Making Place for Neighborhood in Beijing

Material Information

Making Place for Neighborhood in Beijing
Greist, Mishayla
Sanders, Nancy ( Mentor )
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
Publication Date:


serial ( sobekcm )

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text

Journ31l of in.nderr.3adua.3e -:e-earch

.. Oluiie , !isue . - Jul, . U' u uit 'lu.l'

Making Place for Neighborhood in Beijing

Mishayla Greist


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


Figure 2. The Temple of Heaven (photo by

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." ( 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. ( 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" ( that tell a unique

story within the "encyclopedia of Beijing." (


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" ( 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" ( 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
Oianmnen Drslncl

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.

I 0

green space
sectional shopping & living
commercial & lofts
arts & culture
sirgle-family housing
mutti-family housing

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



*,. LA

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

the neighborhood.

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.

Working (large-scale)

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

green space
sectional shopping & living
commercial & lofts
arts & culture
single-farrily housing
multi-family housing

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
S *roads
I RF � markets
ltl6 0 sectional shopping & living
^' , ... I -l � commercial & lofts
arts & culture
S- single-family housing
S ^ * ,, ^ ^ . ' U multi-family housing
g governmental
* institutional

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.


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

sustainable district.

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

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

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

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

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 |

� University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611; (352) 846-2032.

TheIli-d holn mnn (,,,I irr G a Ur NatllM