The “Echo” of a Thousand Year Old Street: Songyang, Inheritance of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Hustle and Bustle Renewal

United States, 3rd Sep 2023 – Located in the southwest of Zhejiang Province, Songyang County is known as the “county sample of classical China”. In 2022, Songyang Mingqing Ancient Street was selected as the “National Intangible Cultural Heritage and Tourism Integration Development Selection Project”.

In the same year, a diverse design team of 1990s young designers was attracted by the unique hustle and bustle atmosphere of Songyang Old Street – the “Studio RE+N” composed of graduates from Harvard University, Tsinghua University, and Tongji University in architecture, also started their design research on intangible spaces, And invited 7 store owners from the old street to jointly create a set of scriptless, daily life perspective based documentary videos through a “participatory image production” approach.

From August 8th to August 22nd, at the Songyang Mingqing Old Street, known as the “Living Qingming Riverside Map”, organized by Studio RE+N and co organized by Songyang County Rural Revitalization Service Group, the exhibition “Please Listen – Post-90s Architects Dialogue with Songyang Old Street” was held at the former site of Songyang County Bank (No. 122 Renmin Street, Songyang County).

The exhibition is initiated by the Studio RE+N team, comprising Yuting Zhang, Pu Zhang, Shimin Cao, and Yu Qiao. Shimin Cao, currently a co-founder and principal at RE+N and an associate landscape designer at TBG partners, serves as the lead curator for the exhibition. Rong Jia, a seasoned graphic designer with a master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), leads the graphic design efforts. Shimin and Rong’s expertise has masterfully translated the vibrant “hustle and bustle atmosphere” of Songyang Street into an immersive experience for the audience at the exhibition site.

The video, a collaborative effort between Studio RE+N and seven shop owners, beautifully portrays the legacy of intangible cultural heritage and the skilled artisans of Songyang Old Street. It vividly captures the essence of daily life in this bustling locale.

Concurrently with the exhibition’s opening on August 8th, distinguished experts including Professor Ge Zhong from Tsinghua University’s School of Architecture, Associate Professor Diyu Liu from Tongji University’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Huan Huang, Director of the Research Department at the Zhejiang Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center, engaged in a thematic discussion at the exhibition site. The conversation centered on “Multiple Perspectives on Hustling Old Streets – Potential Approaches to Interpret and Sustain Local Character.” This dialogue delved into the preservation of intangible cultural heritage and the rejuvenation of the county.

Notably, Songyang County’s leaders also graced the exhibition, participating in insightful discussions with the experts. In recent years, the county has been actively promoting the fusion of cultural tourism with industries such as agriculture, handicrafts, and artistic creation. It has undertaken significant restoration projects for key cultural heritage sites like the “Intangible Cultural Heritage Museum,” “Old Post and Telecommunications Bureau,” and “Wang’s Ancestral Hall.” Furthermore, it has constructed vital cultural exchange centers like the “Wenli Three Temples Cultural Exchange Center” and “Shanying Jianshan Hall,” along with several demonstration projects including “Mountain Miscellaneous” and “Niaoshe.”

Experts emphasize that safeguarding ancient streets transcends physical preservation. They advocate for the conservation of intangible cultural heritage, traditional craftsmanship, and the livelihoods of local merchants while retaining the vibrant atmosphere of these historic streets. This holistic approach aims to prevent the homogenization of counties and streets, preserving their unique identities. At the exhibition, visitors can experience the daily interactions of seven shop owners, complete with the rhythmic sounds of cotton thumping, scales clanging, and the sizzling of fried lamp trays (a specialty snack in Songyang), echoing the lively spirit of this thousand-year-old street.

Ge Zhong: Four Attributes of “Hustle and Bustle Atmosphere” and Considerations for Protection Strategies

Ge Zhong mentioned that it’s difficult to provide a formal and accurate definition for the “Hustle and Bustle atmosphere,” but it can be observed and summarized through four aspects: tradition, everyday life, openness, and inclusiveness. These four attributes help people understand the essence and characteristics of the “Hustle and Bustle atmosphere.”

Firstly, the “hustle and bustle atmosphere” is the accumulation of mass activities and an expression of long-term regional cultural accumulation and inheritance, thus presenting the attribute of “tradition.”

Secondly, the “hustle and bustle atmosphere” focuses on the “everyday” lives of ordinary people, rather than specific city events, and certainly not the grand narratives of urban celebrations. This also reflects the shift in urban planning and construction towards focusing on the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Thirdly, the “hustle and bustle atmosphere” is an open presentation of urban life in public spaces. It is the result of the expansion of urban space creation from “sites” and “places” to “scenes.”

Fourthly, inclusiveness can also be described as diversity and hybridity. The diverse businesses on Songyang Old Street include various dining options, bookstores, cultural functions, as well as blacksmith and carpenter workshops, presenting a diverse and inclusive real-life appearance.

Diyu Liu: Behind the Commercial Streets Are Opportunities for Livelihood

Some describe Songyang as blending rustic vibes with modern flair, reflecting a shared cross-cultural perception. This ‘hustle bustle atmosphere’ is deeply intertwined with the local way of life. In both urban and rural Songyang, you’ll find elements of both the ‘modern flair’ and ‘rustic vibe.’

Inspired by ‘Along the River During the Qingming Festival,’ Diyu observes that commercial areas often host a diverse community reliant on street-based livelihoods. These individuals, due to limited living space, spend a significant part of their lives on the streets, functioning as both consumers and producers. This dynamic results in a vibrant yet seemingly chaotic traditional commercial street culture.

Additionally, Diyu emphasizes the two phases of heritage preservation: the first pertains to physical conservation, while the second delves into the intricate connection between material and non-material aspects. Many old streets offer ‘local specialties,’ which intriguingly resemble similar items from different cultural regions.

Huan Huang: Old Streets are Memory Textures Formed by Everyday Life

Huan Huang highlights that the “hustle and bustle atmosphere” is a memory texture derived from everyday life, seen through the lens of intangible cultural heritage. This concept refers to people’s ways of life and production.

Citing the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Huan highlights the importance of preserving intangible heritage in modern society. This heritage encompasses social practices, ideas, performances, knowledge, skills, and elements recognized by communities as part of their cultural legacy.

The Convention asserts that communities, as custodians of living heritage, have the right to recognition, protection, and transmission of their culture. Huan illustrates this with South Korea’s inclusion of “Kimchi-making culture for winter” in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. This recognition is based on both the technique and the cultural identity it represents.

Huan concludes by emphasizing that the “hustle and bustle atmosphere” is a reflection of local culture deeply ingrained in Songyang’s history. This culture extends beyond old streets and buildings to encompass people’s lifestyles, customs, and traditions, shaping Songyang’s unique character—a true “charm.”

Media Contact

Organization: RE+N

Contact Person: Rong Jia

Website: https://www.studio-re-n.com/

Email: ronjia20@gmail.com

Country: United States

Release Id: 0309236033

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