Ancient History: China’s Legacy of Monuments and Memorials

Few countries showcase living history like China. From the iconic Forbidden City to diverse landscapes and building styles, China has a rich cultural and architectural legacy. As the world’s largest construction market, the country continues to invest in new projects. At the same time, this rapid urbanization and accelerated development is juxtaposed with ancient building sites intertwined with layers of history and collective memory.

© Schran Image

Exploring cultural heritage and its relationship to modern life, each of the subsequent projects were designed to rethink the potential of contemporary memorials and monuments in China. Built at a variety of scales with varied formal expressions, the projects embrace history as an opportunity to enrich human experience. While economic reforms in the late 1970s fueled growth, these monuments and memorials contend with new building projects and respect the past by reinterpreting it. While the designs include programs like an observation tower, museum and town square, they each consider the past through a similar approach to haptic experiences and shared history.

Wang Jing Memorial Hall / DnA

© Ziling Wang

Wang Jing (1337-1408) rose to become an influential scholar under the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty due to his extraordinary intellectual abilities. He became a member of the Hanlin Academy and was involved in compiling the Yongle Encyclopedia (1408), the up-to-then most comprehensive summary of knowledge in China. The current village where Wang Jing was born decided to construct a new village center opposite the ancestral temple so as to remember the life of its famous forebear. 

Zunyi Memorial / TJAD Atelier L+ Studio

© ZY Architectural Photography

Zunyi Memorial aims to provide a quiet public place for the general public, the families of donors and young people and other social groups to mourn and remember, as well as pay their respects. The project site is located in a public plaza at the southwest corner of the mountainside of Phoenix Mountain. The base is adjacent to the entrance of the Phoenix Mountain Tunnel, close to the foot of the mountain, and is easily connected to the city’s transportation. The public can walk directly from the foot of the mountain along the steps to visit. The project respects the original site and its natural environment while rethinking what a memorial can be.

Vanke Waterfront City Tower / Nordic Office of Architecture

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As a contemporary monument and observation tower, the design concept of this project is not only to see the wetland as a “view” of the surrounding area, but also to bring its natural qualities into the project, creating a spatial experience where the building and the landscape blend together. The design consists of three natural elements, water, earth and sky, corresponding to three functional areas: the front square, the commercial facilities and the observation tower. The project is located next to the Elephant Lake Wetland Park, which is representative of the natural landscape of Nanchang. 

Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum / Studio Zhu-Pei

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Though not a memorial in the traditional sense, the Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum explores themes of memory and ancient history. The site of the Museum is adjacent to the Imperial Kiln ruins surrounding with many ancient kiln complexes. Jingdezhen is known as the “Porcelain Capital” in the world because it has been producing pottery for 1,700 years. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, Jingdezhen exported a huge amount of porcelains to Europe. The plan of Imperial Kiln Museum was aligned with the north-south street grid of Jingdezhen, embracing the open file of Imperial Kiln Ruins and welcoming visitors from the Relic Park and public pedestrians.

Gu Zhenghong Memorial Hall Expansion / Atelier Diameter

© Yang Chen

Around a century ago, the abrupt end of the life of a twenty-year-old young worker in a Japanese-owned cotton mill ignited the outburst of the May Thirtieth Movement. His name was Gu Zhenghong. A hundred years later, on the very site where the martyr laid to rest, the expansion work of Gu Zhenghong Memorial Hall was completed right before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The original hall and the ambient area suffered from limited space, and multiple complex reconstruction strategies were adopted to cope with the unique site condition.

Jiezi Town Meiyi Square / Beijing Huaqing An-design Architects

© ARCH-EXIST

As both a monument and a meeting place, Meiyi Square is at the center of the extensive natural landscape of Jiezi Town near hills and rivers. It is the planned entrance of the ancient town along Weijiang River and Mount Fengqi. From Qingluan Park to Meiyi Square, it was designed so guests appreciate the scenery through the organization of landscape order, spatial intention and visual impression. The architectural design features the forms of traditional residences as well as urban ideas through scale and spatial sequence.

Holy Fire / URBANUS

© Baiqiang Cao

Xihoudu historical site is located at the junction of Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan provinces. Mountain Zhongtiao to the north, Mountain Hua to the south, the site is close to the corner of the curving Yellow River. It is one of the most important archaeological sites of ancient human activities, where the remains of fire first used by human back to 1.8 million years ago, was founded in early 1960s. By integrating the holy fire plaza with its surroundings, the team aimed to reinterpret the traditional Chinese philosophy that man is an integral part of nature through a subtle monument.