Renewing Contextualism


Contextualism as a school of thought was first introduced into architecture in 1950’s by English architectural theoretician Collin Rowe. His classic book Collage City brought forward a critical view that modern architecture of the time was destroying fabrics of traditional cities and needed to be stopped. Rowe stated that good urbanism should actively use historical references. In later years after Rowe’s campaign, similar theories were proposed. In recent decades, contextualism can still be seen in thoughts such as New Urbanism, sustainability and even in systems of LEED. The idea of preserving historic fabric in cities and is still see important to healthy cities worldwide.


Preserving cultural heritage and historical fabric is always the most challenging in fast-developing economies. In many cities in China in recent years, large scale development are wiping out existing urban blocks including buildings, streets, vegetation and other urban structures. The new urban blocks are typically high-density rigid cold concrete buildings, without any trace or reference to the old. This large scale destruction of existing urban fabric is called development-deduced Displacement and Resettlement (DIDR). It it causing tremendous negative psychological impacts in resident’s psychological health and have totally altered people’s perception of cities and environment.  

As a design firm, G|SaaN believes in maintaining healthy urban fabric and preserving cultural heritage. In Xinjiang’s Art Center project in China, G|SaaN designers kept elements of existing buildings and incorporate new buildings into the old. Based on relationship with surrounding streets and public spaces, the project site was divided in layered zones with various amount of new construction versus keeping the old. The design scheme of the project used Xinjiang Dance, an important local cultural icon as inspiration for overall image. The resulted new Art Center keeps the old spirit but also rises out to the new era.

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