Ideas | Blog

9, 2013


As a professional space planner and designer of landscape heritage and historical protection, ‘Traditional Culture’ is indispensable research content in each project handled by myself. Traditional culture is to the update & use of traditional space and ascension of new function space, is just like the core of medicines in the prescription of Chinese medicine, which is a key part to heritage context, invigorate the space.

1,  Currently, Chinese society’s attitude towards traditional culture often focuses on the using while ignoring the real inheritance understanding.

Because of the impacts of the modern various political factors and the influx of various thoughts,  spiritual core of China traditional culture  torn to fragments, a short while ago, it is the synonymous of dross and old-fashioned, until now, it becomes blurred even it comes back to us. Now the ’traditional life’ fragments can only be exposed and from the family relatives or  some broken old memories indirectly, while many of them are seen as the  topic at ones’ leisure, or are pushed into the market to be a commercial opportunity. The complete system and network has already disappeared, and Chinese have lost the dependence attached to the gene and blood of the traditional culture.

The word ‘traditional culture’ can be perceived as one kind of emotion that is rejecting you yet attracting you, although departed with the closely related life state, will feeling vacant an helpless when leaving it. In more and more experience with ’internationalization’ way of life at the same time (more about European and American), while more and more lacking the sense of existence, just as if this life change trend and self recognition draw further apart. After long-time being ignored,
It again appears in the public as the advertised unique ‘tool’ , redefined, repackaged and like those branded goods Made in China in general, reviewed and revalued from the international perspective, until back to Chinese people’s life, it tends to be more expensive and difficult to afford.

2, in the space planning, planners have been facing the predicament of the condition that root is hard to find, but also difficult to refuse the demand of the market.

Planners need to understand and recognize the so so-called ‘ complex traditional culture’ information’, and then  extract the materialized and special elements, restructuring and installing them into the new-functional space carries. In other words, planners have been doing translation, translating the traditional cultures into space language, through the way of ‘atmosphere surveyed’ to be received and understood by variety of space users.

People who had contact with the field of culture can understand that in today's China how difficult and tangled thing it is reading and recognizing the ‘traditional culture’.

Hard to find the full and accurate data, impossible to read the value system, and more impossible to find  material template for reference, and too little original materials will lead to the ‘readers’ speculating many contents for no reason to cope with the market eagerly. Indeed, these hypothetical contents are also have to be blended into the cognitive systems of ‘traditional culture’, involved in the wheel of history, hard to distinguish the real from the fake.

Planners are also in such struggling situation, now with a number of monuments rebuilt, historic district renewal and massive urbanization task sprang around, the owners and residents are extremely anxious to cast a longing and doubts eye—‘ must respect the culture!’ ‘Your design must reflect our culture here!’ However, what is the real culture, everybody can’t tell it clearly. So in all doubts, there are still ‘planning and design cultural works’ constantly introduced, and everyone was  settled in the situations of no  standard nor proofs to judge whether the cultural expression of each piece of work is rational depending their own feelings.

Chinese architect Wang Shu  who won the international architectural design award ‘pritzker prize’, whose works are often considered to embody Chinese characteristics of local culture, but really hard to tell to what extent reflecting it. These materials such as brick and wood can evoke the memory and missing attached to Chinese traditional space, even though the space was irrelevant traditionally with the form. Everybody evaluates the culture by receiving the sensory information, while there’re no traditions to follow and discuss on the function use. If it can be said that culture is only one layer of skin from the viewer’s perspective.

3, Any space can’t be departed from the functional or physical form remodeling, culture continues and changes relying on the functions.

Now there are two traditional cultural form in space: the difference in the presence of ‘exhibits type’, and ‘consumption type’ in commercial use.

Differences between traditional culture exist: because of systematic traditional culture forms are more distant from modern people's lives, the characteristics of differences embodied are more and more, the probability in life is less and less, and the ascertain desires of curiosity is more and more. Thus traditional culture space of ‘exhibits type’ emerges as time required, just as the cultural relics exhibition covered by glasses in the Museum, the more typical is all kinds of cultural heritage, cultural relic protection unit, who often judge its presence as a tourist attraction in order to balance the cost of maintenance, and to increase the local finance, such as the Imperial Palace, the Summer Palace in Beijing, the Humble Administrator's Garden, the nets garden in Suzhou etc.. The space carrying the real Chinese traditional culture has been completely divorced from the needs of human life, out of the function of the original system to become the only existed traditional culture ‘bonsai’ in the Chinese land nowadays. The country has set up strict protection regulations for the comprehensive protection unconditionally, schist tile are not allowed to touch and change.  People hesitate it with awe and curious mood, only for seeing the Chinese traditional ‘remains’, or called ‘specimen’.

