An interesting article in The Beijinger by Jeremiah Jenne which looks back at the disaster of urban planning and built heritage preservation that is Beijing 2016. It also rightly points out that it didn’t have to be this way. Advanced planners had better ideas about the city – Liang Sicheng and Chen Zhanxiang to be precise. But Mao, in thrall to the Soviet Union’s planners at the time, was not having any of it.
Now Beijing is making a bad thing worse by moving the city government to the suburban satellite town of Tongzhou in the hope of integrating the city with nearby Tianjin and the surrounding area currently part of Hebei province into a massive metropolitan center known as Jing-Jin-Ji. Tongzhou itself had its historic and architrecturally interesting frature most of which one can safely assume are now going wholesale. Indeed, perhaps the worse option of old, the famous China ‘New-Old’ style will appear – recent visitors to Tongzhou confirm this is happening as do the masterplanners schematics. Below you can see the ‘New-Old’ crowded to the edge.
But, of course, it could have all been different. In January 1936 Peking’s municipal government banned buildings higher than two storeys. This had been a long running argument in the city, wary of its skyline becoming a version of Tientsin or, God forbid for traditionalists, Shanghai. Foreign preservationists, like ETC Werner, had successfully won arguments about new buildings having to feature traditional roofs and eaves. The Kincheng Bank (founded 1917 in Tientsin and with branches all over China and Hong Kong) had to demolish their eight storey building. However, I don’t have a photograph of that building (does anyone?). I’m also not sure if it ever was ‘altered’ from eight to two storeys? Of course the war intervened and no major construction happened in Peking from July 1937 through to 1949 really so after his takeover of the city Mao had a low level