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Exploring China's new frontier ep.4: Disappearing architecture: Kashgar's urban renewal yields mixed results

Reporter: Han Bin 丨 CCTV.com

10-04-2016 05:59 BJT

Full coverage: Xinjiang: Exploring China’s New Frontier

Flat roofs, mud walls, small windows and square layout. Uyghur-style homes are typical of those found in Central Asia. The architecture in the Islamic region has been influenced by Persian and Arab cultures. Some of the best examples of traditional Uyghur-style homes can be found in Kashgar. The city is located where the Taklamakan Desert meets the Tianshan Mountains. For more than a thousand years, it was a key hub along the ancient Silk Road. Today reporter Han Bin looks at how modernization is transforming the city, as locals try to preserve its character.

Some things haven't changed in Kashgar's Old City. The majority of the houses have been renovated, but here in the Gaotai ancient residential area, the Uyghur style still dominates.

26-year-old Rustam Abudueni lives here with his parents. His home is one of the nearly 500 households which have withstood the changing times. So far.

"This is where we have lived for generations. I hope the houses will be reinforced, so that we can continue to stay here forever," Abudueni

This small section of the Old City is preserved as a showcase of Kashgar's past.
But the houses are dilapidated.

We’ve been told that the old sections of Kashgar are the best example of the traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in Central Asia. To walk through the narrow lanes of the old city is to walk through living history. And in these tiny alleys, you are walking straight into people’s lives.

Kashgar is changing. Right down to the centuries-old adobe. 46-year-old Askar Mollahun is a senior architect. He's passionate about the Old City. Renovation began 7 years ago. The government aims to stabilize the old houses, and promises better living conditions. But where has the traditional architecture--and its wisdom--gone?

"The traditional Uyghur architectural style is usually closed to the outside, but has an internal open courtyard-style layout, like having a big front hall with a skylight. The façade is often simple and plain. They rarely open windows, unless very small ones, considering the privacy of the room," Mollahun said.

Askar says like many cities, Kashgar has in some ways lost its old style to progress.

"The neighborhood layout of the Old City represents a free style of combination, but there is a very harmonious interlacing of some spaces. Most rooms are connected. There are different levels of scattered buildings, with space changes and a lot of lighting changes," Mollahun said.

In fact, Askar has taken part in the renovation. He thinks it's his best chance for keeping the best of the Old City. He wants Kashgar to remain a vibrant hub of Uyghur culture.

"As urbanization speeds up across the country, many traditional villages and historical sites or constructions are disappearing. Through my years of research, I’ve found there’re still quite a number of valuable traditional neighborhoods and communities that need immediate protection," Mollahun said.

Renovation seems inevitable. Building the new is a trend most Chinese cities are pursuing. Rustam wants to stay in the old houses, though he doesn’t know how long they can stand. He says moving to a modern building will be like putting his pigeons in cages.

But living in the Old City gives his spirit freedom to soar.

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