More than a brick in the wall

Updated 2018-04-24 10:50:03 China Daily

The Palace Museum's Shenwumen, or the Gate of Divine Might, undergoes renovation in 2017. (PHOTO BY JIN WEN/FOR CHINA DAILY)

A Palace Museum restoration project wins an award, underscoring the importance of research. 

Baoyun Lou, or the Hall of Embodied Treasures, stands out among other parts of the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, which was the seat of power in imperial China.

Inside the complex that occupies 720,000 square meters in the heart of Beijing, the Western-style villa is prominent. It was constructed by the western gate of the Forbidden City as a warehouse for cultural relics in 1914, two years after the monarchy had ended.

On Wednesday, the International Day for Monuments and Sites, Baoyun Lou and five other conservation projects were given this year's award for "outstanding monument restorations in China". The award, which is based on professional assessments and a public poll, is bestowed by the Chinese committee of the Paris-based International Council on Monuments and Sites.

Recalling his experiences of working on the Baoyun Lou project, Wu Wei, an engineer, says the project is a mix of archaeology, historical research and restoration.

"We used digital methods to record all the information held by the architectural components of the hall before we took any more steps."

A staff member of the renovation project of Baoyun Lou, or the Hall of Embodied Treasures, fixes a painting on a piece of wood. (PHOTO BY WU WEI/FOR CHINA DAILY)

Wu's team did research in the surrounding areas of Baoyun Lou, which was built up on the foundation of an old palace. The palace was destroyed in a fire in 1912, but the front gate of the courtyard survives. The archaeological research found the gate dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

"This is different from what is recorded in files saying the original gate came up since the mid-Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)," Wu says. "We may have more discoveries."

Surprises keep popping up.

For example, the tiles, which Wu describes as "beef tongues" because of their strange shapes, were found to be imported from Germany after he went through records, which indicates that a German architecture firm worked in the Forbidden City in 1914.

"We cannot find any similar counterparts of such tiles in China," Wu says. "It's a pity that we cannot identify the specific workshop that made them."

As a compromise, the team cooperated with a workshop in Tianjin to mimic the original material. New "beef tongues" were made to fix the broken ones.

"But we will make sure these newly added parts are recognizable from the original," Wu says. "We have also left information about where they were produced on the tiles to help the future generations to renovate this place again."

He says the Baoyun Lou project has also created a chance to revitalize disappearing traditional craftsmanship. For instance, some doors of this place were painted in a kind of dye made from ash found at the bottom of cooking pots, but the technique is almost lost today.

"Some restorers had suggested that it be replaced with asphalt, but we stuck to using the old formula," Wu says. "We found the right craftsman in Beijing. That saved the skill from dying."

The Western-style villa Baoyun Lou is pictured before and after the renovation project, which was awarded as one of this year's "outstanding monument restorations in China". (PHOTO BY WU WEI/FOR CHINA DAILY)

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