The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1895] The Revival Of The City Wall and "Paoma Dao" Currere


The City Wall of Xi’an, which originated in Tang Dynasty(634AD) and was rebuilt in Ming Dynasty?1378AD?, is considered as the monument of the history and the most important symbol of Xi’an. It is not only the most perfectly preserved castle building in China, but also has the largest scale of the world. The City Wall locates in the core area of this big city and is the landmark to distinguish the in-city and out-city. The “Paoma Dao”, which is directly translated as “Horse Running Road”, is a ring road that sticks closely inboard of the city wall. It was designed and built at the very beginning, used to correspond messages and transport equipments in the wartime. The citizens were not allowed to live in nor even open doors towards this road in the ancient times. As the defendant function of the city wall disappeared, besides historical relic value and its tourism value, the city wall is playing a passive role in the modern city: it blocks the connection of out-city and in-city, enables worsening the environment close to the “Paoma dao” day by day.

When we pay attention to children living in our city, there is a particular but very common phenomenon in China today that most of the families in cities have only one child. Especially, the children ages from 12 to 18, such as the school students, are too old for playground but too young for the adult world, having no places to go to, they are in the vacuum of the city’s attentions and cares. In my investigation, a middle school student told me: “My friends and I enjoy spending time together, but we cannot find a suitable place to hang out. Most of the time, we meet at the shopping mall around the corner, or play outside the convenience store across from school. Exercising is the most popular recreation activity amongst people of my age, but unfortunately there is very little opportunity to purse sports in my city.” As a result, they have to stay at home besides school time. Living in such an environment, some of them have the syndrome of e-games, syndrome of high building and lonely sickness of child. What they need is a place to play, to communicate, to remember…

According to the theory of the development of children, in the progress of personality forming, children need plenty social space and psychological space. Therefore, the society and parents should pay attention to children’s right of expressing their views and thoughts, offering them a childhood with enough space and without threaten or frighten.

Children require guidance and nurturing in order to develop into healthy, stable teenagers and adults. This is true regardless of culture, urban or rural setting, and family situation. What can help to make a difference in the lives of children? Perhaps a place to go outside of school or the home where young people can recreate at their own pace in fields of interest, such as sports, music, art, and science. In this place, children can also learn about cultures, specifically those different from their own in the local community. This may be especially important if there are local cultural tensions. The facility will of course, provide adult support because many, if not most kids, need a positive adult figure besides their parents and/or guardians to help counsel, inspire, and teach. A multi-purpose community place and recreation facility might help to strengthen the community by providing a meeting place for social and civic events, such as elections, meetings, festivities, and shelter. Healthy food and clean water will be available in this facility.

The city wall is just like a grandfather, and we are all his children. Let the new generation to live, play, and grow up in his arms is undoubtedly a good choice and a way to solve the children’s problem. His strong arms—the wall that has a height of 15 meters, can protect the people inside from the noise and the danger of the traffic. Our architects and city planners can redevelop the “Paoma Dao” currere and reuse this ring road as the background, constructing a place for children and their families in our city, utilizing it by modern means. Building a walking system, in such a space children would be safely protected and at the same time, possessing the same freedom of mobility as an adult, perhaps instilling in them an independence of thought as well as movement.

The richness of Xi’an is her long history and culture. Around the city wall, there are many antiquities which are not sufficiently and organically exploited; they are the nodes of the in-city, geographically and historically, such as “Shuyuan Gate” (street for antiques), “Hui People Culture Center”, etc. After the exploitation, what will be provided for the children and their families is not only a fascinating place to go to, but also a good chance to feel the special space under the city wall and remember the culture and long history of Xi’an. At the same time, the children can also bring vitality to the old areas around the city wall. By this mean, the appearance and tourism economic of Xi’an can also be greatly improved.

But just forcefully cleaning up the environment of Paoma Dao and letting the children play in this ring road is obviously irresponsible. The currere is somewhat a living thing and it is also an important social being of our city. In that regard, to be successful, it must show a balance between all its sociological parts: the children, the adults, the locals and the government. In “The timeless way of building”, the author points out that the ample and complex system grows up from thousands of creative activities. Our streets, building, and city become living from our common activities. Jane Jacobs speaks eloquently of a city's memory being formed by its streets. Images of urbanity mixed with heritage and natural landscape, an inherent equality among people of diverse cultures, a ubiquitous sustenance, a sense of process with a beginning and an end, and above everything, a great place to be.

After times of long walking to finish the whole circular, I was deeply moved by the people living there and shocked by the situations there. In my investigation, I discovered that the residents there have been living by the Paoma Dao currere for several generations. On the one hand, the City Wall plays a vital role of protection, both physically and psychologically, the currere is their most important activity place at where the adults can play cards and Chinese chess, the children can play with each other and even climb on the high wall as games. On the other hand, the circumstance and the public security there is really depressed. It has been through years of neglecting?encroachments by private parties and incompatible new construction on adjacent open plots were seriously jeopardizing the historic character and architectural fabric of the old city. What is more, lots of the folk houses have been demolished, instead of very tall and disharmonious modern buildings.

We do need to improve the Paoma Dao currere, but the local people can not be overlooked. The revival of the City Wall should not build on the damaging of the traditional life styles which is originated under the wall. The character of every space is given by the mode of the occurrence happening there. Paying heed to simple little details will undoubtedly make a difference, so architects must realize that while designing public places they must not confine people's activities but let the space be defined by the activities instead.

