Four undergraduates from the Department of Urban Planning and Design (UPD) at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University were finalists in a design competition that called for creative ideas on liveability in the hutongs of Beijing.

Hutongs are alleys in the capital that are lined with traditional courtyard houses and are frequently threatened with demolition to make way for modern high-density residences. Recently, many hutongs have been granted protected status in order to preserve them.

The proposal by the Year Two UPD students Jing Zhang, Baokun Wei, Chang Sun, and Jiyingzi Xu, entitled ‘Multidimension’, attracted a large number of online votes and was selected from 134 proposals to join the group of 25 finalists.

Dr Chia-Lin Chen, lecturer in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at XJTLU who advised the students, said that for them to reach the finals was excellent news for UPD staff and students, and for the University in general:

“They are very self-motivated students with great ideas, and I think we in UPD have done a good job of creating an encouraging and inspiring environment for them,” said Dr Chen. “We’ve done this through innovative classes and seminars on the XJTLU campus, and through external events organised in cooperation with the Eslite Bookstore and at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre,” said Dr Chen.

Student Baokun Wei had participated in another competition, iFuture International Ideas for Future Cities, earlier this year, leading a team of three other Year Two students. He gained valuable experience in this international competition, and student Jing Zhang was keen to recruit him for the team she assembled to enter the hutong design competition.

The team visited sites in Beijing in late July to generate ideas for their design proposal. Having created some design concepts the team continued to work on ideas separately, reconvening in mid-August to make posters for the competition.

“Given the limited time we had to work together on this competition I think we did very well, and I’m sure it will be a precious memory for us all,” said Baokun Wei. “To our surprise, our posters were favoured by a lot of people. In addition, we received patient guidance from Chia-Lin and it really helped a lot. As UPD students we all believe that we have the potential to accomplish amazing things,” he said.

The proposal they submitted offers a creative conceptual framework for the liveability of Beijing hutongs, as Baokun explained:

“The name of our project was ‘Multidimension’, with different aspects of the design corresponding to different ‘dimensions’: perspective; facades; space; and time,” he said. “Regarding space, we tried to find hidden spaces within the hutongs, to think about spaces that are not being fully used, and how to create more high-quality public spaces.

“The most interesting dimension was the fourth one as it integrates time into place. We thought about how to create spaces that can satisfy different people’s needs at different times,” said Baokun.

by Danny Abbasi; images provided by Baokun Wei

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