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Project Profile


2009 Honourable Mention

Heritage Buildings in Cicheng Historic Town

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Project Title: Heritage Buildings, Cicheng Historic Town

Location: Cicheng Town, Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province, 315031, P.R. China

Size: 12,596 square metres

Cost: US$ 8,159,995

Responsible Party: Que Weimin

Heritage Architect: Chen Yi

Contractor: Yan Zaitian

Date of Completion: April 2008

Project Synopsis

Cicheng Historic Town is located in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province in southeast China. Recognized by the Chinese government as a National Historic Town, Cicheng has a rich history dating back to as early as 738 CE, the Tang Dynasty.

The town has 37 listed buildings, ranging from those of national importance to buildings recognized at the district level. In addition, there are as many as 100 other buildings and sites of heritage value. Many of the listed and other historic buildings were in a state of disrepair at the beginning of the project.

The project leaders chose 10 buildings within Cicheng Historic Town as the focus of the project. The objective of the restoration initiative was to undertake a pilot demonstration project to encourage investment in heritage conservation and to provoke a turnaround in thinking about the heritage of the historic town.

Apart from two public buildings, Confucian Temple and Considerate House, and two properties that changed from private to public hands, Chaste Archway and Feng’s Colour Decorated Gate, the selected buildings were private residential sites. The selected heritage buildings represent a variety of building types, each with its own special significance, but a number of characteristics link these buildings. All adhere to similar building technologies, incorporating traditional masonry construction techniques long employed in the region. Each property was also a product of an agricultural economy stretching back for centuries. These two factors were important ingredients in the development of the local architectural typology and are critical to understanding the history and development of individual buildings and sites in the historic town.

The construction dates of the buildings vary widely. Several of the older buildings date to the Ming Dynasty, between 1368 and 1644. Others are Qing period, still others more recent. The larger residential buildings originally served as houses for aristocrats and high-ranking officials. The ownership of all of the houses changed after 1949, however, when the government assigned several families to live within each building. The multiple ownership led to poor maintenance and, in some instances, to the substantial deterioration of the buildings. Shared ownership also made decisions about the future of properties difficult, a circumstance that hindered the conservation effort in its initial stages. 

Ningbo City urbanized rapidly during the 1980s, with the result that modern high-rise apartments and office buildings replaced many traditional buildings; threatening the town’s heritage resources.

In 2001, the government, with private support, created Ningbo-Cicheng Ancient Town Development Company Limited to direct a coordinated plan of conservation for Cicheng Historic Town. This entity included local representatives, planning experts and heritage advocates, each bringing their own special expertise to the project. Among the first steps instigated by the organization was the inscription in 2005 of the historic core area on the national list of historic towns. In 2006, the organising committee nominated six individual properties to the register of nationally protected heritage sites.

Conservation Approach

The renovation project of Cicheng Historic Town embraced multiple objectives. These included perpetuating the life of heritage buildings through selective interventions and upgrading, support to continuing craft skills represented in the older structures, conservation of the traditional farm-based society surrounding the town centre, elevating the living standards of local residents and supporting the local economy.

A major conservation problem in most buildings was the rotten timber elements of the foundations, which had resulted from a rise in the water table. The conservation team employed two methods to cope with this problem. One was to raise the foundations of the building and to replace any timber posts found to be suffering from decay. The second solution was the installation of perimeter drains to prevent the foundations from becoming waterlogged in the future. All work followed standards set out in the Law for the Conservation

of Heritage Sites in China and the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China. The project placed particular emphasis on traditional methods and materials. The project directors recognized that the heritage significance of the Cicheng houses is bound up in the historic treatment of stone, brick and wood. These qualities of traditional construction are especially evident in the display of dougong (corbel brackets), doors, windows and walls of the houses and yards. All materials employed replicated those used originally. This included the employment of distinctive bricks found only in the Ningbo area known as niangao bricks, so named because the shape is similar to that of a cake called niangao, a New Year’s treat made from glutinous rice.

Of the 10 buildings restored as part of the project, eight relied solely on traditional techniques and materials. Considerate House and Running Horse House required some contemporary insertions to convert them for commercial purposes; one became a tea house, the other a restaurant. The project directors ensured that these new elements caused minimal changes to the existing structures and that all additions could be removed at a future date without injury to the historic properties.

Conservation and the Community

While the project had a strong architectural focus, the designers also sought to protect the social character of the town and to promote the recovery of traditional local handicrafts, such as embroidering, weaving, carving, rice-cake production and paper cutting. Visitors coming to Cicheng frequently purchase these traditional handicrafts, helping to stimulate the local economy.

The results of a questionnaire distributed to members of the local community upon completion of the project in March 2009 indicate that community members perceived the renovation project as being beneficial for Cicheng. They saw benefits both in the restored and functional buildings and in the added value of increased economic development and social cohesion.

Quote from the Project Team

“The project is not only to renovate the heritage buildings, but also to protect a whole town as a National Historic Town, to improve the community’s life and to continue cultural tradition.