The trajectory of water in the Chinese context has been long; from its philosophical origins as an element of recreation and protection, it was first privatized in Imperial times, and later institutionalized as an infrastructure in the production machine of Socialist China. Today, many of Beijing’s scarce water resources remain bracketed into the pictorial and the engineered. Water enjoys little engagement with public life, and has instead come to represent both social inequality and ecological neglect in the manner of its distribution and consumption.
Our proposal breaks down Beijing’s contemporary relationship with water through a comprehensive democratization of the Tonghui. This act begins by exposing new processes of water treatment and purification such that they are made visible to the public. The river is integrated with the urban realm as a singular system through functionally driven strategies that embrace its manifold opportunities. Water supports a food industry in legitimizing the city’s marginalized communities by folding them into the mainstream. It also offers productive, community-driven engagement in the form of recreation, bio-tourism, resilient ecologies, flood control, and integrated living.
A number of ‘water towns’ along the riverfront are linked not by a single spatial narrative, but by the instrumentalization of water as a productive landscape across varying degrees of rehabilitation and food production. Within the framework of a global metropolis, the project balances the scope for new resource-efficient lifestyles with the realities of urban growth. At the scale of the individual, the project becomes an exercise in programming the irreducible unit of development not as a backdrop but as an active frame for functional waterscapes.
Water is then the backbone of a new kind of fabric-making that promotes quality urbanism, ecological restoration, economic sustenance and social integration without resorting to the nostalgia of the hutongs. It breaks free of its current shackles in becoming both an amenity and a resource for a new and responsible Beijing.