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Sanli River restoration project

By Yan Kun, Wang Lu Updated: 2021-04-15 18:35

Today: Clear River, Long Alley and Little Bridges


Sanli River at the end of Changxiang Toutiao

Sanli River, which is under a kilometer in length, spans this park. Connected by stone-paved paths, the park features a river system running among authentic hutongs and quadrangle dwellings.  


Bronze statues in the park

Walking in the park, with a clear river nearby, you may feel cozy and relaxed.


Local residents taking a walk

Yesterday: An ancient flood discharge ditch, remaining waterway


Sanli River previously

Rivers are a key element in traditional Chinese residence and courtyard designs. Sanli River was known as "Wenming River" in the Yuan Dynasty(AD1271-1368), and obtained its current name in the Zhengtong Period of the Ming Dynasty(AD1368-1644) when its course was expanded for flood discharge. Up to the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty(AD1636-1912), Sanli River was a clear waterway. However, due to increasing sedimentation since the end of that dynasty, the Sanli River gradually vanished, leaving behind tales to be told by elderly people.  

Though there is little remaining of the river, a pattern of how the close-by hutong and buildings were built to accommodate the waterway has been kept to this day. Many guild halls and theater halls from the Qing Dynasty were built in this neighborhood, which was a key area of cultural heritage in the old city of Beijing.


Map of Sanli River from the Wanli Period of the Ming Dynasty


Map of Sanli River from the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty

Since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, the Sanli River area has been a key priority of the Beijing municipal government, and has been subject to rounds of planning, research projects and pilot renovations. However, amid the city's increasingly accelerated growth, the old town has inevitable become "out-dated", so the area has been faced with such issues as urban decay, environmental deterioration, outdated facilities and old buildings. 

Reborn: One of sixteen redesigned sites of Beijing

Targeting a better environment and higher living quality in the area, the Sanli River Restoration Project has fully utilized urban design methods with a heavy focus on public space for local residents. The project was designed with three pillar concepts, "urban patching, ecological restoration, and cultural reservation".


Existing texture before planning


Improved texture after planning

After sorting out the historic waterway, regional texture and building relics, the project focused on fixing the waterway and supplementing green areas. Through its natural waterway and open compounds, the Sanli River is now organically integrated with the neighboring hutongs and quadrangle dwellings, creating a river-based park in this key area of the city, and establishing "Zheng Yang Guan Shui" -- one of the 16 redesigned sites of Beijing.  

Urban patching

Urban patching includes regional texture fixing, historic restoration, block functional renewal, and renovation of residential buildings.


Local texture after fixation

Ecological restoration

Ecological restoration includes ventilation corridors, landscape waterway restoration, waterside embankment improvement and rainwater reuse.


Rainwater utilization system

Cultural reservation

Cultural reservation includes guild hall renovation, cultural landscape restoration, and relic preservation.


Relic preservation map

Inspiration: New opportunities in old town revitalization via urban design intervention

From a perspective of urban design, the Sanli River Renovation Project has accumulated planning, execution, management and sharing experience for upcoming projects.

Explore new path for urban design and plan based on consistent consensus of old town planning

In accordance with the requirements of the Beijing Urban Master Plan 2016-2035, the elite area of the Azure Stone Factory, Dashilan and Qianmen East should keep the traditional architectural style of hutongs and quadrangle dwellings that is unique to Beijing. Within the old town area, no more quadrangle dwellings should be demolished. 

In fact, since 2000, the municipal and district governments have launched rounds of planning and research about the Qianmen area on varied levels, which has led to a wide consensus on a “micro upgrading” approach without significant demolishing or rebuilding. In the detailed control plan released in 2004, a requirement of restoring green activity area in combination with the Sanli River was proposed. Based on extensive consensus, this urban design project has been carried out by following a feasible action plan in accordance with government regulations and design requirements.   


 Reservation and Renovation Plan for Area East of Qianmen East Road 2003-2005

Full implementation of urban design planning guided by district government

Based on statutory planning, the Sanli River Renovation Project was carried out with attention to urban design, with end-to-end participation of entities designated by the District Government in the design process. An expert committee and executive planner were appointed to advise on the project and ensure quality of design.   

Using this approach, the project leader was involved in the end-to-end process including planning and execution, and had access to the advice of the expert committee and executive planner. Overall, this approach has effectively guaranteed full execution of the design purpose originally contemplated.  


Seminar on Sanli River Restoration

Enhance urban design as urban management and sharing medium by enabling higher sense of achievements for citizens  

Since the completion of the project, it has been covered by This is Beijing (TV program), Beijing Observation (journal), The Urban Construction Archives magazine, Sohu News and Tencent. At dianping.com, Sanli River Park has more than 300 recommendations. Many citizens said that the renovated park has a tranquil realm with the river going through some of Beijing’s local compounds amidst green trees. Local residents also expressed satisfaction at having this place in the old town and their wish for having more public space like this in the future.

As a pilot urban design projects in Beijing, the Sanli River project led by urban design concepts has provided a go-to place for citizens and enhanced living quality in the area. With this project, people have gained a wider consensus on what makes a city a great city, and have obtained a basis for co-management, co-governance and sharing of urban public space.   

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