In­te­grat­ing the old with the new

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By LI JING in Beijing lLi­jing2009@chi­


reign pro­fes­sion­als will bring in new per­spec­tives and fresh ideas,” ZHU XIAODI CHAIR­MAN OF THE BEIJING IN­STI­TUTE OF AR­CHI­TEC­TURAL DE­SIGN.

K/R, a US-based ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dio, was look­ing for an an­swer to the ques­tion of how to ren­o­vate Beijing’s his­toric neigh­bor­hoods and im­prove the stan­dard of liv­ing for lo­cal res­i­dents, while still pre­serv­ing their tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture, a key part of Beijing’s cul­tural her­itage.

The stu­dio, well-known for its de­signs for art mu­se­ums and gal­leries, in­clud­ing the master plan­ning of the 100 acre-site of the Mu­seum of Art, De­sign and the En­vi­ron­ment in Mur­cia, Spain, re­cently pro­posed its master plan to ren­o­vate and pre­serve the Qian­men East area, one of Beijing’s few re­main­ing his­tor­i­cal neigh­bor­hoods, to the south­west of Tianan­men Square.

Jointly or­ga­nized by the Tian­jie Group, a gov­ern­ment-backed real es­tate de­vel­oper, the Beijing In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tec­tural De­sign and the Beijing Cen­ter for the Arts, the Qian­men East area ren­o­va­tion project has in­vited dozens of ar­chi­tects from home and abroad to make con­tri­bu­tions to the ren­o­va­tion project and help find a sus­tain­able way to main­tain the old city while em­brac­ing its mod­ern­iza­tion.

The Qian­men East area, lo­cated at the east end of Qian­men Da­jie, is a relic of China’s im­pe­rial his­tory and an ir­re­place­able part of the coun­try’s her­itage.

“It’s such a unique sit­u­a­tion. We are fas­ci­nated and happy to be asked to be in­volved in,” said John Kee­nen, the found­ing part­ner and de­sign di­rec­tor of the firm, founded in 1984 with of­fices in New York and Mi­ami.

K/R’s idea is to keep in­tact the cen­turiesold hu­tong and maze-like al­ley­ways of Beijing’s old neigh­bor­hoods, and cre­ate new three-story hous­ing along the edge, in­clud­ing 2,000-plus units for ac­com­mo­da­tions, ser­vices and health care and the other build­ing, in the like­ness of the Great Wall, with ho­tels and recre­ation fa­cil­i­ties in be­tween to gen­er­ate in­come for the com­mu­nity.

“The units will bring more peo­ple to the area, a way also to support and en­cour­age the con­tin­u­a­tion of life in hu­tong,” said Ter­ence Ri­ley, co-founder of K/R. “The Great Wall struc­ture is like an ar­ma­ture for the com­mu­nity, which is de­signed as high as the south­ern gate of Tianan­men Gate Tower.”

“To pre­serve the land, I do en­cour­age peo­ple to (build a) con­tem­po­rary one rather than repli­cate that would make the his­toric one more spe­cial,” Kee­nen said, “We don’t want to make it like a new hu­tong with in­ter­na­tional brand, ex­pen­sive restau­rants but no res­i­dents. The only rea­son to save hu­tong is for the res­i­dents. ”

After Kee­nen and Ri­ley got the invitation ear­lier this year, they vis­ited the area in Au­gust. They then re­viewed ma­te­ri­als from the Dongcheng dis­trict plan­ning depart­ment and from oth­ers who have done pre­vi­ous re­search. “Just like any other projects, we spent some time in the area be­fore we be­gan the process,” Ri­ley said.

It took them about eight weeks to work out the pro­posal. “It is a short pe­riod, and the idea here is a schematic mass plan, a lot based on ini­tial re­search,” Kee­nen said.

They have not done any neigh­bor­hood ren­o­va­tion project, “but many of the prin­ci­ples about ur­ban plan­ning are univer­sal, not so much western and east­ern. There are the op­por­tu­ni­ties for western plan­ners to work in China’s old town ren­o­va­tions,” Ri­ley said.

How­ever, it is hard to imag­ine that the three-story build­ing and the struc­ture in the neigh­bor­hood will be as high as the outer wall of the For­bid­den City, as Beijing adopts very rigid build­ing height re­stric­tions, par­tic­u­larly in cen­tral ar­eas.

For more than three decades, Chi­nese ci­ties of­ten have been called the test­ing field for in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tects, with some build­ings be­com­ing tow­er­ing land­marks and some last­ing eye­sores. How­ever, few for­eign ar­chi­tects have been in­volved in the ren­o­va­tions of his­toric ar­eas in the coun­try.

“For­eign pro­fes­sion­als will bring in new per­spec­tives and fresh ideas,” said Zhu Xiaodi, chair­man of the Beijing In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tec­tural De­sign. “But if they don’t think in our shoes, they will find it hard to beat their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts with ex­pe­ri­ences and for­eign per­spec­tives.”

Zhu is a Beijing-born and -reared ar­chi­tect, who un­der­stands the emo­tional con­nec­tion with the hu­tong that res­i­dents of the Qian­men East have with area. He was also in­vited to of­fer pro­pos­als and his idea might have sounded fu­tur­is­tic, that is to build an un­der­ground city be­low the neigh­bor­hood, with homes, park­ing lots and sports fields.

Zhu’s vi­sion of an un­der­ground city would at least have had two sub­ter­ranean lev­els; one would be zoned for pri­vate use and have di­rect ac­cess to the area’s court­yards and could ex­pand the liv­ing space of lo­cal res­i­dents, while the other would have been used as a pub­lic space with ar­eas for en­ter­tain­ment, park­ing and sports.


The master plan­ning of the ren­o­va­tion project by K/R.

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