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Project Profile


2005 Honouable Mention

Zhaoxiang Huang Ancestral Hall

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Project Title: Zhaoxiang Huang Ancestral Hall

Location: Foshan, Guangdong, China

Size2,263 square metres (floor area); 3,060 square metres (land area)

Cost: US$ 678,160

Responsible Party: Wu Qingzhou Urban Construction Bureau

Heritage ArchitectWu Qingzhou, Feng Shu, Feng Jiang, Ou Jie, Zhou Yigang and Xiao Min

Contractor: First Building Construction Company

Date of Completion: January 2002

Project Synopsis

Zhaoxiang Huang Ancestral Hall is located in the historic city core of Foshan in Guangdong Province in southeastern China. Foshan is noted as one of the principal centres of Cantonese opera. The hall memorializes Huang Danian, the founder of the renowned Chinese traditional medicine “Huang Xianghua Medicated Balm”. Constructed over a period of 15 years between 1905 and 1920, the Zhaoxiang Huang Ancestral Hall covers an area of about 3,060 square metres. It is the largest ancestral hall still in existence in central Foshan today.

The Zhaoxiang Huang Ancestral Hall architectural complex typifies the ancestral hall typology of the Pearl River Delta area. Facing east, the property is divided into three sections, each with a courtyard. The main buildings, the “Main Gate”, the “Altar Pavilion” and the “Main Hall” are sited along a central axis. The flanking smaller structures are symmetrically positioned and are connected to the main buildings via lanes. With its sense of antiquity, elaborate design and rich ornamentation, Zhaoxiang Huang Ancestral Hall is considered one of the best remaining examples of this building type in Foshan. In recognition of its high historic and artistic value, the hall has been included on Guangdong Province’s Historic Units List.

The hall survived decades of wars, social-cultural shifts and massive urban construction of recent years. With the migration of the descendants of the founding Huang Family to Hong Kong, Macao and abroad, the hall was abandoned and fell into disrepair. By the end of the twentieth century the complex was in a dilapidated state. Wall surfaces were in a poor condition and the buildings’ rectangular stone pavement blocks were broken or sunken. Some parts of the beams and columns had suffered termite attack, resulting in cracks and missing fabric in need of reinforcement. Ornaments of the main ridges on all of the buildings of the complex were missing and ornaments of the side-walls had been destroyed or covered with cement. Moreover, part of the roof at the entrance gate had collapsed, leading to rainwater penetration and deterioration of interior elements.

While some alterations had been made, the overall configuration of the building and its site had remained generally intact and the structure had retained its integrity. Several additions detracted from the historic character of the property, however. Such additions included the installation of new doors, windows, partition walls and roofs in many places. Furthermore, past repairs had diminished the appearance of the original lime-plaster walls.

A project to restore the hall was officially launched in 2000, sponsored jointly by non-governmental organizations and the local government. The project’s aim was to preserve the valuable cultural heritage represented by the hall and adapt the building into a museum, providing a dynamic public space for the benefit of the local community.

The conservation project adopted a multilateral participation model. This required inputs from the property’s trustees, research organizations, cultural personnel from the government, and the community. The survey, research, restoration design, construction and supervision were implemented in strict accordance with the recognized technical standards for historic properties. Combining the efforts of all interested parties, the restoration project was completed in 2002. The renovated hall now serves as the Cantonese Opera Museum, which is the only museum in China devoted to the history of Cantonese opera.

Conservation Approach

The conservation project followed a methodical sequence. It began with a thorough examination of the entire structure. Inappropriate features and materials that had been added during previous renovations were removed, and the hall was returned to its original spatial layout. In keeping with the principle of maximum retention, the conservation team preserved original structural and architectural elements wherever possible. In instances where elements were replaced, workers made a special effort to replicate the original forms, using the original methods and materials.

The interior required the repair of the tight-jointed brick walls, all of which were returned to structural stability. To distinguish new sections from old, the workers employed new bricks differing in colour from the original blue type. A plain brick was used on other sections of the building. Walls were also cleaned of later plaster coatings and returned to their original appearance.

The flooring was subject to a similar level of care and scrutiny. Three types of floor paving had been used in the original construction of the buildings: grey quarry tiles, encaustic tiles (used within the Altar Pavilion), and red clay tiles (employed in the rear courtyard). The paving of the halls was restored using the original methods and materials. To accomplish this, the bed course was rebuilt and the quarry tiles were reset with river sand. Workers also relaid the original encaustic tiles of the Altar Pavilion. To facilitate drainage, a new permeable foundation was provided beneath the replacement tiles.

The wood columns of the buildings were in satisfactory condition, but some of the column-bases were extensively cracked and other sections had been damaged by termites. The most seriously damaged columns required reinforcement through inserting steel supports at the bases and infilling with epoxy cement, strengthening the weakened interior sections. The stone columns were basically intact; only one column required replacement.

Wooden structural members were intact except for one seriously damaged support at the gate. Again, some supports revealed termite damage. The east part of the Main Gate was reconstructed using materials closely matching the originals. Workers also replaced damaged purlins and beams in the roof, once more with materials similar in appearance to those originally employed.

The restoration efforts did not incorporate many new materials or elements and workers were careful to protect historic features and surfaces. Scaffolding was installed in a manner to minimize impact. Fire control measures installed to meet modern safety standards are now unobtrusive, located in separate stands rather than being fixed onto the walls. All demolition was carried out in a sensitive way, with the workers taking care not to damage the original structure in the course of removing inappropriate additions. The final step was to put in place maintenance procedures governing future work.

Many traditional techniques were deployed in the project. For example, traditional plastering practices were used to apply a new coat of plaster to the damaged walls at the gate. The project employed local artisans to carry out this work, including repairing the carved decorative elements.

Many came from nearby Gaoming District and Wuhua County, particularly workers who specialize in this type of work.

Conservation and the Community

All funding and exhibits for the hall’s Cantonese Opera Museum came from non-governmental sources. These included donations by many local people and by former Foshan residents now living in other parts of China or abroad. The museum, which tells the story of the origin, development and worldwide influence of Cantonese opera, is open daily to the public.

Between June 2003 and December 2004, the museum received more than 150,000 visitors, a figure that indicates a growing interest in this unique cultural and artistic form.

The hall is sited within Zhaoxiang Park, an open space accessible free of charge to the public, which features a small plaza and lawn areas. Zhaoxiang Huang Ancestral Hall and its grounds serve as a vivid reminder of the past of the city and stand in stark contrast to the many modern buildings surrounding the site today. The project has shed new light on old traditions and the artisanship of local builders. It also offers a permanent educational amenity to the community..

Quote from the Project Team

“The project aimed to explore how to use limited resources and take measures to provide more effective protection and maintenance for a cultural relic that had experienced numerous additions and reconstructions. The project emphasized the values of traditional craftsmanship and traditional architecture.”