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Subtracting Kashgar

Part 2 Project 2010
Wing Pui Estelle Chan
University of Hong Kong Hong Kong China
This project is about subtraction through time. It investigates ways in which one works with subtraction as a productive tool. The site is Kashgar, a Uighur city in Xinjiang China which is being systematically dismantled by the Chinese government under the guise of ‘seismic instability’. The real reason is political - minority suppression and cultural erasure. This is a counter proposal, a hypothetical intervention within Beijing’s plan. The ambition is coexistence of people – Han and Uighur. The proposal embraces subtraction revealing presence through absence by selectively removing urban substance over time.

This is done using various techniques: dismantling, dissecting, excavating and eroding over a period of 50 years. The result is a skeleton - a framework that would induce a growth pattern. Then techniques such as casting, grafting and inserting are integrated. The shapes of old alleyways are cast as positives of inhabitable rammed earth walls. The result is a structural armature of new Han communities. This continuous armature preserves the urban texture crucial to the Uighur way of life – for instance the private courtyards where Muslim women could unveil themselves. The new network buttresses clusters of existing Uighur houses - reinforcing the minority culture both literally and figuratively, dispelling the threats of seismic and political destruction.

Wing Pui Estelle Chan


Dear RIBA Committee,

I am writing to nominate my student, Estelle Chan Wing Pui for the RIBA President’s Medals Student Awards 2010. Estelle’s thesis project ‘Subtracting Kashgar’ is a unique attempt to address multiple social, cultural, and preservation issues within an extraordinarily difficult political context. The city of Kashgar is unique not only in its historical significance as a major hub on the silk road – with little change in the past 200 years - but also in its ethnicity. It is a Muslim Uigher city in China facing total physical and cultural destruction under the guise of ‘seismic instability’. The reality and motivation for the act is the fear the Chinese government has for its ethnic minorities. ‘Subtracting Kashgar’ appropriates the tool of the government – subtraction – and rethinks how the culture can be preserved while appropriating and re-figuring the Chinese government’s physical methods. Figure is the key word - the figure and fabric of the open space (courtyards, privacy for women, etc.) that is necessary for continued Uigher religious and cultural identity and existence. The Chinese government intends to replace the medina like fabric of the city with a completely different typology – slab housing blocks. Within ‘Subtracting Kashgar’ an occupiable armature is inserted into the fabric in order to retain its unique – and socially critcal figure. The buttress is occupied by the Han Chinese majority and wraps existing housing and social spaces. Some areas of Uigher settlement are subtracted after the buttresses is cast between existing structures, leaving an imprint in time of what once stood. The result is not a ‘preserved’ city per se, but a preserved culture and way of life maintained through an injection of the new - and cultural coexistence between two ethnicities, Han and Uigher. The existing cultural fabric is literally buttressed and supported both physically and socially.

Michael Kokora
Assistant Professor
The University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Tutor(s)
Mr Michael Kokora
2010
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