From the Stretch-A-Leg Blog

Echos of the Forbidden City at Caochangdi Art District

I just explored the Beijing Design Week exhibits in Caochangdi, Beijing’s newest contemporary art district, and I was reminded of the Forbidden City.

It seemed to me, that elements of the architecture of the Forbidden City built in 1420, must have had an impact on the design and architecture of the modern Caochangdi compound where many galleries and art spaces are housed.

The high walls, winding alleyways, and hidden spaces in Caochangdi were reminiscent of the high walled, winding alleyway structure of the living quarters in the Forbidden City and even Beijing’s traditional hutong neighborhoods.

Similar to the Forbidden City, roaming in the middle of Caochangdi is like walking in a labyrinth. There are large empty squares at the end of the alleyway while some the other passages could lead you to a dead end or perhaps a sculpture or installation by a world-famous designer on display during Beijing Design Week.

High walls functionally offered protection to the Forbidden City and hutong residents against wind, rain, and excessive amount of sun as well offering privacy.  The high walls also reflect Chinese philosophy and cultural values of not openly sharing the most treasured and personal assets, information, or aspects of life unless someone can be trusted to be invited inside.

With this architectural design, it is a very controlled environment where you only access and connection with nature is the sky and the tree tops.  As noted in book Red Capitalism, the architecture of the Forbidden City serve as a metaphor for Chinese political practice:

"The workings of the Forbidden City in Imperial times serve as a metaphor for China’s government and political practice today. At the center lies Beijing, a complex labyrinth of separate power centers, each with just a single reporting line that extends up to the party secretary general..."

Walter, Carl E.; Howie, Fraser J. T. (2011-01-19). Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China's Extraordinary Rise. Wiley. Kindle Edition.

At Stretch-a-Leg we are constantly looking for ideas and modern interpretations that illuminate ancient concepts and designs in Beijing and Chinese culture.

Contact us to book a local expert to guide you in Beijing's Forbidden City, explore Beijing's traditional hutong neighborhoods, or discover Beijing's less known contemporary art districts like Caochangdi.

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