Chengde | urban snapshots I

Chengde | December 16, 2008

On Tuesday, December 16, MovingCities explored Chengde 承德, a relatively small Chinese city – today’s inhabitants round the 300.000, while the region has a population of nearly 4 million. Chengde [Hebei Province 河北承德] is most notorious for its  Mountain Resort, a vast imperial garden. Construction of the largest royal garden in China started at the beginning and finished at the end of the eighteenth century and was used by the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. We strolled through the city center, over the frozen Rehe river and along construction sites. Continuously fog floated over the city.

View from SiHai International Hotel | Chengde, December 16

Chengde 承德 typically showcases the impact of modernization on the Chinese city. This has led to an urban condition that has almost no particular architectural quality, feels intensely urban and is under the spell of beautification efforts – at least along the riverbanks in the inner city. Currently the city seems to be in-between developments.

Since 1994, when the Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples became part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, the city has put a focus on preservation and realized it’s enormous touristic asset with the imperial garden. But just outside of the 10 kilometer-long garden wall the city is pushing and pressuring the boundaries, growing and renewing itself in all sizes, volumes and architectures. While the asset of being a tourist spot is to be unique, the build environment outside the touristic territory feels charmingly random.

Chengde‘s 承德 urban layout is marked by its river banks and a hilly topography. A series of large demolished sites are scattered throughout the city. Its streets advertise ‘middle of the road’ architectural projects (soon to be build!) and at the same time one sees that the architecture of the second wave of development, most likely build twenty years ago, is in need for an upgrade. The sites of the first wave of development are now vast empty territories. These are the former locations of the fifties Russian-style housing developments that once moved this city from a hang-out spot for the Chinese Emperors to a work-out spot for the Chinese people.

A couple of snapshots from our morning walk.

Chengde | December 16, 2008

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