Under the aegis of the city’s official design showcase, Beijing Design Week (BJDW), architects and designers are making interventions into two traditional Beijing neighborhoods that are both innovative and respectful of scale and tradition.

Dazhalan (Dashilar in the Beijing dialect) is an 800-year-old neighborhood not far from Tiananmen Square that became the city’s main business district in the seventeenth century, eventually becoming the site of opera houses, cinemas, and Beijing’s first stock exchange; later it went into steep decline. Attempts in the 1990s to revive its main street, lined with shops selling traditional goods like silk, tea, and Chinese medicines, fell short of real vitality, and the area turned into little more than a tourist trap. But BJDW initiatives paired architects and designers with shop owners to help establish new businesses—including coffee shops and boutiques—and modernize more traditional ones.

Zhang Ke, founder and principal of the firm ZAO/standardarchitecture, developed a “micro-hutong” in Dashilar: a modern variation on the traditional alleyway dwellings (hutongs) that are both emblematic of old Beijing and threatened by the city’s breakneck development.

Baitasi, a faded old hutong neighborhood that is more residential than Dashilar, is named for its most famous feature, the White Stupa Temple, the oldest Tibetan Buddhist temple in the city. To attract younger residents to a neighborhood that lacks the commercial infrastructure of Dashilar, BJDW-spawned initiatives there have emphasized collaboration with local residents, and have focused on the development of affordable micro-hutong living spaces, including one by ZAO/standardarchitecture: a 150-square-meter courtyard divided into one small and one large living space. Other initiatives of the Baitasi ReMade project include a pair of furniture-design firms and a new clinic that emphasizes traditional medicine.

The jury was impressed with the thinking of the design teams in providing genuinely social spaces within newly reconstructed historical living accommodations, as well as their building into the design both a diversity of possible uses and the open-ended workspaces required by traditional artisans and the newer creative industries. The teams insisted on human scale and combining artisan-led initiatives (rather than big-brand development) with new technology.

Finalist: 2017 International Award for Public Art