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The Architecture Of Beijing In China

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As much as Beijing went ahead in its development, there remained hesistations in the representation of the capital city. In March 1982, Beijing municipal government formally proposed its Master Plan for Beijing Urban Construction (Beijing Urban Planning Commission). This master plan recognised the political and cultural center position of the Beijing, on top of economic and industrial priorities that characterised the reforms of the period. This duality of purpose, which influences the representation of Beijing to the world, resulted in a tension between the pragmatic new-build and the nostalgic conservation.

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On one hand, the growth of Beijing manifested in vertical form. Previously boasting only a low-profile with the occasional spire of pagodas, building height became an indicator of identity, success and competition in an increasingly open Beijing. While low and mid rise structures continue to dominate Beijing during this period, high-rise housing began to be constructed in clusters like housing projects in the east and north-west, the towers of Fangzhuang and the tower apartments built to the north of the Asian Games Village, in prepartion for the 1990 Asian Games (Gu, 228).

In contrast, the old quarters of Beijing and the historical aspects seemed to be under siege. The renewal projects undertaken in Beijing involved the conversion of single-family homes and non-residential sturctures like temples into multi-family housings (Wei and Qiu, 1993, 52-57). In undertaking these renewal projects, Beijing was faced with the dilemma of needing to preserve or being able to destroy the historical character of buildings and neighbourhoods. In Beijing, there have been a few attempts to conduct renewal projects in line with development, while remaining sensitive to the preservation of landscape and function of traditional housing.

Recalling the example of Xiaohoucang, the project preserved the sloping Chinese grey-tile roofs and courtyard gardens, which were reminscent of a traditional Chinese architectural style. Beyond the physical facade, the redevelopment maintained traditional aspects of retaining the orientation of homes, in which facing south is the most favoured orientation and north the least. An improvement from the prexisting situation, none of the new apartments in the new development faced north, an improvement from 16% in the previous arrangement. Where reconciliation was not possible, the historic core was also largely preserved through designations as conserved areas and restrictions on building heights. For example in 1985, height limits about the palace (the Forbidden City) were set at 9, 12, 18 and 45 metres as the building site in question moved further away from the centre.

Rather than becoming more laxed as China opened up further, in 1987, there was a tightening of regulations on building height. For instance, inside the second Ring Road, there could be no building taller than 18m (Gu, 228).Throughout the development of Beijing, the cultural representation of the city remained of significance. Hence, the city saw a struggle between burgeoning growth and nostalgic preservation, eventually finding its own way to balance between the two.

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