Helping 700-year-old Beijing bridge shed weight

After the removal of water pipes and telecommunication cables that were once attached to its side, the Wanning Bridge in Beijing has been restored to its original style.

After the removal of water pipes and telecommunication cables that were once attached to its side, the Wanning Bridge in Beijing, which is over 700 years old, has been restored to its original style.

Wanning is the oldest bridge situated on the Beijing Central Axis, a 7.8-km-long backbone of the ancient capital. It is located on the Yu River section of the Grand Canal and has played a significant role in north-south transportation since its construction in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

However, due to the urban development of Beijing, various items such as utility pipelines and fences were attached to the ancient bridge over time.

"At that time, meeting people's living needs was a priority. Therefore, the simplest way was to hang everything on the bridge," said Ye Nan, an expert with the Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning & Design.

Finding a balance between the protection and utilization of Wanning, a significant landmark that bears witness to Beijing's urban history, has become a critical concern for the city's planners, Ye added.

In recent years, Beijing has promoted the protection and urban renewal of the old city, offering a new approach to solving the dilemma between conservation and utilization.

"There has been a new approach to development," Ye said. "In the past, the process of renovation often involved adding new things, whereas this time they opted to remove unnecessary items."

"The idea is to highlight the historic relics themselves by simplifying its settings," Ye added.

The concept has been applied in the urban-renewal regulations and plans in many cities, including Guangzhou and Xi'an, where efforts were made to preserve the historical features of these cities, ban major demolition and construction, and protect the integrity of historical and cultural heritage.

Before helping Wanning shed some weight, experts conducted a survey of the bridge in 2020, which revealed that its stone body and the asphalt concrete pavement on the bridge deck had cracked.

The surveyors concluded that it was urgent to strengthen the overall protection of Wanning, as well as to carry out a comprehensive renovation of the surrounding environment.

"To relocate the pipelines and cement piers attached to the bridge body, we sought opinions from many experts," said Shen Junqiang, a Beijing municipal official responsible for the Beijing Central Axis conservation works. "The project spanned over a week during which we made a concerted effort to minimize the impact on the bridge's structure, as well as the passage of pedestrians and nearby residents during night-time hours."

While repairing the weathered and eroded bridge body, the workers made a conscious effort to preserve its original features by utilizing materials that closely resembled the original ones.

After renovation, Wanning's old style was revived, offering visitors unblocked views of the bridge from various vantage points.

Significantly, the barriers around an ancient stone creature positioned near the bridge, referred to as the "water control beast," have been removed, providing tourists with a better opportunity to observe the embodiment of the ancient people's desire for peace and tranquility.

"After more than a year of effort, the Wanning Bridge has not only regained its historical appearance and fulfilled the requirements of the locals, but is also emanating vitality," Ye said.

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