Praised by Prince Charles for their sustainable features, Beijing's traditional hutong alley neighborhoods are now the stars of a SimCity-like interactive game being showcased at Beijing Design Week. Its creators hope letting exhibit visitors imagine their own "Hutopolis" will generate new ideas for how urban development can be improved in fast-growing China.Organized by the China- and Spain-based firm AQSO Arquitectos Office, the Hutopolis research project aims to get people thinking about the cost of rampant new development in terms of quality of life and preservation, and whether preserving and expanding the traditional urban framework would be more beneficial than bulldozing it and starting over.
Neighborhoods That Encourage Social Interaction
"Urban-planning theories about community and nature just now emerging in Europe were already present in Beijing's hutongs thousands of years ago," Time Out Beijing wrote in its preview of the exhibit. Unlike many modern developments, hutongs are spaces "made for and by the people," the AQSO-led team writes, identifying four key principles: density, mobility, green, and social.
"The density of the hutongs, almost comparable to a village, makes possible a way of life full of social and environmental interaction," while the width of the alleys restricts car entry, making "the street a shared surface where people can move freely, but also eat, play, work and interact," the team writes. These areas are also traditionally green, with trees that are sometimes older than the houses they shade.
After learning about this way of life through infographics and short films, visitors to the exhibit will be able to use a touch-screen system to map out an entire city of hutongs, creating an alternate future based on the past. The free Hutopolis exhibit is open daily from noon to 8 p.m. between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 at 8 Dawailangyin Hutong, Dashilar, Xicheng district, Beijing.
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