IN RUINS: The ruined gateway of the former Beijing residence of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin, famous Chinese architects (ZHANG YU)
Should historic cultural buildings huddle at the corner of cities as stumbling blocks of urbanization, or shine as precious cultural resources providing power for city development? This question was once again put to the public following the recent demolition of a quadrangle courtyard in Beizongbu Hutong, Dongcheng District of Beijing, former residence of famous Chinese architects Liang Sicheng (1901-72) and Lin Huiyin (1904-55).
From 1931 to 1937, the couple rented the courtyard and lived there, a peak time in their careers. Setting off from this courtyard, they completed their field investigations on ancient Chinese building groups, leaving footprints all over China. Based on these studies, they attained great achievements in Chinese architectural history and architectural relic protection, and were considered as founders of Chinese architectural history studies in China.
Lin was not only a famous architect, but also a beautiful woman who wrote excellent prose, poetry and dramas. The residence was once an extremely popular meeting place for the literary circle in the 1930s.
Because of the couple's reputation, the courtyard, rebuilt in the 1980s, was listed as a newly discovered cultural relic in China's third national cultural relic survey published in December, 2011. All items registered in this survey are protected by law, said the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
But the real estate developer demolished the residence during the past Spring Festival holiday (January 22-28). When it was exposed, it drew a flood of attention and soon became a hot topic.
All of Beizongbu Hutong is no longer what it used to be. Several decades ago, it was a quiet and beautiful residential area consisting of traditional quadrangle courtyards. Now they have been replaced by modern multi-floor buildings. It serves as a sharp display of urbanization and modernization in Beijing.
The demolition in this area began in July, 2009. Along with other courtyards in this area, the gateway and west-wing rooms of the architects' residence were removed to make room for a real estate project including a hotel, an office building and apartments.
This aroused huge public response. Several days later, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning halted the demolition when they found the former residence of Liang and Lin was in the area.
On July 28, 2009, the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage declared it had studied the protection issue of Liang and Lin's former residence jointly with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning. It had urged the construction company to change its plan, making sure the courtyard was preserved.
The courtyard had been listed as a cultural relic. After all the residents moved out, it would be restored and refurnished, said Li Chenggang, an official from Dongcheng District, on January 11, 2011.
But on January 27, 2012, it was exposed that the home had already been demolished.
The construction company claimed it demolished the home because the houses in the courtyard were too old and might cause danger during the Spring Festival holiday, according to Dongcheng District Cultural Commission's report to the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage.
It was a reparatory demolition and sort of preparatory work before the repair, said the report.
On January 28, Dongcheng District Cultural Commission added the demolition was illegal as it was done without approval, and declared the issue would be dealt with according to the law.
Following that, it ordered the construction company not to continue to remove any existing historic buildings in the courtyard. It requested the company to properly preserve all the materials for repair use.
At present, the company has begun to clean up the site and plans to start the restoration soon.
However, this did not put out the anger of the cultural heritage preservation circle. The demolition challenged the bottom line of civilization and there should be no more such demolitions in the future, said Zeng Yizhi, a staunch advocate of the protection of urban historic buildings.