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New book spotlights 20th-century architectural heritage

By Yang Xiaoyu | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-05-08 14:08

20th Century Architectural Heritage Reader. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

When it comes to architectural heritage, people cannot help but first think of architectural sites such as the Great Wall, Egyptian pyramids and European Medieval cathedrals.

However, compared with those centuries-old or millennia-old buildings which have become research subjects and tourist attractions, landmarks witnessing recent history or recording contemporary memories remain under the radar.

20th Century Architectural Heritage Reader, a new illustrated book launched on May 4 in Beijing, aims to shed light on the living but often ignored landmarks created in the last century and open a chapter for their protection.

Published by China Intercontinental Press, the publication marks a three-year-long joint endeavor by the Chinese Cultural Relics Society and the Architectural Society of China.

The committee on 20th-century architectural heritage affiliated with the Chinese Cultural Relics Society compiled the book.

Embellished with more than 500 pictures and embracing 21 articles written by some 20 experts and scholars in the field of architecture and heritage studies, the reader is geared towards architecture students and the general public alike.

Through reading the book, readers gain a panoramic view of 20th-century architectural development and learn about the stories of modern architects. They can also find answers to several questions such as what kind of buildings can be considered as architectural heritage of the 20th century, why we should pay attention to and protect it, what value lies behind it, and how the UNESCO World Heritage List views it, according to the book’s editorial board.

“If we need to pay homage to the Chinese-style modernization through architecture, 20th-century architectural works are no doubt the best choice,” said Jin Lei, editor-in-chief of the book.

Tremendous social revolutions and technological advancements took place in the 20th century, during which China evolved from a feudal, agrarian society into a modern socialist one, experts and scholars noted at the launch ceremony.

“The 20th century has generously given us so much architectural heritage, arguably more than the total the previous 5,000 years had given us,” said Shan Jixiang, head of the Chinese Society of Cultural Relics and former director of the Palace Museum.

“But so many buildings have been demolished and lost to history because we did not treasure them,” he added.

Shan, who had been head of the National Cultural Heritage Administration for ten years before becoming director of the Palace Museum in 2012 and served as a national political advisor between 2003 and 2013, has been in the vanguard of advocating for the protection of 20th-century architectural heritage.

Shan rued the demolition of the old railway station in Jinan, capital of Shandong province. Designed by a German architect in the Gothic style in 1908, it used to be the largest railway station in Asia and carried a collective memory of generations of residents. It was demolished amid a huge controversy in 1992 and replaced by a new station.

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