Courting the lawn

It is always a challenge when considering heritage how to respect the past while accommodating the new. The houtongs in Beijing are now facing the predicament of a modernising city. Traditional society and lifestyles have changed. Consumer demands are different.

So the traditional courtyard house is being reinterpreted…and in some instances modernism and tradition are facing each other quite literally.

However, there is much to be gained from understanding the tradition of the courtyard house and the patterns of life which gave rise to it. The garden of the courtyard house seems to have been predominantly a place for trees.. but perhaps also for lawn?

9 thoughts on “Courting the lawn

  1. Tom Turner

    That is a terrific example of a re-interpreted hutong. The problem, I guess, is that it is still a low density solution and it is ‘natural’ for the centres of really large cities is to be high density. What they should have done is to leave the old city of Beijing (within the now-demolished walls) and build a new city alongside it – as a Chinese planner who had worked with Abercrombie in London recommended.
    In a completely different socio-economic context (which I have not visited!) I believe the Saudis did this in Jeddah. They deserted the old city, leaving it for air-conditioned villas and flats with broad roads and car parking.

  2. Christine

    I am very much in favour of saving the fabric of old cities and creatively renovating and reusing them. [ ] It is shame that even in Jeddah homes in the old city are not renovated in such a way that they are considered the best place to live.

    So Tom I agree that it is best to design a new city alongside the old city (although this is not what happened in Paris during Baron von Hausmann’s reconstuction of Paris.)[ ]

    Not everything is worth saving. Much building fabric has no intrinsic charm. Perhaps this can be said of gardens also. However, hopefully more creative planning will allow for old cities and new cities and creative reconstructions and renovations – so that we have always more of what is good in our cities.

  3. Christine

    Suzie thankyou for the link to the renovated Hutong. Being ‘on the spot’ in Bejing you might like to visit this more unusual solution by MAD Architects to the problem of renovating Hotong’s for modern lifestyles. [ ]

    There is something sublime about the compositional elements of traditional Chinese architecture and landscape as illustrated by this photograph of Longevity Hill that is unmatched in modern town planning. [ ]

  4. Tom Turner

    It is indeed sad that Old Jeddah is empty – but I still think they were 100% right to keep it. Saudi Arabia may want to develop its non-Arab tourist industry one day and Balad a great asset.
    Much of Medieval London might also have been kept were it not for the Great Fire. (Westminster could then have become a financial district and Southwark/Lambeth could have been the government centre?) As things stand, I think the best plan would be to ‘medievalize’ the streets of the City by excluding all private cars and making the streets ‘shared space’ with only ‘absolutely necessary’ vehicles allowed – and only electric-powered and human-powered (cycle) taxis with a maximum speed of 15 MPH.

  5. Christine

    Somehow I got a great deal of enjoyment out of jumping out of the way of passing cars in the narrow streets of Soho while drinking on the pavement of the local hotel on a Friday evening.

    I also enjoyed jumping out of the car of my friend’s boyfriend so we could buy Baskin Robin icecream late at night in the middle of the city while he drove around the block before collecting us again (with icecreams). Perhaps not absolutely necessary… The cost of parking in London does much for reducing traffic, but perhaps not enough?

    My vote is for electric cars and pedestrian traffic. I am not greatly fond of malls (the usual solution to shared space). But I am a big fan of plazas. Perhaps taking traffic out of squares such as Soho Square and extending pedestrian space around the park makes sense?

    Some amazing example or projects which do as you suggest might change my mind. Do you have any examples of what you propose?

  6. Tom Turner

    Yes, summer in Soho is nice, especially with beer and ice cream.
    The example I have in mind of pedestrians + electric passenger floats + bicycles is Nanjing Street in Shanghai.
    The City of London needs to rememember that, like Balad, it is a special place – once a walled city and for half the lifetime of London the entire city.


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