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THROUGH A BEIJING FRAGMENT. The danwei of Textile Factory

Silvia Lanteri, Eudes Vito Margaria

Stitching the city: on observing Beijing

How does a film work? This is something we often discuss at The Architecture Player, reflecting on what video (as a medium) can accomplish and how we can use it to question the spaces we cross, we pass by, we inhabit. THROUGH A BEIJING FRAGMENT, the short film authored by Silvia Lanteri and Eudes Margaria, offers a thoughtful answer to this question.

The short film was conceived as one of the tools of analysis and narration of a specific space, the danwei of the Cotton Textile Factory n.2 in Beijing, China, as part of a MA thesis in Architecture at the University of Turin (Italy). Working on the thesis, Lanteri and Margaria decided to focus on building a thorough narrative analysis of this place (rather than creating a new project for the area) and found in video on of the most useful medium to portray and comprehend the spatial structure of the urban fragment, as video is able to convey its rhythm, flows and sounds, in time and space.

The authors' comment on the project help us in retracing their choices: "to understand the danwei of the Cotton Textile Factory n.2 - a heterogeneous reality rich of stimulus - we resorted to using the video as an investigative tool, able to systematize space, time, sounds: we identified three different soundscapes with the intent of creating a continuous urban narration that brings you from the chaotic external edges to the inner core, passing through the small daily gestures of the inhabitants".

In fact, Beijing is a meeting point of cultures, core of the East, a complex reality generated by contradictions and opposites that forces visitors to dive deeply inside the urban space, to interpret and be able to represent it.

The fragment portrayed in the film is an industrial danwei from the maoist period. Here work units are marked by an autarchic spirit: its origins left unavoidable signs in the urban pattern, such as introverted spaces where workers could not only sleep, but make every gesture of their daily lives too and enjoy services offered by their own compound. This model was born as a control system where all the details are expected and monitored top-down, but after the Cultural Revolution the first stratifications appeared, and informal appropriations of the space started to sprout up.

Filming its present condition was crucial to the research for many reason, as Lanteri and Margaria explained: "first, portraying the place to preserve its future memory; second, showing a possible methodology for other similar cases; third, focusing the architects and city planners' attention on the danwei model's great urban potential; fourth, questioning about hypothetical transformation scenarios originated by listening to the singular site and its inhabitants' stories".

Watching the film, what stands out is that here the role of the architect matches with the one of the flâneur: the camera follows the flows of people and questions the space, loses itself in the streets, carried away by the rhythm, the colors and the sounds of the danwei. Then structures and patterns emerge.

THROUGH A BEIJING FRAGMENT was conceived as a historical document, meant to preserve the memory of space. Interviewed on the following evolutions of this area, Lanteri expressed her incredulity when, returned after three years, the place was left intact.
The video won a prize at the Biennale dello Spazio Pubblico in Rome, in 2017. It was included in a research, later published under the title Beijing Danwei: Industrial Heritage in the Contemporary City, for which they collaborated from the very first phases.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)


Project location: Benijing, China

China 2015
Duration: 3'05"