Anhua Lou Visited

Above, the front of the buliding, framed by two temporary structures used for construction of a new subway line.

 

Like Fusuijing, Anhua Lou ( (安化楼) was a model urban people’s commune constructed in the late 1950’s in Beijing. In addition to Fusuijing, it is the only building of its type still standing in the city. It is also in better use than Fusuijing. While a visit to Fusuijing confirmed its impeding demolition, Anhua Lou is still very much lively and filled with residents. A steady stream of people flow in and out of its prominent front doors. As I follow some residents in, I find myself standing in what was once the large communal dining hall that exemplified the collective lifestyle the building’s designers hoped to foster in its residents. The dining hall has long been transformed – filled with housing units in each wing. The center hall remains a collective space – now occupied in one corner by a convenience store that services both the building’s residents and outsiders.

Above, a view of the building from its rooftop looking towards its backside.

 

Above, inside one of the building's communal kitchens.

 

Other parts of the building have maintained its use since its inception. The center of each level still contains public spaces – now in use as either kitchens or management offices. The two ends of each level where the plan bends at a ninety degree angle also contain kitchens. These kitchens are the most interesting spaces I discover within the building – they proudly display the stains, scars, and modifications accumulated through years of communal use.

Above, a view towards the building's circulation core, with stairs in the rear and elevators to the right.

 

As I walk the building’s dark halls (there is little electricity in the walkways, perhaps of poor maintenance and the residents’ low incomes), I encounter several residents and speak with them on their experiences in the building. Many are elderly who have lived in the building for decades. A large group of them gather in the outdoor courtyard created by the bracket shape of the plan, playing chess or just chatting with each other. Outside one of the public kitchens, I encounter a man sitting on a stool. I stop to chat with him at length. He is in his late 40s or early 50s, a former worker in a chemical factory, now unemployed, supported through welfare, and lives with his parents in a single unit. He claims to enjoy his life in the building, and would rather live in Anhua Lou, where the location is relatively central in the city and amenities and services are close by, than a nicer apartment on the outskirts of the city. He is dreading the day when the government will force him and his parents to move out of the building. Prompted by his questioning, I tell him about my life in America and how my studies have led me to his home. After nearly forty minutes of conversation, he politely excuses himself to prepare dinner for his parents.

For more on Anhua Lou’s design, see the earlier post on the building here.