Resurgence of Interest in Beijing’s Old Hutong
The sensitive question of the fate of Beijing’s hutong, and the capital’s urban heritage more broadly speaking, has recently returned to the front stage of the city’s public imaginary. The restoration of these traditional neighborhoods and the management of their inhabitants were the subject of a conference organized by local NGO the Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) in early November at the UCCA arts center in Beijing.
At the same time, Abitare China, the China-based publication of Italian design and architecture magazine Abitare, devoted its 2013 Summer Edition to the Beijing hutong. Published at the end of October, the issue approaches issues of heritage, tradition, and current strategies of urban renewal in Beijing. Abitare China entrusted the execution of this special 34th edition issue “Hutong/Adaptation” to urban think-tank MovingCities.
Attempting to balance both the imperative to preserve historic heritage and the need to rehabilitate the area’s existing buildings and infrastructures, MovingCities presents innovative solutions for the rehabilitation of Beijing’s hutong in conversation with their current urban contexts. For example, a case study provided on the neighborhood of Dashilar, the base of the city’s annual Beijing Design Week, reveals the larger outline of a very symbolic urban project.
In addition, the recent opening of a museum dedicated to the history of the hutong suggests the municipality’s growing interest in questions of memory and urban heritage. East of Tiananmen Square, in one of Beijing’s oldest hutong, the Shijia Hutong Museum is located in a restored traditional siheyuan (courtyard). Here, the museum was established to commemorate and educate the public on Old Beijing’s traditional lifestyles, practices, architectural forms and history. However, the current fascination with the hutong may still be too tentative and slight to enact any significant policy or developments shifts just yet. The greatest challenges to the preservation of Beijing’s remaining hutong are at the very core of Beijing’s urban and architectural development, and involve deep cultural, social and economic issues within the city’s center.