All posts by Deland Chan

Energy Team Update #1

This update is by Christina Zhou, Elsa Wang, Noelle Herring

Residential Heating in 承泽园: A Study of Comparisons

On the fourth floor of the Tsinghua Art and Design building, perched atop lockers next to long windows that span the entire length of one wall of the building’s inside courtyard, I write.  Outside, there is an array of matching windows on each of the other three courtyard walls.  These windows are not identically, as many are cracked open to varying degrees.

While summer draws to a close and Beijing enters its most comfortable season, the pollution remains light, assisted in part by a quiet breeze, yet in just a few months, a dry chill will descend upon the city, casting some areas in severe cold, and a few in severe heat.  As one Tsinghua student described, sometimes the dorms located on higher floors of the dormitory building are heated to such an extent that students want to open the windows in the middle of winter, showing a lack of efficiency in existing HVAC design.

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Electric Vehicles Team Update #1

This post is by Geena Chen, William Woo, Sophia Wu, Fay Yang

What did you do?
Yesterday we rode our bikes to three different sites around Tsinghua University to document our observations of electric vehicles in Beijing. First we stopped at a courtyard of elderly people’s apartments. Because citizens over the age of 60 are forbidden from driving gas-powered vehicles by law, many elderly citizens choose to drive electric vehicles. In the parking spaces around the buildings, we took pictures of six low-end electric vehicles, which were all refitted three-wheel bikes. We were not able to find any vehicle owners to interview at these sites, but William shared his expertise about the vehicles as we walked around so that we could all get a better idea of what the EV landscape is like in Beijing.

Our second site was an EV rental and charging station called Ecar. The parking lot was full, showing us that nobody had rented a vehicle at the time we were there. We took photos of the charging equipment and tried to speak with the employee on duty. Though we didn’t find out much, we plan to return when we have prepared interview questions.

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Food Systems Team Update #1

This post is by Adriana Baird, Moon, Han Lin (Nancy), Alec Hogan, Zoey Zhou Yang

We are the food systems group, investigating the changing nature of food systems and preferences in modern Beijing during this period of rapid urbanization. We are excited to engage in this project through observing people in their environments, interviewing individuals in different places and spaces in Beijing, using other various fieldwork techniques like counting and tracking, and of course, eating the food of Beijing.

What did you do?

We began this workshop as strangers to one another, but have since pushed past the language barrier and are both friends and collaborators. After breaking the initial awkwardness through icebreakers, we got to know each other by sharing experiences. We have shared everything from meals to intimate bike trips and trips to cafes.  The two Americans sat on the back of our Chinese collaborators bikes, which drew quite a few looks and laughs across the Tsinghua campus. In sharing these experiences as a group, we are definitely forming a more cohesive unit that will be beneficial in adding enjoyment and productivity to the experience moving forward. We are leaning the idiosyncrasies of our very different cultures, and are going to try and learn a new phrase from each other every day. Hopefully by the end of the seminar Adriana and Alec will be able to say more than “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you” in Chinese, and Nancy, Zoe, and Moon will pick up some American slang.

In terms of formal activities, we have done some preliminary fieldwork and practiced a few fieldwork and observing techniques from the Bridge Café in Wudaokou, presented our observations to the rest of the students in the seminar, and have since begun to delve deeper into forming the foundation for our project. Today we explored the topic of food systems in general through a “mind map” in order to come to a more narrow research question that we can use to address the four pillars of sustainability. It took us a while to come to a research question that we all though was relevant and interesting because of the broad spectrum of the topic and an inability to understand one another perfectly. We spent a lot of time discussing and sharing our views over lunch at the canteen and the Paradiso Café during out break. After a few hours of discussion, we ultimately decided on a research question and proceeded to create our action plan for next week–where we are going to go, who we are going to talk to, and when we are going to do it. We all seem to be on the same page and are excited to go into the field and start researching!

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Land Use Team Update

This post is by Tucker Bryant, Zirai Huang, Mercedes Peterson, Yuxiao Pu

The bulk of the progress made so far in team Land Use (a better name is to be decided) has been in solidifying our research purpose, approach, and plan. As far as our purpose is concerned, we decided that, with the resources available to us, we wanted to focus our study on understanding who in Beijing has access to what kinds of services and amenities—a question whose answer lies in the way Beijing’s land is used. We felt that this would be an important question to investigate because answering it will help us understand how different living environments around the city can influence the degree to which a citizen’s day-to-day needs are met, and how a lack of access to certain services can lead to costs (especially environmentally and economically) that have important implications on the sustainability of Beijing’s urban communities.

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Cultural Preservation Team Update

This post is by Alice Fang, Aiwa Musihua, Caroline Nowacki, Qihan (Philip) Luo

To study cultural preservation, our team started by using the mind map method to brainstorm concepts and ideas related to cultural preservation. On this map, we identified six main themes:

  1. Possible conflict between old and new (visible in the spatial space or not);
  2. How to identify what to preserve;
  3. Perception of culture, old and new;
  4. Multiplicity of stakeholders and their diverse interests;
  5. Location of culturally rich districts; and
  6. Cost and benefits of cultural preservation.

From this brainstorming session, we jumped into field study and decided to visit a famous preserved historic district: Dashilar. Dashilar is a traditional neighborhood made of hutongs or narrow alley and located just South of Tian’an Men. The Central Government chose to protect and renovate this area. The facades and shops on the main streets have been rebuilt and repainted and the place is now a vibrant touristic area. Our first fieldwork focused on understanding the nature and number of businesses on the main street, observe who walked in the street and who worked there, and finally interview one person. This person was actually the owner of a courtyard house (Siheyuan) not too far from Dashilar and invited us to visit her courtyard and continue the discussion about the challenges of living there and having to maintain a house that is protected by the Government.

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Bicycle Urbanism Team Update

This post is by Valerie Gamao, Joyce Hujing, J.K., Yipei Shen, Elaine Zhou

Our group is Bicycle Urbanism and Livelihoods. We’re Elaine, Valerie, Yipei, Joyce, and JK. We hail from different states in the US and provinces in China, and three different majors (earth systems, interaction design, and computer science).


Our first day, we brainstormed a variety of questions on urban bicycling and bicycle livelihoods. We used the mind-mapping method to collect all of our questions into four categories: the individual, bicycle, environment, and society. From the brainstorming session, we realized we had so many unanswered questions, even as to “what is a bike?” or what kind of bicycles are relevant to Beijing. Thus, we launched right into our first field study, to get a sense of types of bikes, how and why people bike in this city. We decided to observe the bicycle scene close to our home base: Wudaokou and the Tsinghua East Gate. Our methodology included counting for 6 minutes and informal interviews.

At each site, we recorded 6 minutes of time-lapse footage and counter the number of bikers passing by, as categorized by the types of bike (mechanical, electric, or electric scooter). At Wudoukou, we found 28 mechanical bikes, 9 electric bikes, and 25 scooters. There were many more cars and didn’t seem to be a clear preference for bicycle type. However, it was evident that different bikes were favored by particular demographics — younger people for electric bikes and scooters, versus older folks for mechanical bikes. At the East Gate however, we found 113 mechanical bikes, 11 electric bikes, and 19 electric scooters. With the focus narrowed down to a student demographic on a university campus, the preference for mechanical bikes is very clear.

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