Beijing (1950s) / Engineers v.s. Architects

Beijing (1950s) / Engineers v.s. Architects
Hua Nangui’s Diagrammatic Sketch on Beijing’s Redevelopment © 1986, 北京建设史书编辑委员会编辑部

In engineers, I see efficiency. During the phase of early construction, engineers were inclined to solve problems rather straight-forward. And on cultural heritage, engineers held different values from architects. One of the famous engineers was Hua Nangui.

Hua Nangui stood against preservation of the ancient city in its entirety. In his opinion, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tai He Dian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhong He Dian) and the Hall of Preserved Harmony (Bao He Dian) are cultural relics which deserved preservation, as with the Summer Palace, but the city walls which are  “bricks and earth” are not included (Beijing Daily, 1957, p.2).

Hua Nangui’s Diagrammatic Sketch on Beijing’s Redevelopment © 1986, 北京建设史书编辑委员会编辑部
Hua Nangui’s Diagrammatic Sketch on Beijing’s Redevelopment © 1986, 北京建设史书编辑委员会编辑部

In Hua Nangui’s proposal, city walls are demolished to make room for ring roads. Only a few architectural monuments remain, such as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Temple of Earth and Tiananmen Square. The city is thickly dotted with small squares without much difference between one and another. The city’s fabric is composed of nets, which is evidently designed for traffic efficiency.

The aim of Hua Nangui, an engineer, is to maximize efficiency and usable space out of the possible situation. He might view his proposal much more cost-effective and with higher utilization efficiency. Architectural relics, on the other hand, are simply obstructions on his way towards modernity, of which only a small proportion deserves preservation as symbolic representation of the city identity.

On the basis of different education they received and values they formed accordingly, architects and engineers concentrate on their own professional pursuit. As Liang Sicheng wrote to Nie Rongzhen, the then mayor of Beiping, “Civil engineers specialize in designing construction projects such as railways, highways, water control facilities and bridges. Their knowledge of architectural structures is limited to calculation and use of building materials.” (Liang, 1986), Liang Sicheng see engineers as too straight-forward and criticized Hua Nangui’s proposal as “doctrine of exclusive concern for communication.” Yet Hua Nangui believed that engineers did not draw sufficient attention they deserved in city planning and even complaint to the leaders about their “attaching too much importance to architects while failing to pay sufficient attention to civil engineers.” (Liang, 1950)

Between historical relics and modern efficiency, engineers are inclined to efficiency. Engineers see demolish and construction as  a must for the sake of efficiency.


Beijing Daily, (1957). People’s Deputy Hua Nangui Inspects Beijing — He Stands for Demolishing City Walls. p.2.

北京建设史书编辑委员会编辑部, (2014). Beijing’s Urban Construction since the Birth of New China. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Vol. IV of Selected Works of Liang Sicheng, (1986). Beijing: China Construction Industry Press.

Liang Sicheng’s work notes, (1950), by courtesy of Lin Zhu.


2 Comments on “Beijing (1950s) / Engineers v.s. Architects

  1. In ancient China, there was not a role called architect. It was always craftsman who manage the construction. As influenced by Western culture, the role of ‘engineer’ and ‘architect’ started to arise. The comparison between these two roles is always made. Yet, it is unusual to see the comparison using a Chinese project and background, which is good to see. Sufficient quotes describing what engineer and architect do respectively are included, making the comparison more valid.

  2. Efficiency and Authenticity are always two unavoidable problems in dealing with cultural heritage. In fact, there are different understanding about Efficiency in different historical periods. That’s a good view to explain the change of Beijing from the difference among Politicians, Engineers and Architects. That is the new political power which lead to drastically change the old Beijing in 1950s.The powers of Engineers and Architects were so small in protection that the wall was destroyed in their crying.

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