31 December 2011


Wushang Gaungchang is a rebuilt commercial area located in Hangzhou. It gives a taste of what old China was like to satisfy the touristic desires of modern Chinese and foreigners alike. Most of it is all new construction, which is a testimony to both the degree that traditional Chinese architecture has suffered and to low standards for heritage conservation. I did, however, spend a bit of time venturing behind the newly constructed facades of Hefang Jie to get a glimpse of some more hopeful signs of what can be done with enough care and attention to the past. More often than not historic buildings with an even greater pedigree are torn down.  In the video at 0:56 it is possible to spot a hastily spray painted character in a white circle, 拆, which is shorthand for demolish. It is a common site in all Chinese cities. I have a background in restoration so it was remarkable to witness the slower, more deliberate efforts on maintaining these buildings. I enjoy finding positive developments in China. I took these photos in 2009 and have not been back to Hangzhou since.

The above photos gives a good sense of the nature and methods of construction. I cannot date when these structures were originally built. It is possible to see the combination of post and beam construction with the major members still in the round along with sawn boards and plaster lathe to fill in the voids. The one wall in this case is of common red brick with a mortar overcoat. The roofing material is made up of grey overlapping clay tiles. The tarpaper seems to have been an attempt to lessen the discomfort of these draughty buildings or a sign that at one time the residence was subdivided.
These two workers unwittingly posed for me. It's possible to see a single beveled hatchet in hand that is used to remove the waste from the mortises that one is sitting on. The plane seems to be handmade or passed down through the generations.
In another section, two more workmen are assembling timbers. The scarf joint on the right hand side stands out as an example of their craftsmanship. It was undoubtedly cut with the bowsaw that rests against it. The posts rest on a carved or turned stone plinths.
A closeup of another scarf joint. I see no evidence of any mechanical fasteners on these joints.

Another workman lays out the mortises on another timber, using an ink brush and a very light square. An off-centered tenon cut to fit and match up flush with one side of a round post can be seen.
A view from the courtyard reveals the state of the original workmanship. Original woodwork stands out as darkly oxidized in contrast with the newly placed vertical pine paneling. The delicate tracery of the banister molding shows loss. The various pieces might be for disposal or to be part or the reassembly. One leg of sawhorse rests on the pile.
Looking up at the second floor walkway from the central courtyard, it's possible to see the degree of loss and one step in the restoration process. Along the dripline can be seen the decorated ends of the clay roofing tiles.

A close-up of one area where the woodwork seems to have suffered very little damage. By eye, it looks to be machined applique in this case. A beaded edge highlights the arris on this and many wooden elements.

Here a stonemason cuts the design for a drain cover. I have seen many examples of this kind of onsite work being done in China when one might expect it to arrive finished from a quarry.

Lastly there is this image showing the construction of some of the buildings in this area. This exterior wall consisted of random use of stone and brick masonry covered with a thick sort of daub onto which was applied a smooth plaster coating. The effect was to give an appearance of solidity and uniformity.

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