All posts by Kevin Hsu

Share the learning! Final Project Presentations

Workshop participants will share their work at two public events:

Final Workshop Presentation (LIVE)
Saturday, September 20 (2:00 – 4:30 PM)
Tsinghua University, Academy of Arts & Design
Building B, Room 413. 清华大学美术院 B 座 413

Map to Tsinghua Academy of Art & Design
Maps: Google or Baidu


#cultural preservation #electric vehicles #bicycle urbanism #food systems #energy #land use


Smart City Expo @ Beijing Design Week
Thursday, September 25 – Friday, October 3 (All day)
China Millennium Monument, Exhibition Hall.

Smart City expo logo

More info about Beijing Design Week here.

Cultural Preservation, Team Update #2

Project updated by Alice Fang, Aiwa Musihua, Caroline Nowacki, Qihan (Philip) Luo

Every hutong we visit seems steeped in stories. There are different stories for different times of day—different groups of people catching the breeze by their doors, different tones and colors like the rush of life when children are let loose from the neighboring elementary school. We are, at once, participants and observers. As researchers, we take in the life and the sights around us, interviewing elderly couples sitting by their doorway, and stopping to ask children where they play. But needless to say, we have likely also become the object of dinnertime conversation for the families of people we interviewed.

Static scenes in the hutong present stories begging to be told. Here, a Buick is parked next to chickens, and a trash can with red wine, half eaten 馒头 [buns], and other trash.

Continue reading Cultural Preservation, Team Update #2

Land Use, Team Update #2

Project update by Tucker Bryant, Zirai Huang, Mercedes Peterson, Yuxiao Pu

Fantastic Fieldwork in Fugoli + Fenghuiyuan 一级棒的富国里和丰汇园实地调研

Today we dove feet first into the fieldwork aspect of our Land Use Project; quite literally managed to land inside a taxi right off campus, hustling inside before we even gave the driver a chance to blink. Tucker, Yuxiao, Ray and I decided to try out a couple different methods of transportation other than our usual subway rides; this had the twofold purpose of trying to master the Beijing traffic situation as well as experiencing the slightly strange adventure that cabbing in Beijing entails.


Continue reading Land Use, Team Update #2

Bicycle Urbanism, Team Update #2

Project update by Valerie Gamao, Joyce Hujing, J.K., Yipei Shen, Elaine Zhou

Our recent focus has been understanding the ecosystem of the various different bicycle livelihoods — from providing services like recycling or parcel delivery, to providing goods and products like food or phone cases, and from legal status to illegal status.

First, we learned that a bicycle livelihood used to be, and has the potential to be very lucrative. The parcel delivery guy moved to Beijing specifically because of his job, and the person who collects recycled good reminisced the “good old days”, when one can make almost 10,000 RMB/month (a salary higher than that of a recent Tsinghua grad). It’s a service that the people enjoy and still enjoy using, considering that the recycling man oftentimes receives calls from a set of clients that he has.

Second, we learned that even though the pay is above average and working conditions relatively pleasant and flexible, some of our interviewees still did not tell their families about their jobs due to a sense of embarrassment. However, other individuals were more than happy to share with us their stories.

Continue reading Bicycle Urbanism, Team Update #2

Electric Vehicles, Team Update #2

Project update by Geena Chen, William Woo, Sophia Wu, Fay Yang

New discoveries

We discovered firsthand at the Tesla showroom that Tesla vehicles are very intentionally marketed towards an elite set of users. In the front and back trunks of the display Teslas were an expensive foldable bike and a duffel bag of golf clubs. The wall advertisements also showed a Tesla parked at a golf course. The images advertised the Tesla as a luxury plaything.

On the other hand, the grandfather we spoke to on the street brought the discussion back to practicality. His three-wheel electric bike, which is able to squeeze through traffic and requires low costs to purchase and maintain.

Continue reading Electric Vehicles, Team Update #2

Food Systems, Team Update #2

Project update by Adriana Baird, Moon, Han Lin (Nancy), Alec Hogan, Zoey Zhou Yang

After a guest lecture from Professor Xie of the NRDC on sustainable urban development, our group took a moment to organize and restructure the plan for our Food Systems project. We discussed and defined the overall objectives of the group project: to conduct the initial research on the relationship between food preferences and urban development that could be used to delve further into to the food systems subject in the future. From there, we decided to focus on three topics within food systems: Quality, Waste, and Culture.

