Navigating Heterotopias and Things: Dashilar as co-extensive urban paradigms
Embargo end date30/11/2021
Dashilar is a neighbourhood in Beijing, currently sitting immediately opposite Tiananmen Square on its south. It first came into being on the eastern margins of the Jin capital from the thirteenth century and remained to be on the southwestern margins of the relocated Yuan capital. Being excluded from but adjacent to the tight codification of the capitals, Dashilar was formed ontologically and developed into an urbanity of special complexity. However, contemporary urban planning and heritage practices appear insensible to the different existential and expressive order of Dashilar: they see Dashilar as a heritage area which is to be developed as one of many areas having similar commercial and heritage functions within a master plan and conservation plan. Therefore, it becomes urgent to study, understand and narrate the unique complexity of its urbanity. Facing this urgency, this dissertation develops a methodology that is capable of looking into the operational complexity of Dashilar. By extending theorisations from Giorgio Agamben, Michel Foucault, and Bruno Latour, I respectively characterise Dashilar in three inter-related ways: as serial co-extensive urban paradigms, as assemblies of serial heterotopias that hold everyday practices, and, in terms of everyday things, as residing at the pivot of multiple networks between human and non-human agencies. In this characterisation, I look into various assemblages of heterotopias that are held together by three everyday things – teacups, shop fronts, and the apocryphal stories of the Mustard Seed Garden. Besides being a retroactive analysis of the heterogeneous processes that have worked out certain of Dashilar’s socio-spatial fabrics, these accounts are also part of a proactive theory of urbanism. This theory suggests that urban design can mediate both the everyday and extraordinary aspects of life, providing an alternative perspective that eschews the reductive tendencies of the conventional top-down and bottom-up approaches.