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.

Down the road, just past Peking University’s West Gates in the 承泽园 community, residents rely on coal powered boilers to heat older residences in the winter.  Soon, perhaps even by the end of summer, many of the houses in this community will be demolished; the official notices have not been issued, but the residents are aware of the community’s fate.

In Beijing, redevelopment can be divided into two initial pathways: demolition followed by the building of new structures and renovation of existing structures.  The 承泽园 community expects to travel both routes.  Younger structures that predominately occupy the southern half of the community will be demolished, while many of the more historic, more ornate buildings in the northern half of the community will be saved and assumedly remodeled at a later time.

Within this process, there are opportunities for three kinds of buildings to re-evaluate their heating technologies and practices.  The first kind is the new structures that will replace the existing structures in the southern half of the community.  The second of kind is the existing structures that will assumedly remain untouched in the short term, and the final kind is the future of these preserved buildings.  Our goal is to understand the possibilities for heating redesign in these three kinds of structures.

Already, our project has evolved dramatically from our team’s first discussions three days ago.  Assigned to the topic of energy, specifically energy use tied to residencies, the topic of coal use within homes quickly emerged.  At the same time, many experts who visited our workshop repeatedly emphasized that the study of Beijing is the study of comparisons—old and new, national and international, static and in flux; altogether, the contrasting characterizations make it impossible to determine an overarching future for the city.  Resolutions in one context might be ineffective or even cause damage in a different context.  Our group knew we wanted to work with comparisons, and given our limited time for research, we worked to define a specific topic and area within the city upon which to focus.

On our team’s second day together, we began with a broader topic, heating in Beijing, and began to work towards a more concise project scope.  First, we split into areas of particular privilege and more typical areas, as we determined that such a division could be the most simplistic of comparisons.  Next, we thought of a series of questions that we would like to ask about a location’s energy use.  This list quickly became a preliminary survey, which we translated into both English and Chinese.  Next, we considered the kinds of individuals we were interested in interviewing.

After lunch, Elsa took leave to get into contact with heating experts at Tsinghua, while the rest of our team headed to Wudaokou’s Bridge Café in search of internet access to collect the most rudimentary of background information.  While our success in connecting to the internet was limited, we took the opportunity to put our preliminary survey to use, interviewing two of the hostesses at the Bridge Café and noting simple observations about the space, including the layout of each of the café’s three floors, the length of customers’ shirts, the temperature of drinks present at table, and the location of different heating and cooling devices on each floor.  Upon returning to Tsinghua, we quickly organized our information on a poster and exchanged stories about or first fieldwork exercise with the other teams.  Before leaving the classroom for the day, we considered the ways in which we might move forward

Today, on our third project day, we considered our underlying reasons for pursuing the topic of heating in Beijing.  At this point in time, our team was favoring researching heating in elementary schools, focusing on the Elementary School Attached to Tsinghua University and a less privileged school, perhaps in south Beijing or a school for migrant workers’ children.  Christina expressed interest in considering heating as an important aspect of a building’s energy audit.  Additionally, she brought up the ties between heating methods and health, particularly indoor pollutants.  I was interested in discovering what methods were used to ensure that classrooms were comfortable for students to complete their schoolwork in cold winter months, especially as a case study of unequal school conditions in different communities.

Before lunch, we narrowed our location list down to 前门,鼓楼大街,and the area just past Peking University’s West Gate, an area whose name we could not immediately recall.  Given our limited time for research after lunch, we determined it best to visit the area past Peking University’s West Gate, an area that I have often jogged through, an area very dear to me.  After taking a short cab ride to the West Gate, we walked past a breakfast corner, a garden in an area that may once have been filled with water, and several old, grey buildings just past the garden.  We continued to walk westward, passing an area of fruit, vegetable, and nut stalls and crossing over a river.

A number of inconsistent signs from differing time periods mark the entrance of one sectioned off community, just past a repair tricycle on the other side of the waterway.  Two official 北大 signs in differing styles deem the small community, “承泽园 .”Another faded white sign reads, “北京大学科学与社会研究中心.”  A final sign, this one a grey stone placard that sat on the sidewalk read, “北京是文物保护单位/承泽园/北京市人民政府二零一一年六月十三日公布/北京市文物局二零一儿年六月立.”  The combination of such signs seemed to beckon us, and we crossed inside, passing a security guard, comfortably slouched on a chair just inside the community’s entrance.

Walking around the small enclave, we noted the diversity of styles, including linear red brick structures, traditional grey buildings, and spaces enclosed by metal that were added to older structures at a later time.  Electric wires crossed their way into the enclave, but other indications of the locale’s energy infrastructures remained hidden on this first visit.  Meanwhile, the most obvious adornments of the area were the hanging red banners, which stretched across gates, bushes, and buildings.  On the far west end of the community, in front of a small garden of lettuce, eggplant, and tomatoes, a woman passed us by slowly, lingering several meters away clearly curious about the new visitors that had come to the community.  We took this opportunity to talk very informally to her.

The structure behind her was heated by coal in a boiler in the winter, and she didn’t know the age of the structure behind her, but it was 马上 going to be demolished.  We were thrown for a curve.  Which buildings?  Not that old building, correct?  In a sentence or two, she described the fate of the community: the oldest buildings were to be saved, but the newer of the old buildings would be torn down.  She was very unclear about the future schematic of the community, and she was also unsure of where she move, indicating that her home was one of the homes that would be demolished.  Afterwards, she invited us to look at the pigeons kept in an enclosure on one resident’s rooftop.  We left the community, and looped further westward to find a taxi to take back to the Qinghua campus.

Back at Tsinghua, we reflected on the day and prepared additional questions to ask one of Elsa’s friends, a graduate student studying HVAC at Qinghua University.  As our last task of the day, we interviewed Peng Fei 鹏飞.  This experience was equally overwhelming and enlightening.  Fei walked Elsa and I through the four most common forms of heating in both old and new architecture, including the types of fuels and devices used in each heating method.  Additionally, I talked to Fei and Elsa about fracking technology, as I was surprised to find that Fei had not heard of the unconventional fossil fuel extraction technique.  In return, Fei discussed some of the research that Tsinghua University is leading in terms of CHP efficiencies.

As Christina visits Hefei this weekend and researches coal policies and heating techniques remotely, I will work on drawing a map of 承泽园.  On Monday, we will focus on ground research.  We hope to finish research within 承泽园 on Monday and Tuesday, leaving Wednesday open to interview related sources outside of the 承泽园 community, including looking into how heating devices and energy currencies such as coal are purchased.  Beginning on Monday, our work within 承泽园 will hopefully further define our project.