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Restoring Beijing's Ancient Architectural Style

According to the administration, as well as practical reasons like renovation for heat insulation, the project is aimed at returning a traditional view of the ancient capital, as the old Beijing dwellings feature the caesious or blue-green colored sloping roof tile.

Beijing's sense of history has a lot to do with the architectural legacies of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911) ranging from the well-preserved Forbidden City and remaining siheyuan, or quadrangle to the typical traditional civilian structures.

Huge commercial value associated with buildings of historical heritage has driven the municipal bureaucracy to reconsider its excessive push for new architectural landmarks as symbols of modernity over the last few years.

Numerous examples of traditional residential architecture, mostly in the form of siheyuan, have disappeared as a result of the government's eagerness for a modern look. Like it or not, most roofs of residential buildings in Beijing now are flat.

Speed and economy, not aesthetics, were the major considerations when building houses in the early 1980s. Many flat-roof buildings in the old city area were built at that time.

But the large-scale disappearance of the hutong or laneway and the siheyuan, the most distinctive alleys and quadrangles of Beijing, began in the 1990s when the municipal government adopted the housing renovation policy that allowed developers to replace old and sometimes derelict homes with new high rise buildings.

As a result of massive renovation projects, tens of thousands of ancient hutongs and siheyuans have been demolished and the style of the ancient city destroyed in many areas.

Such a massive overhaul impaired Beijing's attempt to apply for the World Heritage Site listing in 2000 and 2001.

The frustration was also been coupled with some positive results. In 2001 and 2002, Beijing listed 40 protected historical zones, which accounted for 42 per cent of the old city. The municipal government also increased its efforts to restore some key relics and older streets in the city.

Regulations have been set on the height, style and color of buildings in the inner city to maintain Beijing's overall ancient appearance. And now, the roofs of residential buildings have been considered.

Thinking about all of the trouble and cost this will take, it can only be hoped that this project will achieve its goal of making the city's skyline more beautiful.

More importantly, it pushes for greater attention to urban planning and creating policies in the future. Had there been better planning and more thorough policies, there would be less need for such remedial projects.

(China Daily November 18, 2003)

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