u­larly sched­uled ex­hi­bi­tions on con­tem­po­rary arts, en­rich­ing cul­tural life in the area. For ex­am­ple, from mid-novem­ber to mid-de­cem­ber 2017, De­con­struct­ing Buy­ol­ogy: Re­mak­ing to Re­sist in an Age of Con­sump­tion gath­ered a group of artists to present their ex­hibits to en­lighten visi­tors about ra­tio­nal con­sump­tion. Ban­knote-shaped bal­loons that float in the air, black and white pho­tos on the walls, a va­ri­ety of colour­ful pack­ages and a pe­ga­sus fig­urine show­cased the re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and ma­te­ri­als in the con­sump­tion era.

Fast food boxes and dis­carded paper were used as raw ma­te­ri­als for the ex­hibits and artists’ per­for­mances were played on old TV sets, which rep­re­sented a force to re­sist against over­con­sump­tion and pro­mote healthy com­mu­ni­ties. Baitasi has an in­ter­ac­tive plat­form for artists and the pub­lic, where more artis­tic projects will be pro­duced to im­prove com­mu­ni­ties. It is hard to imag­ine that this gallery was trans­formed from a tra­di­tional Bei­jing dwelling.

Baitasi: Towards a New Neigh­bour­hood, one of the themes pre­sented on Baitasi Re­made dur­ing the 2017 Bei­jing De­sign Week, was de­scribed as a com­bi­na­tion of “ren­o­vat­ing court­yards plus im­prov­ing hu­tong plus de­vel­op­ing com­mu­ni­ties” to re­pro­duce life in hu­tong from old Bei­jing.

One of the tra­di­tional court­yards has been trans­formed into the Re­cep­tion Room of Baitasi, which serves as a com­mu­nity cen­tre. When neigh­bours get to­gether at the cen­tre of­fer­ing

homely com­forts, they watch old films and com­mu­ni­cate with each other about cook­ing and hand­crafts. Res­i­dents and busi­nesses work to­gether to re­vive Baitasi’s tra­di­tional cul­ture and hu­man­is­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties with the com­mu­nity’s ser­vices based on co­op­er­a­tion.

In one room, you can see bright flow­ers on enamel pots and flasks from an­other era; plas­tic yel­low ducks on an enamel scale and small TV sets and sew­ing ma­chines in the corner of­fer a feel­ing of nos­tal­gia. “Maybe it’s a sup­ply and mar­ket­ing co- op?” asked Zhang, a woman who’s lived in the hu­tong since the 1950s. But the hu­tong is now dif­fer­ent from what it used to be. “When I look at those old things I of­ten used, I feel trans­ported back to those years.”

Sev­eral el­derly res­i­dents sit, chat­ting, eat­ing melon seeds and drink­ing tea. A gar­den pot of yel­low chrysan­the­mum on a ta­ble nearby adds colour and warmth to the room. Small col­lec­tions of items and cot­ton bags pro­duced by nearby res­i­dents are on dis­play in a show­case. Buy­ing one or two sup­ports hu­tong cul­ture.

There is a kitchen in the cen­tre where res­i­dents can make dumplings, cook home­style dishes and share de­li­cious food, creat­ing a warm and har­mo­nious re­la­tion be­tween neigh­bours. A stair­way leads to the “Cin­ema for Old Films” on the first floor.

Baitasi’s Fu­ture

Baitasi Re­made’s goal is to im­prove liv­ing con­di­tions, strengthen and re­vive its hu­tong cul­ture—the re­turn of a tra­di­tional com­mu­nity by de­vel­op­ing its econ­omy and up­grad­ing its in­fra­struc­ture. Tian Na stated, “The aim of Baitasi Re­made is that res­i­dents can achieve self­man­age­ment and main­tain their own pub­lic spa­ces.”

Baitasi Re­made is a plan to ex­plore and open up the up­grade and re­vival of ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties. Ac­cord­ing to the plan, by 2020, 200 court­yards will be ren­o­vated, the in­fra­struc­ture of 28 al­leys will be up­graded and 600 park­ing spots will been com­pleted.

Bei­jing’s old ur­ban area shoul­ders a mis­sion of pre­serv­ing and de­vel­op­ing the city’s his­tory and cul­ture. Changes to Bei­jing’s ur­ban plan­ning and devel­op­ment pat­tern show a re­spect for the city’s his­tory.

Ac­cord­ing to renowned ar­chi­tect Wu Liangy­ong, “When we think about the en­tire world, we must re­alise that pre­serv­ing and de­vel­op­ing Bei­jing— China’s fa­mous his­toric and cul­tural city plays a very sig­nif­i­cant role and is an in­com­pa­ra­ble project for Chi­nese cul­ture, which doesn’t only mean that his­toric build­ings should be re­stored, but also that the en­vi­ron­ment should be re­designed.”

In re­cent years, Bei­jing has fo­cused on ren­o­va­tion of its old city and in­creased fis­cal sub­si­dies for its preser­va­tion. Fur­ther­ing the preser­va­tion and devel­op­ment of Bei­jing’s old ur­ban area is a key mea­sure to meet the re­quire­ments of the city’s strate­gic po­si­tion­ing as China’s cap­i­tal: func­tion­ing as the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal cen­tre, cul­tural cen­tre, cen­tre for in­ter­na­tional ex­change and cen­tre for sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion; re­mov­ing func­tions that don’t be­long to the po­si­tion­ing; de­vel­op­ing Bei­jing into a live­able cap­i­tal; ad­vanc­ing Bei­jing-tian­jinHe­bei co­or­di­nated devel­op­ment and mak­ing a metropoli­tan ag­glom­er­a­tion cen­tring on Bei­jing.

Baitasi His­toric and Cul­tural Preser­va­tion Area can be viewed as a mi­cro­cosm of the old ur­ban ar­eas of China’s cities. Baitasi Re­made has in­sisted on the pro­tec­tion of its tra­di­tional lay­out and the re­viv­ing of tra­di­tional cul­ture. The plan com­bines tra­di­tional, cre­ative and fash­ion­able ideas to ex­plore pos­si­bil­i­ties for the devel­op­ment of Bei­jing’s old ur­ban ar­eas based on gov­ern­ment-led im­ple­men­ta­tion and pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. An an­cient yet stylish Baitasi is ad­vanc­ing with the times.

Photo by Xiu Yuchen, Pho­tos cour­tesy of Baitasi Re­made

Res­i­dents view mod­els of a de­sign pro­gramme for ren­o­vat­ing Baitasi Com­mu­nity.

Part of a ren­o­vated tra­di­tional Bei­jing court­yard in Baitasi Com­mu­nity

A ren­o­vated room in Baitasi Com­mu­nity

An inn ren­no­vated from a tra­di­tional court­yard in Baitasi Com­mu­nity

Prod­ucts at the Re­cep­tion Room of Baitasi

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