Visiting Pingyao Historic City

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An ancient city founded in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 771 BC) and rebuilt in 1370, Ancient City of Pingyao is one of the only fully preserved Chinese cities. Visiting there it was fascinating to find that although there are some touristic streets, the city is also still a fully working city. There are 20 000 residents still living in the historic city,t with fully functional schools, police stations, fire stations etc. The reason why the historic city was preserved, however, was mainly that the area was not near any major cities – its location meant that there was no pressure to develop it.

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The historic city, however was the financial centre of China in the 18th, 19th century. Being the home to bankers, the city residents were rich but land was limited within the city. The effect of this is that the historic city contains quite a number of courtyard houses built very tightly into the city fabric.

The courtyards in the houses are typically narrow and long, with buildings on the sides having single pitches (highlighted in magenta is one courtyard house).

The entire historic city underwent major restorations. Many of the courtyard houses are still undergoing restoration under the Global Heritage Fund. One of the issues facing restoration is the issue of water corroding brick structures – a problem found on many brick walls around the city.

Attending Bau Congress

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List of talks during the event:

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At the Bau Congress, I attended a Chinese Architecture Talk that focused on China 2020: The Rural and the Urban. During the series of talks, there were projects looking at development of the rural village and urban historic districts. Professor Liu Boying for example, spoke about the Kuan-Zhai Alleys in Chengdu and the preservation of the historic urban district holistically in the city.

(video from the Kenvision)

Kuan Zhai Alleys is marked as ‘Distinguished Historical Commercial Streets’ (特色历史商业街区) and a success example of historic urban preservation. However, the commercialisation and middle-class-ification of the streets  makes one wonder how success is measured. It seems that gentrification is an unavoidable (and here as in Baitasi, an unvoiced) effect of urban redevelopment.

One other interesting project is titled ‘Vague Architecture Design’ by He Wei. His project sets in a rural village and focuses on a restoration of a old grain warehouse into an active workshop space for the production of oil. By reactivating the traditional methods of making oil and turning it into a visible process for exhibition and participation, the project turned the building into a space of economic production and new connection between the rural village and interested urban residents.

More details on: http://www.archcollege.com/archcollege/2015/11/22223.html

Visit to Dashilar

Dashilar and Baitasi differ significantly. Dashilar was a redeveloped historic hutong area in front of the Tian An Men Square. Being on the main axis of Beijing, Dashilar’s central location meant that it is a big tourist spot. After redevelopment, it is now adorned with many signs of modernisation and gentrification. Cafes, shops, architecture studios, and exhibition spaces are regular fixtures on its narrow streets. Dashilar is similar to many commercialised historic streets where the type of tourist-targeted goods and shops are also repetitive.