Hutong Metabolism, Beijing

Hutongs in Beijing, the traditional courtyard-and-alley system of urban dwelling that is the most essential part of the city, have recently been captured at the centre of the battleground between development, conservation and revitalization. After two decades of development frenzy in the old city of Beijing, the hutongs are on the verge of being either completely erased to make space for office towers, apartments and shopping malls, or disfigured by kitsch renovations that fake images of a nostalgic past.

The subtle complexity of the hutongs as authentic contemporary urban spaces have been overlooked by both advocates of “tabula rasa” redevelopment, and by the defenders of historical restoration. In either case, the operation involves the relentless exodus of hutong’s traditional dwellers, resulting in the gradual disappearance of ethnic diversities in the hutong communities and a rapid diminishing of hutong’s traditional cultures.

The Hutong Metabolism studio aims to explore alternative perspectives of looking at hutongs and their problems, to consider them as living organisms, to study them both as macro scale infrastructures and in micro scale units, to respond to the problems with both historic and futuristic thinking, and to explore the potential of hutongs and courtyards as generator of communal spaces and catalyst of social interaction.

The studio will focus on one of the major hutong areas (Baitasi or Dashilar) at the heart of Beijing city. Starting by analyzing problems and research about the potentials of the selected hutong area in the first 2-3 weeks, students will finalize their site selections and program proposals (ie, a Children’s Library, a Community Art Centre, etc.) during a sponsored field trip to Beijing in the last week of September.

After the studio trip, students will further develop their concepts and designs that could encounter the multi-layered problems such as: the macro versus the micro; conservation versus renewal; ethnic diversity versus community inclusiveness; densification versus quality of living; gentrification versus cultural heritage, etc. The outcome of the studio could be either a work of architecture or a vision of urban infrastructure that could actively and innovatively address and even resolve the problems of hutong revitalization.

This course has an irregular meeting schedule.

Zhang Ke will be in residence on August 29 and 30, September 6 7, 20 and 21, October 4, 5, 18, 19, 25 and 26, November 8, 9, 15, 16, 29 and 30, and December 7. The studio trip will take place September 26 – October 2.