Journ31l of in.nderr.3adua.3e -:e-earch
.. Oluiie , !isue . - Jul, . U' u uit 'lu.l'
Making Place for Neighborhood in Beijing
I, along with my team members, visited Beijing in the summer of 2006. Our project was to design a masterplan
for Qianmen District, a dense hutong neighborhood that is being erased from the heart of Beijing. Our charge was
to preserve and renovate as much hutong fabric as possible, while providing new housing with the qualities
of neighborhood that the hutongs create. Our hope was to bring funding into the site with new, up-scale housing,
as well as provide quality, affordable housing so that locals can remain in the area. Our design provides a
green space and market hybrid swath that weaves through the site to connect separate programmatic pieces
by providing an outdoor, social atmosphere, giving the residents a place to interact.
Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China, and is one of the largest cities in China with a population
in 2000 of 13.82 million. It is a curious conglomeration of monumental and residential architecture that
works together to illustrate the beliefs and lifestyles of the people of Beijing. Beijing consists of
"extraordinary monuments like the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven set in an intricate matrix of low-
rise courtyard housing knitted together by a raveled pattern of lanes (hutong) and carved into districts by the
vast imperial grid." (Davey 2000, P. 73) Beijing is considered the cultural center of China, offering a wealth
of history that has created its unique character. As a city, it is always evolving, with each new era layering upon
the past. Now, as the host city for the upcoming 2008 Olympics, it seems that 'change' has become 'erasure' as
plans spread to completely replace the layered fabric of Beijing with a new, contemporary architecture.
History of Beijing
Beijing was completely destroyed in 1215 when the great Mongol warrior Genghis Khan invaded, razing the
city, including the Imperial City. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD), Liu Bingzhong designed a new city
plan that was organized on a grid. Following the Yuan Dynasty, an emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1628)
sought to erase all traces of 'Yuan Qi' (breath of the Yuan dynasty) and therefore destroyed most of the
Mongol palaces. The one element that remained from the Yuan dynasty was the regular plan that organized the city.
It was during the Ming dynasty that Beijing, as we know it today, was formed. The Yongle emperor was
responsible for the grandiose architecture of Beijing, such as the Forbidden City (figure 1) and the Temple of
Heaven (figure 2). The appearance that Beijing adopted during this time would continue to develop through the
Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and would characterize it until the communist era.
Figure 1. The Forbidden City (photo by www.goldenbridge.net)
Figure 2. The Temple of Heaven (photo by www.peking.org)
The city is organized by an Imperial grid, with the north-south axis being the major artery that connects
the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. The Forbidden City is the center of Beijing. It was originally known
as the Imperial Palace, or Danei, meaning 'The Great Within.' The palace architecture of the Forbidden City has
the same basic plan as the Siheyuan houses, but many times larger, boasting a grandiose scale that ranks
its importance within the city. The architecture of this time is a symbol of the power and greatness of the
Chinese Imperial government. Within the Forbidden City is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This was the symbol
of Imperial Power and the place where the emperor attended to state affairs. Chinese law allowed nothing to
tower above the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This was because it was where the emperor, considered the "son
of Heaven," could occupy the highest position and reign over the country. (sinoHotelGuide)
Hutong and Siheyuan
Residential neighborhoods are embedded within the major grid of Beijing. They are made up of rows of
courtyard houses called Siheyuans (figure 3). Siheyuans are low building complexes made up of four
quadrangle houses that surround a courtyard. The houses are one-story tile-roofed buildings that are usually one
to six meters wide, but vary according to the social status of the residents. The family's rank is illustrated by
the elaboration of the gate entrance to the siheyuan (figure 4).
Figure 3. Drawing of a courtyard-style house in Beijing. (photo by Chinese Architecture)
The passages that form between the Siheyuan blocks are called Hutongs (figure 5). 'Hutong' originated 700
years ago from the Mongolian word 'hottog', which translates to as "water well". People settle near water,
therefore 'hottog' was the term used for dwelling, which became 'hutong' after it was introduced into
Beijing. 'Hutong', as it is used now, means a street, lane, or alley that is a passage between rows of
siheyuan. Hutongs first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty after the original city was destroyed in the war. They
continued to be developed throughout the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Figure 4. Hutong gate building
Figure 5. Hutong alley
There is a clear hierarchical organization for Beijing's grid. There are three classifications of roads in old China: a
big street (DaJie) was 36 meters wide, a small street (Lu) was 18 meters wide, and lane (Hutong) was 9
meters wide. Originally, hutongs were all approximately 9 meters wide and positioned along the east-west or
north-south directions to allow for the collection of south light and to resist cold north winds. Since then, they
have morphed to become less obedient to the grid, thus forming "slant hutongs", "half hutongs," or "blind
hutongs." (ebeijing.gov.cn) One Hutong, Exchange Market Lane, is only 40 cm wide.
