USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Tokyo: my gulf war

Seven days ago [Japan] did not exist. Seven days ago [Tokyo] did not exist. Seven days ago [Shibuya] did not exist. There was no Tokyo Midtown. There was no Meiji Shrine. There was no Tokyo National Museum. Seven days ago [it] was all born.

Jean Baudrillard, a French philosopher and sociologist, controversially theorized that the “Gulf War did not place.” An angry public clamored at the preposterously ridiculous claim that a war that claimed thousands of lives never existed. Baudrillard digressed, stating that it was a “media image-driven” war, not a “genuine” war. People read about it and saw images of it everyday during the course of the war but war was not their reality, per se. The war only existed in their minds as a result of the images and stories they had heard. This is what Tokyo was to me.

I see this type of mental-detachment in Tokyo, particularly on the subways, where a majority of its riders are tuned in to their phones, listening to music or watching television. Could they have the same manufactured view of America that I had of Tokyo before coming here? Quite possibly, especially when you consider that media-driven technology in Tokyo is exponentially more influential than in the U.S. You are not experiencing the flooding in Pakistan being reported on by CNN. You don’t see the flood water around you or feel the grip of thirst that you feel if you were actually there.

What is “real” mean to you? Is it something that you have to touch? Or is it something that you have to see with your own eyes, in front of you? You see thousands of images sequentially whenever you watch television or surf the internet, but you are only engaging one, if only two of your senses (sight and sound). You may have read about Michelangelo or seen pictures of his paintings, but without visiting it, could you tell me what it smells like inside the Sistine Chapel? How it would feel to gently press your fingers against the Pieta? To me, if you are not engaging all of your senses, in addition to your intellect, how can anything become real and have legitimate qualities?

Tokyo did not exist seven days ago. Tokyo was born when I first stepped off the bus at our hotel, the humid air pelting my body, gazing at the countless lights of the city. Tokyo was born when I touched the concrete of a Tadao Ando building, in all its liquidity-looking perfection. Tokyo was born when I tasted and smelled my first bowl of Japanese ramen. Tokyo was born when I heard the hum of the Japan Rail train jetting out of the station. Seven days ago Tokyo was born and every time I discover something new here, I can feel the city breathing, it’s chest heaving.

This city represents a plethora of realities that are all intertwined and that constantly bustle and brush past one another but never stop. People sit quietly on the subway, staying to themselves. People are in their own world: disengaged and isolated. Isolated in a city of 13 million people?


The janitor who rides up and down the buildings elevators to clean the railings does not share the same reality of the businessman who rides the elevator to get to his office building high in the sky. As a tourist and foreigner, I have a completely different understanding of the Tokyo Midtown project than the resident of the service-apartments there who frequents it’s shopping areas every day. Do you have any perception of the reality of a coal miner or a biology professor? If no, why not?

There doesn’t seem to be any interaction en route, unless you’re with a friend or in a group. The journey does not hold the same value as the destination. However, these “destination nodes” are littered across the city, where people suddenly discover and experience with their senses, whether they taste a new alley food in Ginza or hear some new J-pop music in Harajuku. Each new finding adds to the reality of this city and is where individual realities stop being isolated and become shared. I observed this at a park outside of the Tokyo National Museum, when a group of Japanese guys, slicked back in ‘60’s American greaser attire, gathered around a boom box and danced. Just to dance. It was 95 degrees out and humid and these guys were in leather jackets dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Tokyo has become real to me because I have experienced it with all my senses. One can make the argument that much of what makes of Tokyo is manufactured, making it less real. One instance of this is the manufacturing of wax food in restaurant display windows. There is an entire industry devoted to the making of fake food. But that does not change the fact that people still inevitably eat the real food that the restaurant is selling.

If you are able to experience something using the full extent of senses, as well as tying in any previous experiences, then anyone can create their own reality.

There is still so much more to discover. So much more to be born.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: destination node, gulf war, isolation, jean baudrillard, Reality, senses, Tokyo, Uncategorized, Urbanism, ,

Trains as Transport: Liberation or Shackles?

Living in California we are surrounded by a society that equates automobile ownership to freedom, and the open road to endless opportunity.  Never mind the fact that the roads of Los Angeles are rarely open, and that costs of maintaining a car may actually detract from opportunities for travel, the fact remains that we are being educated as architects and planners in a car culture that sees little value in any trip that cannot deviate from fixed tracks at a moment’s notice.

But Japan’s almost impossibly efficient system of mass transit (Tokyo Metro, Japan Rail, Shinkansen, buses) blankets nearly every corner of the metropolis representing an alternative paradigm, and one that just might be worth adopting in the land of drive-thru restaurants and dingbat apartments.  It is an interconnected system where even an auto enthusiast would begin to understand that there exists another type of freedom: freedom from cars.

The urban organization of Tokyo, that the city is built around a nodal mass transit system, means city dwellers share a common experience in their commutes where personal space is minimal and contact with other people frequent.  The fact that so many Japanese are willing to tolerate and even embrace a system built around efficiency, instead of the convenience and (spatial) luxury of auto transport so many Americans are accustomed to, reveals the extent to which this country has a differing notion of space and spatial constructs.  This notion is reflected again in the metropolis at large with its staggering density, and even in the nation as a whole, which exists on a serious of islands covered almost completely by mountain ranges that leave only a fraction of the land habitable.    The cities of Japan simply must be built to facilitate pedestrian movement if they are to accommodate such large numbers of people, and this means density, mass transportation, and an urban form where the underground land between subway stations and street level can become most valuable of all.

