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BEIJING

Hao hai (Hutong area) – is a small residential neighborhood by the water that has been converted into a major entertainment area. It is characterized by a big accumulation of bars, restaurants and stores that are distributed along the perimeter of an immense lake. On the opposite side of the lake lies a large residential and traditional Hutong Area. We had brunch in Hutong Pizza, a restaurant located within a converted house Hutong. It has a covered courtyard with a small fountain.
After the Brunch we explored the Hutongs of the area. There are may interesting aspects of the Hutong that are particularly relevant to our specific project, like the heterogeneous levels of privacy, the gradual transference from the Private to the Public, and how all this relates to living in community, how spaces are shared and operate as sites of negotiation, sites for the political. Some hyper-private spaces, such as Bathrooms and interior courtyard spaces act as nodes of negotiation that are shared by the hutong community.
The interior courtyard condition, allows several families to share an intimate outdoor space that is shielded from the street by a heavy stone wall and punctured by one major threshold. A series of punched windows strategically placed above the eye level of the pedestrian, allow light into the spaces that have been built along the perimeter wall. The complexities of the Hutong are illegible from the street, but as one begins to penetrate the intimate network of circulation spaces, the horizontal layering of space is revealed. This horizontal sedimentation begins to inform some complex intersections between the hyper-public and hyper-private conditions.
798 art district – First, we visited Che Fei’s architectural office located in a compound adjacent to the popular art district. During our interview, Che Fei explained how there are plenty of open spaces in Beijing, but 798 is the only true public space where the citizens are allowed to fully express themselves. Although the popularity of the district has transformed it into a highly active commercial zone where high end fashion boutiques and restaurants designed to attract tourists have taken the place of the original artist live/work spaces. According to Che Fei, its openness and creativity symbolizes the future of Beijing as a vibrant commercial capital of China. Some of the cafes and bars within 798 are still utilized by local intellectuals as major destinations for exchange of ideas. Two of the most important Contemporary Art galleries in Beijing are still located within the district.
At 6.00 pm we went to the Olympic village. The ‘birdsnest’ has been abandoned due to structural vulnerabilities. The massive steel structure is supposedly sinking. The ‘watercube’ is being utilized for other programs, including aqua-park, community swim center, etc. Both of these structures are severely underutilized but the large open space leading up to the two buildings is extremely active. The diverse use of the open space ranged from roller skate rental to spontaneous street Karaoke, enabled by an equipped van.

 

Then we met Pu Hong, studio X manager, who took us to the opening of an art exhibition (which was actually a performance) at a place called Zajia Lab inside the Hutong. The story of this hutong is very interesting. It was originally a Buddhist temple, then it became a Taoist Temple. After the Revolution it became a Military Factory and more recently it was a tofu store. Currently, the entrance to the former temple is an art venue and a it functions as an art venue and a lounge bar. What used to be the courtyard is now a grocery store with souvenirs. Unfortunately we were not allowed to photograph the performance at the art opening, which included a large rock suspended on top of the artist, and other art pieces by different artists in dialogue with each other. We were introduced to the curator of the show (Ma yongFeng, www.forgetart.org) and the main artist (Wu Yuren). We have set up an appointment for an interview with Wu Yuren later today, his studio is near 798 art district. Ma yongFeng is currently involved in a series of guerrilla architecture projects. Some of which include site-specific interventions in the network of public bathrooms of Hutongs. He won’t be available for an interview today (since he will be teaching outside of Beijing), so we will keep the contact through email.

 

We arrived at Babao which is the main cemetery and commemoration space in Bejing. It is divided in 2 parts, one is dedicated to war heroes and the other to regular civilians. It is at one of the last stops going east of the subway line 1, an ideal area to understand the outer rings of the city.

The space where the latest urban developments of office towers meet the underdeveloped periphery, both with residential and industrial buildings. We could only visit the outside of the cemetery, we were not allowed to enter the funerary establishment. Babao is situated on a Hill from which you have a panoramic view of the surrounding urban fabric spanning as far as central Beijing. The main access to babao is an extension of a major wide thoroughfare framed by large trees and resolved with a wide stone stair.

Underneath Rem’s icons—TVCC and CCTV. We got quite an accurate impression of Beijing’s Periphery and its construction boom. TVCC seems to be recovering well from the fire, with the massive steel façade reconstruction well underway. The gates to the construction site were closed, so weren’t able to get up close and personal with the massive structures.

We got to the small art district situated about 40 minutes outside of Beijing. Instead of a small village where artist lived and made art, we found an industrial site with two large museums. This was somewhat disappointing since we were interested in interviewing the artist and documenting the way they lived. But, the language barrier made it almost impossible to communicate with anyone who might know how to get to the villages. So, we convinced our taxi driver to wait an extra hour as we navigated through the museum and documented the art work. The quality of the work in the first museum was extremely impressive—ranging from large scale installations to paintings and digital art, most of which was produced in the past three years.

The second museum completely out of scale, with massive interior spaces and a large corten steel entrance staircase puncturing through the stone wall. The spaces were cold and dark, making it really difficult to enjoy the artwork.