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August 2, 2021

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Architect dedicated to city’s development

EDITOR’S note:
President Xi Jinping has urged everyone to follow their hearts rather than chase money or position. This series introduces Shanghai residents who pour their hearts and souls into their chosen work, whether they are designing rockets, practicing medicine or caring for the less fortunate.

Xing Tonghe, a senior chief architect at the Arcplus Group, has designed more than 300 projects across China, including many Shanghai landmarks such as the Bund scenic area, Shanghai Museum, Jin Mao Tower and World Expo 2010 site.

His latest masterpiece, the Memorial of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, is a key present to the Party’s centenary as well as a milestone for his nearly 60-year architecture career.

“I’m determined to design architecture that can stand the test of time,” said Xing, 82. “I always aim to be an ‘architect of the people’.”

Xing has won many honors such as the “National Model Worker” and “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Architectural Society of Shanghai.

Serving as the chief planner and architecture designer for the memorial, Xing has spent most of the last four years on the site in Xintiandi, where the First National Congress of the Party was held a century ago. He conceived the design and guided construction.

The memorial in Huangpu District includes the former site of the congress on Xingye Road and a new exhibition hall opposite Huangpi Road S.

The new hall features Shanghai’s unique architectural structure in accord with the buildings in the surrounding area. The main exhibition space covers about 3,700 square meters, quadrupling the previous exhibition space.

“The design of the new exhibition hall aims to restore the historical look of the whole block and nearby streets,” said Xia Bing, deputy Party secretary and deputy chief designer of the Arcplus Group. “The project is a well blending of architecture and urban scenery and ambiance.”

Inside the underground exhibition space designed by Xing, a major exhibition on the origins of the Party is being held. It is the memorial’s first exhibition after its grand opening.

The “Epoch-making Beginnings: Founding of the Communist Party of China” exhibition documents the original aspirations and mission of the Party in seven sections dating from 1840.

The exhibition features 1,168 exhibits about the birth of the Party and revolutionary practices in Shanghai, including 612 cultural relics along with photos, videos, oil paintings, sculptures and multimedia works.

Xing has blended the Party’s history into the design. The flagpole at the central square, for instance, is 19.21 meters tall, symbolizing the year the Party was founded. Two white marbles comprise the foundation of the flagpole, representing the grand ideal and hope. A century-old pine tree symbolizes the CPC that is deeply rooted among the people.

After receiving the brief for the memorial, Xing took his apprentices and architect team, the best professionals of the group, to the former site of the congress to study and research.

“An architect can learn about the past, obtain the present and think about the future only by research and investigation,” Xing said. “The more emotional feelings are involved in the project, the smoother the design will become.

“I feel lucky and proud, as well as a great responsibility and willingness to contribute. I’d like to contribute all my remaining strength to the great project.”

The exhibition hall and the former site of the congress serve as the spiritual home of the CPC members. They are also the integration of Shanghai’s urban spirits and Party history, Xing said.

The city’s unique shikumen (stone-gate) houses can well showcase the origins of the Party and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, according to Xing.

The new exhibition hall in Shanghai’s shikumen style stands beside Taiping Lake, opposite the historic congress site. Advanced water recycling, leakage prevention and fire prevention technologies have been included.

The air-conditioning, ventilation pipes and other equipment have been hidden inside the structure to make sure the architecture looks harmonious with the former congress site, even on the rooftop.

Xing often climbed onto the scaffolds to check whether traditional techniques have been used on the details of the shikumen appearance.

He also stuck to the traditional hand-drawn designs. Numerous drawing charts have been created by Xing for the design of the landmark project.

Xing said his inspiration also came from the previous Party heritage projects he presided over, such as the memorial to Chen Yun (1905-95), an early leader in the Communist Party of China, the memorial to Madame Soong Ching Ling as well as the Longhua Martyrs Memorial.

Xing, who joined the Party more than six decades ago, said the original aspiration of the CPC – to seek the happiness of the Chinese people and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation – has guided him to complete multiple landmark projects.

His own original aspiration taught by his master, one of China’s most prestigious architects, Chen Zhi, is to become “the architect of the people.”

The Longhua Martyrs Memorial’s expansion work features the former execution ground. Xing led his apprentices Xiao Shenjun and Liu Zhiwei to design a 200-meter-long “Original Aspiration Boulevard” that leads to the site where the martyrs were killed by Kuomintang regime.

“I still remember the original look of the sacrifice site, an abandoned pit flooded by waste water,” said Liu. “But the spirits of the martyrs can be felt on the site.”

Liu said Xing asked the team to pay a long silent tribute to the martyrs before conducting the investigation and design preparation.

Along the path, visitors can see the landmark buildings on the West Bund waterfront in Xuhui, such as the AI Tower. The design aims to remind the visitors that the happy life nowadays came from the sacrifices of the martyrs.

“The influences of the Party’s heritage sites should last for centuries to the city,” said Xing. His architecture works feature simple but meaningful designs. The Memorial of Madame Soong Ching Ling resembles a peace dove, while the National Anthem Plaza looks like a giant disc.

Though in his 80s, Xing often appears in the office to take part in the discussions with young architects, give suggestions and share experiences.

“As long as the people need me, I will keep working until the end of my life,” he said.


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