Historic buildings incorporated into new property projects in China

The Temple House luxury hotel project in Chengdu is an example of heritage being incorporated into property projects on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 3:50am

The preservation of historic buildings is gaining momentum in Chengdu and other parts of the mainland - a phenomenon that will boost the value and attraction of new property developments in those areas, says a senior executive of a Beijing-based architectural firm.

"The preservation of heritage buildings and what remains of them is a big issue in China today. I expect this trend to continue well into the future," said John Puttick, partner and lead architect in China for architectural firm Make.

"Preservation and renovation of heritage buildings will breathe new life into areas where they're located and even employ new uses for old structures," he said, citing as an example the 798 Art Zone in Beijing.

The zone, also known as Dashanzi Art District, in Beijing's Chaoyang district, hosts a thriving artistic community in 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings.

Responding to pleas from artists, the municipal government decided to preserve the old buildings in an area originally known as Joint Factory 718. The centre now contains artists' studios, galleries, shops and cafes.

Puttick said Make was at the forefront of the preservation and renovation of heritage buildings in China, although this was a minor part of its flourishing business on the mainland.

The firm was commissioned by Swire Properties and Sino-Ocean Land to design The Temple House a luxury hotel project in Chengdu's Daci Temple, an historic site in the city's prosperous Jinjiang district. The design took into account nearby historic buildings, including the ancient Daci Temple, that form part of the city government's conservation scheme.

The Temple House, which features a contemporary interpretation of traditional Chinese design by Make, is part of the Chengdu Daci Temple Cultural and Commercial Complex, a large-scale mixed-use project jointly developed by the two property developers. It is scheduled for completion in the last quarter of next year.

Make's commitment to context-driven design is highlighted by the integration of the hotel's two L-shaped blocks that incorporate restored Chinese courtyard buildings dating back to the Qing dynasty. One block will provide 100 hotel rooms and the other 42 serviced apartments.

The historic buildings will themselves play an active role in the complex, housing the hotel's entrance lobby and an art gallery.

"What we're doing in The Temple House is preserve most of the unused and empty one- and two-storey old heritage buildings and use one of them as the main entrance to the hotel," Puttick said.

"The Temple House's heritage location raises important design issues, reflecting the current debate on how best to handle China's surviving built heritage. Our design respects and preserves the site's historic buildings by integrating them into the hotel, while also delivering new, contemporary design features that are sensitive to this heritage," he said.

But while preservation of heritage buildings continues to gain momentum on the mainland, certain factors occasionally weigh against the trend, Puttick said.

"The speed of developments in some city centres sometimes exerts pressures on the drive to conserve heritage buildings. This can be a complex issue."

Incorporating the old with the new can occasionally present challenges and a case in point is Wharf (Holdings)' mega shopping and luxury living development in the business area of Hongxing Road - Chengdu's most expensive downtown area.

Work on the complex was affected after local officials responded favourably to calls to preserve Tang and Song dynasty remains that were discovered in part of the area which is being used by Wharf for its project.

The remains were of 22 houses, a brick road, precious bowls, dishes, a stone statue of Buddha and a sophisticated sewage system - all showing a well-planned city.

Wharf's 4.72 million sq ft project, named Chengdu IFS, would comprise a mega mall, top-grade office space, a five-star hotel and luxury homes. The retail complex is scheduled to be launched early next year.

Puttick said there was no stopping the drive to preserve heritage buildings across China, despite occasional hiccups.

"Aside from Chengdu, we've been asked elsewhere in China for this kind of service, and we see this as a thriving business."