The Paoma Dao currere has a always width of approximately 6-10 meters, and according to the theory of Edward T Hall in his book “The Dormant Yardstick ”, it is abundant and comfortable as a living space. After my investigation and research, a proposal to solve the problem based on architecture means has come out.

First, a walking system should be built by reusing the ring road as a background. Based on the theory of Jan Gehl in his book “Life Between Buildings”, the traffic intensity has a big influence on the communication and activities of people living by the street. After three days’ observation, traffic intensity there is lower than 2000 cars per day and the outdoor activities are in a high level. Considering there has already been a main circular road out the city, the car will be prohibited on Paoma Dao and a walking system will instead.

Second, another important improvement is combining the spaces at different height levels. The interior space of Paoma Dao is clamped between the city wall and local houses, the people living on the ground are always being watched by the travelers, who are always going sightseeing on the city wall. The two sides have seldom communicated, neither verbally nor emotionally. After children taking part in the place, the two spaces should be better connected, and people (both children, their parents and travelers) there can have more choices, staying under the wall to enjoy the peace or climb up the city wall for a good view.

Third, the whole circle will be divided into 7 sections by their inherent functions and specialties. Every part of the new Paoma Dao currere will maintain their personality and simultaneously connect together as a whole. Eventually, the ring road will be like a vessel, nurturing the whole city and vitality it.

1. Folk House culture district The antique folk houses can be reused as a holiday camp just for children and other time will serve as hotels for travelers. In the Folk House camp, different from living in the high buildings, children can play, communicate and live with others in the Chinese traditional courts, by this way they can feel the atmosphere of neighborhood which would nearly extinct in the modern city. And the local people will get profits from the traveling as return.

2. Antique Temples Culture District In this area, there are many antiquities of Buddhism. Some of them were built in Tang Period, acting as cherish culture heritage of the old city. The district is an irreplaceable node of traveling route.

3. Shuyuan Gate. The Shuyuan Gate is the most typical representation of the culture of the south part, and is where the intelligentsias reside in traditionally. It is now a street, with traditional buildings, selling calligraphies, antiques and so on. You can always see people drawing or writing calligraphy on the street. Children here can get myriad of knowledge of art and comprehension of the history of our city. The Forest of Steles, which is seen as the halidome of the art of calligraphy, is in the core area. Just as a big museum, it is the biggest treasury of paintings, calligraphies, and stone books.

4. Hui People History District There are 10 mosques of different periods and shapes. About 20 thousand Hui people are living by the mosques, maintain the original religion tradition and living habits. It shows a multipliable culture atmosphere, having unique historical and cultural values. Such luxuriant culture is what we should not miss. The Hui culture will develop under the city wall, all of us (children with parents, and travelers) can experience the life of Hui people. The new generation will better understand the differences of races. The involvement of the children of minority races also has significant value. Children of different races can nurture the friendship from childhood and learn a lot of knowledge from each other.

5. Defu Street for diet culture. It is the best place for tasting all kinds of food. China is famous for her diet culture, and Defu Street is the represent of the northwestern part. Eating here is not just having foods, but from another aspect to feel the culture of the old city. The street has got foods such as “lamp with steamed bun”, “roast lamp”, and so on. Children will surely like such a street.

6. Xiangmi Natural Garden. Children here can experience the pleasure come from nature. The children who live in city for long time are becoming stranger and stranger with the true nature. What in their view are always high buildings, skyscrapers, motor mobiles… Closely contacting with the nature world is the best present for them. It is also a very good process to learn scientific knowledge of nature. The children can experience what they learned in the school, what they seen in the picture, what they heard from their parents, here even a flower or a plant of grass will move the children. At the same time, the natural garden is the best playground and provides fresh air; it can greatly improve the children’s physical condition.

7. A street based on the folk-custom for gathering, rest and drama. Walking here, the traditional drama—Qinqiang, can be watched just on the street. People will naturally be involved in the atmosphere and by this mean better understand the character of locals. The street will also show us a vivid picture of folk-custom which is composed of paper-cutting, sweetmeats-crafting, etc. They are the arts created from the real life.

In Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities she set out 6 refreshingly sensible and straightforward rules that support a healthy and vibrant urban quarter, which in summary are these: That there should be a clear distinction between what is public and private space, there must be eyes upon the street of those who live there, and that the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously. Furthermore, the district must serve more than one primary function, preferably more than two, blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent, and that the district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones. After the improvement, the Paoma Dao currere does indeed meet all these criteria.

After the improvement, the City Wall and Paoma Dao are not just a historical showpiece to admire but a place that function again to nurture the new generation. In future too, the system might change in some way, but it is the beauty of observing the changing scene never mundane, never boring that succeeds a place as truly vigorous. Places become popular when people can relate with its essence; passion belies all expression. The future of this revival space lies with us and particularly with our children, we not only hand them the living history but also need them to write a new chapter. That will eventually make our city---Xi’an a better place to live in.


(1) Alexander Christopher, The Timeless Way of Building

(2) Jacobs Jane, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

(3) Jan Gehl, Life Between Buildings

And all references available.

Special thanks to the children and the residents of the Paoma Dao who accept my investigation, they treated me kindly and patiently when they were having the Chinese most important festival—Spring Festival.

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