This study aims to highlight the changing relationships between the city and its modes of representation, through an examination of the historical transformations of Kunming, a city on the southwest borderland of China. Our intention here is to introduce to the reader particular characteristics of urban space in Kunming as the basis for a more detailed examination of the historical differences between Western and Chinese perspectives of temporality in building, to be explored in a forthcoming book, and how these differences are manifested in the changing social contexts of the city.
The study demonstrates that changes in the territorialised districts of the traditional city of Kunming after the Qing dynasty, constitute a movement towards modernization. This development moreover gave rise to a distinctive type of mercantile space within the city centre, with the increasing importance attached to the commercial street. Importantly this feature of the urban topography of Kunming can be seen to relate closely to the surrounding mountains and lakes both within and outside the old city boundaries that have served as primary reference points in urban planning. The study seeks to establish if the traditional meanings of temporality in building, as they are manifested within the particular urban grain of Kunming, still inform contemporary urban and architectural practice given that such relationships are often concealed beneath the homogeneous image of the temporary city.