Hutongs are an essential part of Beijing culture, both as a place for family life and as a record of history.
Hutongs have become the living room of Beijing: In the mornings and evenings people gather to practice
traditional forms of exercise, such as T'ai Chi. Throughout the day there are elderly groups playing mahjong
or Chinese chess, while children play, and others converse and cook (figure 7). It is common to be invited to a
meal with a family as you are passing by. Each neighborhood has a string of stalls and carts that sell traditional
foods and goods (figure 6). There are fruit and vegetable markets, as well as dried goods, meats, and fish.
The hutong way of life creates a strong sense of community within each neighborhood.
Figure 6. Market in one hutong neighborhood in Beijing
Figure 7. Men playing board games during the day out in the hutong lanes
Many of the hutongs are named based on their origin, location or history. Of the 6000 hutongs that existed in
1949, 1330 of them were named. (drben.net) Beijing's hutongs are detritus of the people who lived there, a trace
of their cultural traditions, and a record of their history. They are "living fossils" (drben.net) that tell a unique
story within the "encyclopedia of Beijing." (ebeijing.gov.cn)
The pure matrix of hutongs that existed through the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties from 1271 AD to 1911
reached its peak and began to decline after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, which took place between 1911 and
1948. During this time the government was unstable, with frequent civil wars and continuous foreign invasions.
With the collapse of the feudal system, social status changed and hutongs lost their neat arrangement that
had organized them through their history.
In 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally established. An explosive expansion of the roadways began
in order to facilitate transportation in Beijing. Whole blocks were destroyed to enable the widening of boulevards.
Car ownership became widespread, again changing the character of neighborhoods. The increasing presence of
cars in the lanes forced them to widen even more.
In 1976, the Tangshan Earthquake, a deadly 7.8 magnitude, hit northeastern China. The earthquake left
240,000 people dead and the entire city of Tangshan leveled. Later that day, a 7.1 magnitude aftershock hit
to further devastate the city. In Beijing, Siheyuan courtyards were opened as shelters for those who had lost
their homes in Tangshan. This led to overcrowding of the siheyuan, and a decline in the availability and quality
of light and air.
In 2001, Beijing was chosen to host the 2008 Olympic games. A seven year plan was developed to transform
Beijing into an inviting city with a new image. An estimated 22 billion US dollars is being spent to improve
urban transportation and build the Olympic Park, which will be filled with new sports facilities and housing for
the Olympians. An estimated five million overseas visitors will be coming to Beijing during the Olympics, which
makes this "urban makeover" (opendemocracy.net) very important for Beijing's International image. Following
the Cultural Revolution, a great appreciation for Beijing's monumental architecture developed, and the
grandiose religious and governmental structures were preserved and cherished. The small, overcrowded Hutongs
that made up the city were seen as a symbol of poverty and a "source of shame" (opendemocracy.net) for
Beijing and thus are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Figures provided by the Municipal Construction
Committee state that 250,000 square meters of old houses with 20,000 households were scheduled for demolition
in 2004. According to Peter Davey, the Beijing Municipality has set forth a masterplan that retains only three per
cent of the millions of traditional low-rise dwellings (73).
Qianmen district is southeast of Tian'anmen Square, between the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven
(figure 8). It is a dense hutong neighborhood, approximately 1.2 by 0.8 km that is bordered by Qianmen Avenue,
the main N-S axis road of Beijing. The area is currently undergoing extreme change as plans for modernization
are put into process. This includes the demolition of hundreds of existing courtyard houses (figure 9).
The Fortbdden City
azhalan Dish ct
Terpre of Heavn
Figure 8. Aerial photograph of the center of Beijing
Dazhalan, the bordering hutong district directly west of Qianmen Avenue, has already undergone almost
complete destruction and in July 2005, the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences published that Dazhalan
was extremely over-crowded, with the population density at 45,000 persons per square kilometer.
Figure 9. Destruction taking place in Qianmen District, photo taken in July 2006
(photo by Karla Valdivia)
Figure 10. Resident of the destroyed hutong area, photo taken in July 2006
The destruction of the Hutong lanes and the Siheyuan courtyard houses is not only a loss of historic architecture,
but more importantly an erasure of an important social fabric (figure 10). These small-scale neighborhoods are
being paved over and replaced with clumsy apartment buildings. The new developments not only ignore the
current scale of neighborhoods, but also pay no attention to the material language of the city. They are
foreign objects that are thrown into the delicate fabric to house the ever-growing population. It is important to
renew urban areas by offering new forms of housing with modern amenities that can house the ever-
growing population, but these new schemes, do not do this thoughtfully or architecturally.
