Hutong – a new model for Beijing?

When China opened up and became a socialist market economy, it didn’t take long for the real estate sector to emerge and start developing the contemporary Chinese city according to the logic of capital, demand and supply. Even while many companies are still state-owned. For years, the traditional alleyway neighborhoods of central Beijing, called Hutongs, were a playing ground for profitable big scale redevelopment projects, tabula-rasa style. At some point, however, residents and critics became aware of the economic and cultural value of the small-scale homes in the Hutong, leading to long and difficult recompensation processes.

Dashilar Project

During Beijing Design Week 2013 I visited the Dashilar Hutong, and later that week a few other expamples. Professor Wu Chen, also director of the Beijing Institute for Architectural Design (BIAD), presented the transformation process of Dashilar, a very central and traditional hutong, close to Tian´anmen square. Earlier that day, Jia Rong of the Dashilar Project had given us a tour. The neighborhood is to a large extent made up of one and two-storey buildings from the Ming en Qing dynasty era, with the typical structure of courtyards. The complex property situation (leases, land use rights etc.), restrictions to building heights and costly expropriation arrangements have turned Dashilar into an area that is hard to redevelop at a profit by the (state) development companies. At the same time, developments are required, since the infrastructure, sanitation and public space in the area are precarious.

Dashilar Hutong (left) and Nanluoguxiang Hutong (right), Beijing

Therefore BIAD has been working for years already on an alternative development strategy. Among other measures to make people concious about the cultural value of the area, the Dashilar Phone-App was developed, through which tourists and visitors can easily explore the labyrinthic hutong and constantly receive information about design galleries, restaurants and other features in the streets of Dashilar. In collaboration with local investors, a shopping center with housing on top is being realized, avoiding the standard ‘closed box’ typology. At the same time, the infrastructure is enhanced. A new public toilet is under construction, since many of the small dwellings don’t have their own toilet. Professor Wu summarizes the project as ´Nodal development´ as opposed to the modernistic ´Tabula Rasa´ development.

Vertical hutong project, by Steven Holl, Beijing

The permeable hutong-model with its narrow alleys was abandoned by the upcoming middle class in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The old and precarious structures – many times without a proper bathroom or connection to water and the sewage system – were easily changed for modern appartments in superblock tower buildings beyond the 3rd ringroads of Beijing. The hutong, however, is making a comeback. The new generation likes going to famous hutongs for leisure. The centrality and function mix of many hutongs have become much appreciated, since Beijing now suffers from massive traffic infarcts and monofunctional suburbanization. Architects like Steven Holl and Riken Yamamoto have realized housing complexes in Beijing, conceived as modern, vertical, hutongs. In their project Meta:Hutongs, architects Wang Shuo and Andrew Bryant organize workshops to explore the possiblities of the hutong model, without taking sides of either the preservationists or the demolitionists. It is one of the projects featured in the Abitare China #34, a special magazine on Hutong Adaptation.

Abitare - Meta:Hutongs

The hutongs in the central area of Beijng (within the 3rd ringroad) can easily be explored in three dimensions using Baidu Maps:

Dutch Design Week 2013

Now Future is the motto of DDW 2013. Or should it be ´back to the future´? Much of the furniture design is strongly inspired by the early 1960´s: curved chairs and beautifully light tables made of plywood, such as the +table. And an electric retro moped by Meijsmotor that looks like it could be part of Easy Rider or Mad Max. There is much attention for mobile and modular elements, such as plug-in table legs and lamps on wheels, big 3d printed Lego blocks called BB-Bricks to build flexible interior walls, and a long-life modular cellphone.

At the same time the Design Week shows renewed interest in personal craftsmanship and labor-intensive products. In the 4 Apostelen church, HuisVeendam presented a material library of custom made Bio Laminates, to be used in walls, furniture and in the future also floors. On the mezzanine, Studio 1:1 and DS Landscape architects show their Biological Clock, a complete inventory of bird and plant life around a certain hospital building. Nature is known to benefit the healing process. The year round, breeding, nesting and flower periods for all species are written down a gigantic clockworks scheme. At another location, there were the home made sweaters of Loes, a lady from a worker class neighborhood in Rotterdam, who has knitted 500 colorful sweaters in her life, none of which are being worn by anyone.

