Hutongs, the grey paved alleyways lined with grey tiled roofs that slant atop red painted wooden structures still split the middle of Beijing into uneven chunks. Wandering down these leads to unexpected encounters, a military uniform hung up on a washing line, hole in the wall hotpot places with great copper cauldrons, and ayis, the guardswomen of these communities who take in every minor detail.
A great deal have been demolished to make way for modern living, which in a city of over 11 million is almost invariably the apartment block. Ask the average Beijing young professional, hutong or apartment block, and they’ll plump for the latter. The communal toilets, poor insulation, plumbing issues which crop up in the -20 degree winter, and the inability of an Uber to make its way through many of these narrow passages all factor in.
But hutong houses have an undeniable charm, and it’s increasingly common to find savvy housing agents who essentially whitewash all but its exterior with fresh paint and IKEA furniture.
Yet while turning these adds on into a design feature shows a greater understanding of and respect for community-led architecture, it will be the design-conscious traveller to Beijing that will stay in this hostel rather than the average hutong dweller.