A “shiny bubble” in one of Beijing most traditional Hutong street: how contemporary architecture serves urban renovation needs

By Stefania Danieli

The “shiny bubble” we are talking about is quite an original piece of contemporary architecture placed in Nanluoguxiang, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Beijing city. Hutong Bubble 32 (胡同泡泡32) has been realized in 2009 by MAD, a young Beijing based architecture studio, but it is only a fragment of a much bigger project of urban renovation.
The Beijing born architect Ma Yansong and his colleagues developed a proposal for Beijing first reveal for MAD IN CHINA, exhibition shown during the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale. The project included a Green Public Park in Tiananmen Square, a series of floating islands above the city’s CBD (Central Business Districts), and the “Future of hutongs,” which featured metallic bubbles scattered throughout the Beijing’s oldest neighborhoods. After only three years, the first “bubble” has been realized and is worth mentioning it again today.
The first bubble has about 10 square meters space including a public lavatory and a staircase leading to a renewed rooftop terrace. Its shape is unconventional, rounded and irregular; it seems incoherent with the context, but its external surface, a deforming mirror reflecting a blurry image of the surrounding old houses, trees and sky, making this a massive and invasive installation blurring into the environment and smoothly transformation.
The so-called hutong are Beijing’s traditional old neighborhoods, constituted by alleys of siheyuan, traditional courtyard dwellings. In the recent years, due to China’s extremely fast development, they are facing a contradictory phase: on one hand they are abandon because of poor hygiene standards and lack of basic utilities such as gas or heating system, risking to be destroyed and replaced by new buildings, but on the other many of them have been totally renovated becoming fashionable residences for people. We could probably say that hutongs can fully reflect the contradictions of contemporary Chinese society.
Therefore, the most obvious basic function of Hutong Bubble 32 is providing a lavatory facility to a neighborhood which evidently is in need of, but its final aim is to demonstrate how contemporaneity and history can co-exist and develop a better urban environment for people and communities together. Ma Yansong first concern was the imminent disappearance of hutong communities, and the Hutong Bubble 32 is a small intervention on Beijing urban tissue, a first step for locals to start appreciating this traditional environment and attempting to re-establish existing communities.

External link: http://www.i-mad.com

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Stefania was born and raised in Italy, where she took a BA in Languages and a MA in Business Communication at the University of Perugia. She fluently speaks both Mandarin and English, and by now has been living in China for over two years. Having been raised in a country rich of history and culture like Italy, she has always had a strong interest in art and architecture, which led her right through the Chinese landscape design industry. She is currently working as Marketing Director at Beijing’s based America Leedscape Planning and Design Co. Ltd.

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