We designed a comprehensive plan to combine modernization for economic development and preservation
of neighborhood in redesigning the Qianmen District. When hutong neighborhoods are razed, the previous
inhabitants are displaced by the up-scale housing that is built. Therefore, along with the demolition process, there
is an accompanying relocation plan that moves previous residents to cheaper land outside of the city. Our
proposal suggests that quality, low-income housing be provided to ensure that most of the local residents can
remain in the area.The importance of the hutong district is the quality of neighborhood it creates. Our proposal
aims to reconstruct the idea of neighborhood that is evident in the Qianmen District. The site proposal is
an integration of living, working, and pleasure.
Our proposal aims to create a socially sustainable urban development (figure 11). In order to increase the lifespan
of the neighborhood, it is important to provide a variety of housing that is flexible. This allows for a dynamic
and changing residential community. An important aspect in our development process is to provide housing that
will allow poor urban inhabitants to remain in the renewed areas.
sectional shopping & living
commercial & lofts
arts & culture
Figure 11. Diagrammatic map of Qianmen District showing different housing: preserved hutongs,
renovated hutongs, hutong-style apartment buildings, and lofts
In June of 2006, entire lanes of Qianmen District were already leveled, and all that was left in many areas were
piles of rubble. Some hutong lanes were completely intact and in good condition. It was these areas that we
mapped and chose to preserve in our proposal. Preservation and renovation of siheyuans and hutongs is important
in order to maintain some of the historical texture that the urban fabric provides. Some siheyuans would
be renovated with modern amenities, such as new plumbing, to enhance the quality of life and quality of
According to UNESCO, "in the past three years a third of the 62km squared area that makes up the central part
of the old city has now been destroyed. This has displaced close to 580,000 people." (opendemocracy) A
vast majority of these people are poor and cannot afford to stay in the center of the city due to the increase of
high-end housing. Our project suggests that new apartments, using the courtyard style of the siheyuan, be
developed as affordable housing so that residents can remain in their neighborhoods. The apartments will keep
the texture and culture of the hutong streets, but in this variation they will be stacked. This creates a
vertical neighborhood that uses less land, and is therefore less expensive. We used the case study of the
Ju'er Hutong (figures 12 and 13), designed by Professor Wu Liangyang his team from the Tsinghua
University Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies, as a model for urban regeneration within the Hutong areas.
Figure 12. New housing for Ju'er project. Design uses traditional spatial qualities in two and
three storeys. (photo by Courtly Life, 75)
Figure 13. Courtyard in Ju'er, which preserves original vegetation. (photo by Courtly Life,, 73)
This area is prime property in the center of Beijing, and it has the ability to bring in a lot of money
through redevelopment. A portion of these monies can be therefore funneled into preserving and renovating
the hutongs. To ensure economic stability, it is important to provide high-end housing as well: single-
family siheyuans outfitted with modern kitchens and bathrooms and loft-style high-end housing will be built. The
lofts will border the site, with shopping at ground level, to create dense capitalistic edges that will act as a
buffer. These 'buffers' aim to both provide an economic threshold that will provide funding for the renovation of
the Hutongs, as well as protect the interior of the site, which will house the delicate fabric of the renovated Hutongs.
Large-scale pieces create a protective edge surrounding the site to contain the neighborhood and prevent
sprawl (figure 14). Currently the north edge of the site, along Qianmedong, contains governmental and
civic buildings, which we chose to keep intact. The northwest corner of the site contains vital cultural pieces that
were important to keep: a Peking Opera House, a dumpling restaurant, and the Quanjude Roast Duck
Restaurant (opened in 1864).
,.,.< 5 r
sectional shopping & living
commercial & lofts
arts & culture
Figure 14. Diagrammatic map of Qianmen District, showing large scale "buffer" pieces:
governmental, civic, institutional, arts and culture, and commercial buildings
In the past, famous people, such as opera singers and writers, lived in the hutong areas, but have long since fled
the impoverished neighborhoods. To remember the vibrant past we made this corner the cultural district, adding
a performance hall, art galleries, and museums. Hopefully, in conjunction with the new housing, performers
and supporters of the art community will be attracted back to the neighborhood.
