Month: April 2010

historic makeover

decorative panel, restored building, Dacisi area



This is what traditional Chinese buildings can look like when they’re preserved and restored, rather than flattened by the great bulldozer of economic progress.  When I arrived in Chengdu three years ago, the area around 大慈寺 Dacisi [Monastery of Great Compassion], much of it built at the turn of the 20th century, had mostly been cleared away.  The monastery is in the central city, just one street east of the upscale pedestrian shopping area of Hongxing Lu and Chunxi Lu.  The monastery itself had been re-opened several years ago after decades of neglect, and its main surviving buildings date mostly from the 19th century. 
What surprised me, however, was the fact that four traditional courtyard houses just east of the temple have been conserved; they are all that remains now of the dense warren of timber-frame or gray-stone buildings that were once reached by narrow alleys.  Part of the residential area is now a “green space,” planted with trees and flowers, and the surviving houses form an ensemble that I expect will serve as some sort of culture park, and will probably house businesses.
While the area was under construction, I wandered into each of these buildings with my camera to get a behind-the scenes preview of their completed appearance. 


restored buildings in the center of the new “ancient” shopping complex.



To the immediate south of Dacisi is a new “ancient” tourist/retail area, arranged around two authentic temple or public buildings that have been conserved.  I don’t know yet about their history, but it looks as if they will be used as a theater, with a traditional raised stage facing an open courtyard, for opera performances.  



Interior courtyard in process of restoration



exterior of courtyard house, east of Dacisi monastery complex.




brick entrance gateway, courtyard house



 Finally, one narrow residential lane survives in the midst of the surrounding construction; above is an example of both woodcarving and traditional architecture that is un-restored and as yet un-demolished.  All in all, what is being done with the area seems to have been handled with a degree of sensitivity.