The restored courtyard at 12 Mijia Xiang now serves as the GHF field office and a visitor and community center. Photo: Wang Xiaodong
Dr. Vincent Michael, a member of GHF’s Senior Advisory Board (SAB), recently visited Pingyao, where GHF has been working since 2007 to preserve the vernacular architecture, revitalize and stimulate traditional arts, and establish special historic areas. Dr. Michael summarized the trip in an article on his excellent blog, detailing the progress of GHF’s conservation work at Pingyao Ancient City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is considered the first banking capital of China.
In his report, Dr. Michael first recognizes the remarkable work done to restore the courtyard at 12 Mijia Xiang (shown above). Today, the courtyard serves as GHF’s field office, as well as a visitor and community center that every Friday hosts a presentation on local Pingyao culture, including the local dialect (which, like many indigenous cultural expressions, is in danger of being lost).
The article also applauds the conversion of an intrusive, modern two-story cement structure in the courtyard into a traditional yaodong, a parabolic arched vault structure that provides natural heating and cooling. According to Dr. Michael, the yaodong was well documented and serves as testament to the survival of traditional construction techniques within the Pingyao community.
New yaodongs—parabolic arched vault structures—at Pingyao’s 12 Mijia Xiang courtyard. Photo: Vincent Michael
Dr. Michael next acknowledges the work of GHF’s partners at Tongji University, who have completed a detailed conservation plan for Pingyao. The plan incorporates both conservation of important buildings and streetscapes, as well as essential issues of waste and water management, transportation and other elements “essential to the success of heritage conservation as a development modality.”
“Preserving historic buildings is not a challenge to development,” writes Dr. Michael, “it is a kind of development, and it is inherently a more sustainable development model because it incorporates those aspects of a community’s history which the community has determined are central to its identity.”
Dr. Michael also toured the next physical conservation project GHF has planned at Pingyao—Fanjia Jie, a street where the extended Fan clan lived in a series of courtyard houses. Two houses, which have survived as Class I historic buildings, are to be rehabilitated for the families that live there, while the larger plan envisions restoring the entire street—not as a museum, but as a living place. In Dr. Michael’s view, it will be attractive to tourists “because it is authentic, because it is historic and because it is contemporary.”
A courtyard set to be restored as part of GHF’s next physical conservation project at Pingyao. Photo: Vincent Michael
On his trip to Pingyao, Dr. Michael was joined by GHF’s Manager of China Programs, Han Li, GHF Trustee Firth Griffith, and consultant Will Shaw.
Having worked since 1983 as a professional preservationist, Dr. Michael is the John H. Bryan Chair in Historic Preservation at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where he was Director of the Historic Preservation Program from 1996 to 2010. He is also a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and serves as Chair of the Historic Sites Fund Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the Diversity Task Force.
Dr. Michael’s contributions to historic preservation in China have been most felt in Yunnan’s Weishan Heritage Valley, where he has been active for the past seven years. Working in partnership with the Center for US-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University, he frequently brings student study groups to the Southern Silk Road city and documents these trips on his blog, Time Tells.
Click here to explore Pingyao Ancient City on Global Heritage Network