In current plans, Qianmen Avenue is being converted from a vehicular road to a pedestrian area. It is the main
axis of Beijing, and connects to The Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square, which makes it a destination for
tourists. Along this western boundary, we filled the edge with hybrid buildings that contain commercial on the
street level, offices above, and high-end loft housing on the top floors. The commercial swath along this edge helps
to attract people from the walking street into the neighborhood, where they can shop and inject needed capital
into the area (figure 15).
Figure 15. Sketch of commercial corner, showing high-end store facades and bridge that connects interior
The presence of markets is important to the culture of China. Markets are not only a source for jobs and income
for residents, but a place for personal exchange. Markets allow for residents to commune and develop
relationships with each other and the specific place. With the lack of space per person in Beijing, a trip to the
market becomes a daily activity. "Grocery shopping" consists of a stop at the dry market for nuts and spices, and
a series of stops through the wet market, for meat, fish, fruits and vegetables.
- , * k , green space
I RF ï¿½ markets
ltl6 0 sectional shopping & living
^' , ... I -l ï¿½ commercial & lofts
arts & culture
S- single-family housing
S ^ * ,, ^ ^ . ' U multi-family housing
Figure 16. Diagrammatic map of Qianmen District, showing the "marketscape" that weaves
through our site proposal, consisting of markets and green space.
Our proposal has a series of markets that run through the site. The markets are paired with gardens to create
a hybrid "Marketscape" that acts as a suture to stitch together fragmented programmatic pieces (figure 16).
The Marketscape is a public space that can be traversed by pedestrians. It is envisioned to be in constant flux
during the day: in the morning functioning as a food market, while in the afternoon transitioning into a jade and
craft market, followed by a night market. The garden wraps around the market, becomes the market, and at
times folds overhead to provide shade for the market (figure 16).
Figure 17. Image of Marketscape, showing how the garden wraps over the market.
LOOKING FORWARD TO THE FUTURE
Beijing is a growing city that is losing a wealth of history. It is important for new architecture to make place in a
city, but it is imperative to save some of the architecture that holds history and tradition. Our proposal (figure 18)
is a balanced mixture of historic architecture and contemporary design that makes the area a culturally
Figure 18. Aerial montage of site: model of cultural district with marketscape weaving through it.
1. Bai Jia Zhuang Dong Li and Jin Hu Yuan Gong Yu. "The Da Zha Lan Project." 19 Nov. 2006. On-line.
Internet. Available http://www.dazhalan-project.org/
2. Beijing Municipal Gov. Beiiing International. On-line. Internet. 24 July 2006.
3. "China Guide." Warrior Tours. On-line. Internet. 8 Mar. 2007.
4. China Internet Information Center. "Beijing, A Guide to China's Capital City." On-line. Internet. 8 Mar.
2007. Available www.china.org.cn
5. "The China Report." 19 Mar. 2007. On-line. Internet. 8 Mar. 2007. Available
6. "China Travel Tour Guide." 24 July 2006. On-line. Internet. 8 Mar. 2007.
7. Daiheng, Guo, et al. Chinese Architecture. Trans. Nancy S. Steinhardt. New Haven and London: Yale
University and New World Press, 2002.
8. Davey, Peter. "Courtly Life." Architectural Review. Feb. 2000: 73-75.
9. Gallagher, Sean. "Beijing's urban makeover: the 'hutong' destruction." 6 Dec. 2006: On-line.
Internet. 24 June 2006.
10. Inaji, Toshiro. The Garden as Architecture: Form and Spirit in the Gardens of Japan, China, and Korea.
Tokyo: Sankaido, 1990.
11. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books, 1961.
12. Koolhaas, Rem. Harvard Design School Project on the City: Great Leap Forward. Koln: Taschen, 1994.
13. Mingde, Li. The Architectural Art of Hutong Gate Buildings. China Architecture & Building Press, 1993.
14. "Sino Hotel Guide." 24 July 2006: On-line. Internet. 8 Mar. 2007. Available www.sinohotelguide.com
15. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. On-line. Internet. 8 Mar. 2007.
16. Weifeng, Liu. " 'Warriors' protect hutong with cameras." 4 July 2006: On-line. Internet. 7 Feb.
2007. Available www.chinadaily.com.cn/home/2006-07/04/content_632197.htm
17. Xue, Charlie. Building a Revolution: Chinese Architecture Since 1980. Hong Kong:Hong Kong
University Press, 2006.
18. All photographs by author unless otherwise noted (2006).
Back to the Journal of Undergraduate Research
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences I University Scholars Program I University of Florida |
ï¿½ University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611; (352) 846-2032.
W WWW UNIVERSITY of
TheIli-d holn mnn (,,,I irr G a Ur NatllM