Like in DDW 2012, also this year there is lots of attention for food and health. A special workshop with designers and farming experts is held under the name AgriMeetsDesign. Among the designers of the Design Academy Graduation Show, there are a user friendly insulin dispenser for children, the comfort of a friendly fake man, a home smoking unit for fish and sausages and a Do it Yourself Chicken (with DVD guide for plucking etc.).

Perhaps, one of the most striking ideas for the future comes from the Design Award 2013 winner of the ´future concept´, Arne Hendriks. His project, ´The Incredible Shrinking Man´ shows us the benefits of becoming smaller as human beings (apparently 50 cm is the ideal size!), and challenges the common opinion that growing and being big is better.

SprintCity – international application

SprintCity, a planning support tool for Transit-Oriented Development, has been succesfully applied to cases in The Netherlands. Recently there is a growing interest to apply this tool in other parts of the world, to support policy makers and transit companies in optimizing transport corridors, and help researchers in exploring the mechanisms behind TOD. SprintCity has been developed over the last 4 years by the Deltametropolis Association, Delft University of Technology and Movares. Its prototype version was made possible by the Next Generation Infrastructures foundation. The English version was launched in September 2013.


SprintCity aims
Planning support tool SprintCity simulates urban growth and train frequencies along a rail corridor, over a period of 20 years. The purpose of the tool is to give decision-makers insight into the relationship of spatial development and infrastructure, competition between municipalities and the specific qualities and opportunities of each station on a corridor. It also provides a safe platform to experiment with development strategies and collaboration between the different stakeholders.
Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is a promising urban model for densely populated areas, such as the Netherlands. The complexity of spatial planning and transport integration, as well as the fact that there is not a single responsible authority for TOD, is causing the current suboptimal use of rail infrastructure in The Netherlands. SprintCity was developed to help break these barriers.
SprintCity has been used by more than 350 people, in more than 40 sessions, since 2009. It has been applied on 4 rail corridors in The Netherlands and implementation in Belgium is currently being studied. In principle, it can be used on any transport corridor (including Bus Rapid Transit), both existing corridors with existing and new stations, as well as new corridors or comparative corridor alternatives. Especially these latter applications may be relevant for metropolitan areas in developing countries.


Working on an international basis
From the beginning, SprintCity (‘SprintStad’ in Dutch) has been a collaborative project, involving universities, government bodies and private enterprises. This approach has resulted in a user-friendly and widely tested tool: SprintCity v2.0. We believe that the application and further development of SprintCity should occur internationally. On the one hand, several entities abroad have contacted us to learn about this possibility. Consequently an English version is now being developed for this new group of international users. And on the other hand, co-development on an international scale will no doubt enhance the functionalities and applications of the next versions of SprintCity.

SprintCity session in Haarlem (The Netherlands)

In this manner, the growing SprintCity community will be able to learn from each new experience and from the different policy- and development contexts worldwide. The source code of SprintCity is owned by the project partners, listed above. The data input and results, however, are always shared and made public. At this point, we are engaged with experts and government bodies in the following countries: Flanders (Belgium), Sweden, India, China, Brazil, Turkey, Australia and Peru. Read more about application in these countries here.

Session in Bangalore and New Delhi

SprintCity, the format
In order to include human decision making in the simulation, SprintCity has the format of a role playing game (ideally played by the real stakeholders), supported by a computer model with realistic data input. It features three types of players:

1. The Province/Region-player controls the overall development of the corridor, and needs to find an optimal location for regional functions, such as a hospital or educational facility;

2. The Transport-player controls the time table of the rail services on the corridor, and aims to increase ridership while running a profitable service;

3. The Municipality-players control the land use plans of each station area, and aspire to develop these areas according to previously chosen ambitions and a master plan.

Available train capacity, phased development areas and limited market demand for housing, offices and amenities provide natural bounderies to the system.

Read SprintCity Update #5 (English pdf), or
watch the introduction video below: