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Dong Zhi Men reconstruction in Beijing (M Arch. I, 2001)

By : Jia Beisi

After one-year preparation with Qinghua University in Beijing and Berlin University of Fine Arts in Germany, a joint studio was set up starting with a project theme proposed by Qinghua University. The site of the project is located on the urban fringe in eastern Beijing. It is characterized by its concentration of traffic and communication systems including the Second Ring Road, an underground railway station, several long-distance bus terminals and local bus stations. According to city’s master plan, Dongzhimen Road will soon extend further eastward. A new divergent highway and railway station leading to new airport will also pass by the site. Currently the site and its environs are chaotic. Infrastructural and transportation connections are piecemeal and inadequate. About 2600 households live in a rundown neighborhood within the 15.44-hectare site. The project aims to restructure, upgrade, and integrate these traffic systems, improve the living environment and create a new landmark “gate” for the city.
The aim of the studio was to create a framework in which students from different backgrounds could work creatively both in groups and as individuals. Concentrated observation, group analysis, and combined urban planning and design skills enhanced our working process, resulting with clearer concepts and problem solving methods.
The work process was divided into a preliminary urban design phase and final architectural design phase. In the first phase (28 September to 2 November, 2000) two groups of five students each designed a master plan for the site. The second phase (9 November to 9 December, 2000) was comprised mainly of individual work. Each student chose one section of the master plan and developed it into an individual project.
(Students: Project 1: Hui Kei Yan, Yong Kuan Hoong, Tse Ka Kwan, Li Yan Yan
Project 2: Lo Kit Sum, Chow Wan King, Wan Ngar Yee, Li Pak Yee
Bus station: Leung Shek Fai, Jimmy)

Tutor’s Comments
A traditional Beijing men (‘gate’) was formerly a control station and a monument. Today this is not so, as I discussed with students at the very beginning of the project. In generic terms, this may be simply a device which streamlines movements of people, information, goods and currency into and out of the city. Rather than searching for complete, distinct physical forms which delimit and define a site or program, these students investigated subtle orderings which are visually apparent but materially indistinct. Such orderings necessarily coordinate massive movements of people.
Some of the students came to realize that traditional disciplinary barriers between architecture, urban design and landscaping had to be dismantled in order to exploit tremendous new potentials. I stressed to the students that a multitude of individual buildings, each with distinctive façades, entrances, staircases, and lifts is actually an obstacle for large-scale communications and movements. At such a large scale, fluid models of exchange, formal unity and nodes of activity must replace rigid urban piecemeal and crumb-like fragments. Larger urban structures function as a device yielding to operational effects rather than formal effects.
It became clear for some students that aim of the project was to go beyond (1) prescribed architectural and urban forms and (2) discrete zoning of functions. The goal was to produce zones of micro-differentiation in an apparently consistent macro-pattern throughout the site, in the one project – or in the other project, the grid-and-courtyard pattern of internal city of Beijing. The project would allow for and support the unpredictable: a flexible, dynamic organization responsive to the movements of people and changes of demands.
At the individual design stage, only one student aimed at an alternative morphology for a bus terminal which supported passenger and vehicular flows in a pleasant garden setting. Again, traditional concepts of architecture (or bus terminal in this case) were challenged or exploded to embody multiple attributes.

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