An Analysis of Beijing's Hutongs and Siheyuans: An Urban Tree Approach

Open Access
Ma, Lan
Graduate Program:
Landscape Architecture
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
July 25, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Ronald Eric Henderson, Thesis Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Peter John Aeschbacher, Thesis Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Daniel Leonhard Purdy, Thesis Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • hutongs
  • siheyuans
  • urban tree
  • identity
  • maps
This study seeks to find an appropriate course of action designed to analyze the urban tree distribution in Beijing’s hutong and siheyuan. It aims to preserve and enhance Beijing’s hutongs and other elements of the traditional vernacular city and to thereby reinforce the city’s time-honored characteristics. The proposed action will draw on an urban tree approach to achieve an innovative preservation morphology by establishing procedures to both conserve the traditional identity of the city and provide new opportunities for growth and modernization. Beijing’s hutongs comprise narrow laneways and vernacular courtyard houses arranged in a quadrangle style. As one of the characteristic physical forms of Beijing, hutongs are representative of Beijing’s distinctive identity and as such hold an important place in the collective cultural consciousness. Under the influence of China’s rapid economic development and radical urbanization, many hutongs have been replaced by an urban form that reflects the purpose of presenting a modern image. New apartments, offices, and government buildings have replaced thousands of hutongs, whose residents have been relocated to modern housing complexes. The external forces driving this transformation are modernization and globalization. Additionally, the inadequate development of public infrastructure within the old neighborhoods is a critical internal factor. In order to determine the ways in which the hutong is structurally different from other neighborhoods, the study focuses on hutong neighborhoods in Beijing that exemplify various aspects of and processes relating to neighborhood change, decline, gentrification and stability. The study relies on data collected from visits made to three disparate types of hutong neighborhoods in Beijing. The central approach focuses on the contributions of trees to the urban environments of the hutongs. Other data was obtained through documentary reviews, on-site observations, and interviews with local residents. Ancient maps and satellite images are the primary methods for collecting data pertaining to the historical and current situation of the city’s hutongs.