Old Building Restoration Taking a Hold in China

Starting from the reinvention of Dashilar, a historical neighborhood in Beijing, innovative architects are racking their brains to balance city development and cultural preservation. From Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore at The Los Angeles Times:

Authorities have teamed with Beijing-based Approach Architecture Studio to breathe new life into alleyways largely considered slums, where residents cram into divided courtyard spaces without plumbing. Buildings in Dashilar, rather than being knocked down, are starting to be turned into galleries, studios or boutique shops.

[…] The plans mark a change from the treatment of neighboring Qianmen Street — which was bulldozed only to be rebuilt in 2008 in a faux late-Qing dynasty style replete with Starbucks and H&M, a fake tram and a giant cement tree.

By contrast, Dashilar residents can choose to sell or stay under the new scheme. Government-purchased buildings are being offered at low rents to designers who want to set up shop. Design Week has, in part, acted as a live mock-up to show skeptical local officials that this gradual approach, which demands a smaller initial capital investment than the knock down and rebuild model, can create dividends as foot traffic increases. A handful of businesses, including a Chinese film studio and a Dutch-owned gallery, have already signed up. Inhabitants will benefit from improvements to the area as the value of their properties rise in tandem, so the argument goes.

[…] Waiter Yue Yao Tong, 22, who works at a bare-bones restaurant serving traditional Beijing snacks, is more optimistic. Above all, Yue does not want to see the old town demolished. “The old buildings are more attractive for visitors,” he explained, sitting next to a vat of bubbling entrails. “You can see the [faux historic] buildings in Qianmen everywhere in China — but it’s very hard to copy a place with history. We want very much to show foreigners that this is the true Chinese style.”

See also the official website of 2012 Beijing Design Week.