Hutong Histories 2009 | part I

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | July 14, 2009

Last year we talked about “hutong hypochondria“, referring to people suffering from an excessive preoccupation with the city’s history and who usually becoming obsessed with little alleyways, with stones that are strangely mixed with cardboard and wood structure. This suffering was Olympic and today the proponents have left the scene and the debate. In the mean time, Beijing’s hutongs are still disappearing at rapid pace. And one wonders, where have the memory masochists gone to?

During the past month a large area (approximately 250 by 250 meter) south of the Gulou Dajie subway station has been gradually demolished. Right around the corner from where we are live, the city is disappearing. Reason for the destruction is the extension of Line8 subway line, known as the Olympic Branch Line, in Southern direction (detailed info on those plans). The line is expected to open in 2010 and will connect on the Gulou Dajie subway station with Line2.

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | July 14, 2009

A small trip down on memory lane: it was remarkable to see last years’ international media and bloggers being all over the place about the combination of starchitects operating in Beijing and the destruction of Beijing’s inner-city. The hutongs were an easy victim for a group of ‘architectural critics’ to provoke a horror scenario for the future of China’s capital. Following list of pre-Olympic publications are emblematic; From Mao to Wow! (Vanity Fair), In Changing Face of Beijing, a Look at the New China (New York Times), Secrets of the Bird’s Nest (The Guardian), Forbidden Cities (The New Yorker), Out of the Blocks (The New Yorker),…

Next to these mainstream mongers, some of our more favorite blogs also featured in pre-2008 Olympic Games times posts about the collapse and fencing of Beijing’s historical structures; Beijing’s hutong destruction (We Make Money Not Art), The End of the Hutong (Phronesisaical), Great Wall 6 (Subtopia),… to name a few.

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | July 14, 2009

One of our contributions to this yesteryears’ debate was the publication of “Making Minced Meat of Memory” in MUDOT (May, 2008):

China’s most obvious metropolitan martyrs are the courtyard houses and the hutongs, the traditional roads or alleys running within the Second Ring Road from east to west through the city blocks. Their disappearance provokes in architecture circles a similar sentiment as the disappearance of the penguins on Antartica for the consciously antiglobalizing but worldly masses.

In next posts we’ll be catching up with this topic and exploring the work of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center during the past year. For the moment we only question why the topic of the disappearance of the hutongs disappeared from the agenda. Are the hutongs the victims of their own hype? If we don’t debate it, does it mean we don’t care (and we actually have never cared about it)? Whatever happened with the aforementioned media-mongers? Leave you comments and favorite hutong-hyperlinks in the comment section. From us, snapshots.

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | July 14, 2009

Pictures by

Hutong Histories 2009 | part II | MovingCities
Hutong Histories 2009 | part III | MovingCities

Related MovingCities-publications:
A Letter from Beijing | MARK Magazine #09 (Aug-Sep 07)
Residual vs Icon | POLAR INERTIA (Feb 08)
Making minced meat of memory | MUDOT (May 08)
Mediocrity and the Metropolis | JongArsitek (May 08)

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