‘Consumption type’ traditional space means having been a breakthrough in pure ornamental and research functions, having updated the space used in the modern life, and the elements of traditional culture plays roles in promoting its consumption, creating atmosphere and upgrading the grades. To this kind of space alone, we usually determine its update forms depending on the extent of the original space to retain the traditional physical forms: some make parts of renovation to adapt to the new functional needs based on original traditional part, some continually use the traditional methods to reshape space based on the original surrounding environments, while others only replicate and apply the traditional elements into the atmosphere décor component in the new urban area.

While each kind of them is the very difficult sort in the planning and design: parts of renovation based on original traditional part, or based on the original surrounding environments, are always the subject that the scholars of the field debated, and never inconclusive on the extent of conservation and renewal. Leifeng Tower’s reconstruction and Datong City restoration alone, both occupying the cusp of the media view.

Replicating and applying the traditional elements into the atmosphere décor component in the new urban area, which seems having little limitation, but it also greatly test designer's skill, whether it can really create good ’traditional atmosphere’, or  convey a genuine’ China Style’. However, most of the embarrassed things is that many boutiques made in the traditional space, such as those luxury hotel space series, are mostly from the foreign designer, Amanfayun in Hangzhou as example, with extremely concise manner to combine the modern hotel function and traditional atmosphere.

Amanfayun Group was founded in South East Asia, with their own interpretation of the local culture, creating its own regional characteristic hotel. It lies in the located on the edge of Lingyin Temple, where is original ancient village in Tianzhu area, after it turned into a hotel, the village still keep ecru. The hotel reinforced the structures of all the farmhouses, inviting the old workers repairing muddy walls, grounds and installing the floor heating, Indonesian designer Jaya Pratomo Ibrahim deliberately deliberately keep logs color of all Chinese elm furniture, letting time infiltration, and also avoiding red and brown lines which will cause too much pent up house atmosphere. The hotel expressed its will of localization of in a variety of ways. Hangzhou and the teahouse owner and university teacher Pang Ying is invited by British Hotel General Manager IanWhite, opening teahouse, holding ‘tea talk’. White hopes that ‘the hotel guests can see or experience the real Hangzhou people’s elegant lives.’  (see
Lingyin Temple  and Yongfu Temple have become good neighborhoods under the license of the abbots. Yongfu Temple firstly hosted the opening blessing ceremony for the teahouse, while ‘Linyin  vegetarian restaurant’ shows the close relationship with the temple directly with the branded form. There’s no plausible ’imitation meat dishes’ in the ‘High-end vegetarian’ menu, instead of the highly sophisticated ingredients: black truffle, morel, cordyceps...... (see

The interior design is all made of wooden furniture and vintage old house, Aman designs with the conception of ‘eighteenth Century China village’, so there’s no bright lamps indoors replaced by a lot of yellow lights, as far as possible to restore the old candle light.

Aman is currently one of the most famous Chinese domestic hotel, the infiltration of the hotel environment and culture idea breaks through the hotel function, while becoming a scenic spot, even a cultural ‘idol worship’ to everyone.

Aman's success also reflects on one side that, under the Chinese  complicated thoughts and information background in recent years, mature Chinese traditional design conception disappears locally, but there exists some deep cultivated designers in Taiwan, Xinjiapo etc.. who comb the threads finely. While at the same time, from their own cultural perspective, we closely involved in it can’t see clearly for the sake of the state of mind. The traditional culture can be understood and felt with the state of detached pure mind.

4, Conclusion

How to solve this dilemma is to be decided. I’m also often confused with options how to decide among the receiving foreign thoughts openly and carefully studying the traditional culture, while just as it’s said previously, leaving the origin is like bird having no branches to habitat, despite the impacts of traditional culture loom, it’s always there, waiting for the twirling of times when it’ll again return to Chinese life.