Some examples of questions we hope to address in these topics are:


  • Where does food come from?
  • Is food quality a factor in the decision to buy food from a certain vendor?
  • How does food quality vary by the type of food vendor?
  • How has food quality changed in Beijing over the years?

Continue reading Food Systems, Team Update #2

Energy, Team Update #2

Project update from Christina Zhou, Elsa and Noelle Herring

The past few days, we’ve been working to understand the heating situation near Tsinghua University across a variety of building types, ranging from old hutong style buildings to campus coffee shops. Types of technologies we’ve seen range from coal stoves to district heating.

One key interview that stood out was one with an old woman who had lived in the historical preservation buildings near campus. To get her to talk more freely, we focused not only on the logistics of her coal use, but also the feelings involved. She was frustrated with the inconvenience and cost of the coal, on top of the health impacts from breathing in so much smoke the winter. She didn’t like that the building’s historical preservation status meant that it was impossible to redevelop the electricity, which couldn’t handle additional voltage for electric heaters. Moving forward, we will be doing research online (Taobao!) to see prices for coal and get a better sense of building efficiency improvements, and capture additional insights.




Continue reading Energy, Team Update #2

Sailing the Streets

There is something truly wondrous about riding a bicycle through the streets of Beijing: the sense of motion, the air and freedom, the breeze rushing past as you balance and keep afloat. Even the sounds of angry car horns decrescendo into simple aural reminders: a way to keep track of one’s surroundings without craning your neck every which way. “Negotiated flow,” the bike nostalgic called it.

I join the throng of two-wheelers, feeling a sense of camaraderie as we cycle the boulevards like a school of fish—scooters or bikes, single riders or pairs—happily sailing through the land canals of what was once the northern bicycle Venice.

Afternoon, Perfectly Bright

Walking down the hutong lane,
I encounter a green-leafed archway
casting cool shade.

A small dog patters by,
passing a trio of wandering ducks.
Minnows flicker in a tub near splashing guppies.

Residents seated under an awning
fan themselves,
tracing the air with
broad, lazy strokes,
issuing a trail of leisure.

Nuts roasting in an outdoor pan
give rise to a powerful and inviting scent
that wafts along a darkened corridor,
drawing passers-by deeper into an unseen courtyard.

I pull away from the siren doorway
and plunge onward to encounter
sunlit patches
of warm, gray bricks.
Bicycles chatter along the road,
wheels turning, handlebar bells ringing.

The afternoon is
by the sound of small chimes.

I ride a light breeze to the end of the lane,
swallowed by air and time.
I alight onto solid ground,
then disappear into the thoroughfare beyond.

Historical Beijing

On Thursday, we visited the Shijia Hutong Museum, a site celebrating the culture and life of Old Beijing. Many of the city’s hutong—lanes or alleyways—date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. They are composed of a series of traditional courtyard homes called siheyuan, which have for much of the city’s history have made up the vast majority of the urban fabric. (For example, in 1949, over 1.9 million residents coexisted in a city of largely one- or two-story buildings.)

After the Communists came to power, they began razing the city to accommodate Mao’s plans for urban industrialization, despite fierce opposition from planning experts, historians, and the famous architect Liang Sicheng. This is when Beijing lost its walls. However, many of the city’s traditional courtyards still survived the tumult of the Socialist era. It was actually the rapid construction of the go-go 1980s and 1990s that accelerated the destruction of Beijing’s architectural heritage, and to date, thousands of hutongs have been demolished.

[View of Shijia Hutong Museum Courtyard]

[View of Street Model]

See more pictures in our gallery of Shijia Hutong Museum after the jump.

What were once beautiful, meticulously-kept homes have fallen into disrepair, and the numbers of hutong neighborhoods are dwindling. The Shijia hutong is a restored courtyard home that once belonged to the Ling family. One of its most famous residents was Ling Shuhua, a painter and writer, and her husband Chen Xiying (Chen Yuan). In China in the early twentieth century, it was the literati—essayists, novelists, artists, poets—who were the country’s rockstars, and people eagerly followed their scholarly and personal lives, while celebrating their travels and exploits. The 1920s and 1930s are often deemed the “Golden Age of Intellectualism” as writing flourished, open debate took place in magazines and newspapers, and a sense of freedom and cultural evolution took hold as China broke from its strictly Confucian past to engage with the modern world.

Continue reading Historical Beijing