Crimson New Town Research | Baiwangzhuang field trip

Crimson Architectural Historians in Baiwangzhuang | Beijing

On Saturday February 14, MovingCities and Crimson Architectural Historians explored the current state of the Baiwangzhuang residential area in Beijing. As part of Crimson’s worldwide research project on the phenomenon of the New Town, we scanned this 1950s residential area. Located in the West of Beijing, in-between the second and third ring road, the area has been preserved rather well. Although the intended open space in-between the different low-rise housing complexes has been filled up with sheds, schools and commercial functions, its Sino-Russian architectural influence can be still seen.

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Baiwangzhuang residential area | Beijing

The above plan of the residential area was found in the book Modern Urban Housing in China, 1840-2000 – by Lü Junhua, Peter G. Rowe, Zhang Jie – an examination of the development of urban housing in China over the past 160 years (read the “The Chinese City in the East Asian Context”-interview Dan Handel recently did with Peter Rowe). For this research Crimson is specifically interested in the transformations of the architectural and urban development which happened during the first decade of the establishment of the PRC.

Baiwangzhuang residential area | Beijing

During this period Soviet experts planned new and redesigned old cities in China, according to an aesthetic and organization that Alfred Schinz explains in his book Cities in China (Gebrüder Borntræger, Berlin, 1989) as follows:

Land use plans and urban design were carried out under the guidance of Soviet experts according to the principles of post-war Soviet city planning: emphasis on formalistic street patterns, grand design for public buildings and monuments built around huge public squares. The so-called “Socialist Street” became the new city center. (…) For residential areas the Soviet designers applied the so-called “superblock” system, mostly with apartment buildings of four and five stories and some basic service facilities like kindergarten, washing and cleaning center, cantine and other inside the block, surrounded by public green spaces. These were designed in a formalistic fashion, based on French garden design of the 18th century and in absolute contrast to Chinese gardening traditions. (…) Later, Chinese planners built more buildings inside the super blocks.

Between 1948 and 1958, the total urban population in China grew for about 90 percent, 58 million in 1949 and 107 million in 1958. These ten years are characterized by an almost continuous process of creating new order, which would lay the basis for the modernization of the country.

Following up on an earlier post on their NewTown research, Crimson-researcher Annuska Pronkhorst explains their interest as follows:

The goal for our visit to Beijing is to find out more on the planning history of Beijing since 1949 with a special focus on the general masterplan of 1954 and 1958. The aim to transform Beijing into the country’s largest economic power was visualized in these masterplan that the Soviets helped to draw up for Beijing in 1954 and 1958. In these plans the city of Beijing is modeled after Moscow and about 40 satellite cities, connected to various industrial plants, are projected in a ring around the capital. The main questions for our upcoming research are: which of these projected new towns have been actually built according to plan, what was their original design concept, for whom were they designed and within which political and economic policy framework were they planned?

A couple of snapshots of the current state of the Baiwangzhuang residential area in Beijing.

Pictures by Bert de Muynck |

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