Urban strata interpretation : Xi'an's fragile urban form inside the Ming City Wall

Malabarba, Alberto and Pezzetti, Laura A.; (2022) Urban strata interpretation : Xi'an's fragile urban form inside the Ming City Wall. In: Annual Conference Proceedings of the XXVIII International Seminar on Urban Form. University of Strathclyde Publishing, Glasgow, pp. 1454-1462. ISBN 9781914241161

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Within a troublesome notion of historicity, any attempt to deal with the fast re-development of Chinese historic cities needs to confront with a different concept of integrity, permanence, and memory of the historic space. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of 21st century, moreover, were particularly disruptive for historic cities where an unprecedented development took place on the ‘tabula rasa’ of all pre-existing typo-morphological orders. Despite its early preservation plan in the 1980s, the historic Ming City in Xi’an has retained only its major cultural symbols while continuing the erasure of historic urban textures, which fragments are now mostly traceable in the topography of the fabric patterns. Around the Ming City Wall, nonetheless, a composite tissue has grown onto old traces and fabrics, defining an assemblage of typo-morphological forms and topographical traces that should be considered historicised as well. If understood as a ‘tabula plena’, this miscellaneous text could be regenerated and enhanced to support complexity and the restoration of a local identity rather than being indistinctively demolished in the name of a homogeneous stylistic coordination for touristic exploitation. The multiple times and memories absorbed in this composite layering of traces reveal the essential cultural meaning of urban form and the continuous need of interpretative tools to support a coevolutionary sustainable development. The paper focuses its analysis on both structure and morphology of Xi’an Ming City’s urban forms and characters, deepening the understanding of the urban substrata in the Jiangguo District.

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