Most of the buildings in Baitasi are single storey pitched roof buildings. There are also a large number of sheds constructed in courtyard spaces. The site visit was organised by the competition team and participants were requested to not visit the site on their own. That came as a surprise to me as the competition was introduced to speak about the community and but direct engagement with the community was in fact discouraged. During the conversations with the organisers, it became clearer that the direction of the area’s development has already been fixed and as participants, the proposed functions of the new buildings should follow the list provided by the organisers.
Following the competition organisers around the area, one of the first places that comes in sight is the Baitasi office. This has been the venue for exhibitions and interactions during Beijing Design Week since last year.
Walking through the 12 courtyards, the living conditions within the courtyards become increasingly clear. Most of the interiors are crowded – rooms are small and many have double decker beds in them. The current conditions of the courtyards vary from completely empty, abandoned to occupied.
The buildings on site are mostly brick buildings. Some are proper traditional buildings while many others are simple brick sheds. Talking to the organisers, it was clear that any buildings with historical value need to be properly conserved while any others can be demolished.
Below is an excerpt from Beijing Design Week website
Sandwiched between Beijing’s commercial and financial districts, Baitasi (meaning “The White Stupa Temple”) is a largely residential area that is populated with temples and ancient buildings. It was founded during the Yuan dynasty (1271AD-1368AD), preserved itself during the Ming and Qing periods, and survived Beijing’s almost city-wide urban redevelopment that partnered China’s opening up to the world in the 1980s and 1990s.
Sixty-seven per cent of the traditional courtyard houses that make up Baitasi (known locally as Siheyuan) are owned by the Chinese state. They stand in various states of disrepair, renovation and modernisation, with just 31.9 per cent of homes in Baitasi having a private toilet. In 2009, Baitasi was declared one of 25 protected sites in Beijing and Beijing Hurong Jinying Investment & Development Co Ltd – “the same developer that operates in Financial Street,” says Leanza – was appointed by the Chinese government to address the ongoing preservation and revitalisation of the area.
From the competition organiser:
By renovating the traditional courtyard spaces, the Batasi project attempts to recreate the courtyards’ various possibilities of spatial and functional recombination—to revive thespaces, to make different functions coexist. Besides the basic residential function, vigorous cultural and creative functions are to be added to the courtyards. By exploring and introducing cultural catalysts, the purpose isalso to revitalize the Hutong culture of the area and revive the eastern residential ideal of Hutongs and courtyards. In seeking ancient architectural wisdom within tradition, it hopes to breathe new life into the space of Beijing’s old town and explore ways in which urban development can coexist with traditional urban areas.
This open international competition is to take place among three groups who have been solicited to draw up refurbishment plans of 12 courtyards. Finalists whose plans comply with the design guidelines and show construction feasibility will be authorized by the organizers to implement the project and it will be made available for reference in the Baitasi district, the broader old-town districts of Beijing, and in revitalizing old towns throughout China.