Since connecting people, services, and ideas is the primary function of cities, it would follow that Tokyo’s efficiency oriented approach may be best for facilitating this exchange, so long residents are willing to compromise a bit of individual freedom and personal space along the way.

Matt Luery

Filed under: America, Japan, Tokyo, Urbanism


The room is filled with a stench of sweat mixed with smoke. The flashing lights, ringing bells and whistles are enough to deafen anyone passing a mile away. Rows upon rows of foreign-looking machines are lined up with men and women starting intently, as if lost within a world of their own. One hand grasps a handle, while the other lifts a handful of silver beads into the machine. Their eyes gaze, following the silver marble down its path. No one dares says a word, they just keep looking forward, waiting for time to pass them by. These are the Pachinko Slots.

Collectivism. Most Americans can’t agree on a single cultural ideology, let alone interact with each other without offending the other person. Thus, it seemed foreign for me to see such a collective effort on behalf of the Japanese people these past few days within the urban fabric of Tokyo. For the Japanese, it isn’t about self, but about the whole. Society is a living and breathing organism that can only survive and thrive with the collective efforts; everyone plays their part, down to the last detail. As a direct consequence, the value of order and formality runs deep within the mindset of the people. Their lives are dictated by conventions and cultural traditions, nothing is left to chance. For example the transportation system, specifically the metro/rail lines. All lines run like clockwork; on the dot, all day, every day. All of this is the direct consequence of a collective social, political, and even economic order that is ultimately governed by the Japanese notion of a collective.

So you’re probably wondering where does Pachinko play into this? The concept of the game itself is rooted in gambling, chance, disorder. Fact is, the Pachinko slots is the probably the closest a middle class working business man in Tokyo has in escaping the arduous pressures of business, cultural, and political collectivism. From a personal standpoint, it’s tough to envision a life in the day, only to end up alone in front of a slot machine watching silver marbles dictate my fortune. As sad as it may sound, I believe it provides a sort of excitement and mystery to the lives of these people who are so engrained in living out their lives under some kind of presumed notion or convention from which they adhere to. But even to some extent, this escape from reality is not really part of an individual experience, but still part of a collective. It has become a necessity for so many people who it has become a recognized national past-time, subjected under the same rules and etiquette as any other institution. So then, what is real and what is fantasy? The fact is, Pachinko has become part of their reality, a piece of their collective identity. Individuality within this society will always be an extension of, never separated from. But for now, the best thing to do is to play like Pachinko and watch as chance and misfortune provide a little bit of change of pace from the strictness of everyday life.


Filed under: Collectivism, Culture, Japan, Pachinko, Tokyo, Urbanism

Collectivism and Assimilation in…..Baseball?

The thought of Japan brings to mind a homogeneous culture that has long valued the collectivist community as a core to the identity of being Japanese. No further does one have to look for an example of this mindset than the game of baseball. A few of us decided to attend a pro baseball game in Tokyo – the Hanshin Tigers versus the Tokyo Yakult Swallows – and the experience was unlike any Major League game I have attended in the States.  The second we stepped into the seats of Jingu Stadium, we were bombarded with masses of Japanese fans all wearing the same jerseys, chanting the same chants in unison, motioning the same directions, responding to the same cues. It was fascinating how perfectly harmonized the fans were in tune with each other; it was as if the collective crowd had a singular mind. If I didn’t know better I would almost say it looked militaristic. But what it really was, was a perfect reflection of the collectivist cultural value has long been integral to Japanese identity. George Simmel’s definition of The Metropolis as “the most punctual integration of all activities and mutual relations into a stable and…. precisely schematized form of life” has no better example than that of these Japanese baseball fans behaving in such a homogeneous way.

This pervading collectivism is represented not just in this cultural realm of baseball, but manifests itself in the built environment around us. As I sit and write at night in my 30-story high hotel room, the view of Tokyo is a dense collection of white lights that define building forms and outlines. Each mid/high rise building has on its roof a series of identical red blinking lights. No doubt this serves a functional purpose – my guess would be that they exist to warn incoming helicopters or planes at night of relative building heights – but what is more evocative is how as a single collective mass, the red lights on each building at night evoke an image of this metropolis as a gigantic living organism. Red lights that turn on and off together and define the Tokyo skyline also represent the organic collective mindset so core to the Japanese identity and to the idea of the Metropolis. Just as the crowd of fans at the baseball game behaved as a homogeneous collective whole, so does the Metropolis consisting of buildings – the man made objects that stem from this society – behave in the very same way.

Switching back to the topic of baseball, I took an image of an especially ardent fan at the stadium waving, of all things, an American flag. This reminded me that baseball was originally an American sport brought to Japan, and led me to consider the topic of assimilation in Japanese culture. If I can recall from history class, the Japanese culture contains a very real capacity for rapid, pragmatic adaptation. Historically, the transformation of Japan into a modern political and social metropolis during the Meiji Restoration ended the reign of the Shogunate, and ushered in a complete assimilation of Western political, social, and industrial hierarchies. The same thing happened with baseball, albeit with no bloodshed or rebellion. Baseball, originally a Western construct, has been completely assimilated by Japanese culture. From a Western point of view, it was almost amusing to see this pseudo imitation of Americana, much like Tokyo Disneyland or Elvis being blasted and danced to on the streets. But as a student of architecture and urbanism, I now begin to question the very idea of assimilation and whether what is ‘assimilated’ and spit back out even resembles the original. Here we are witnessing: a Japanese baseball fan, waving an American flag, in a Japanese crowd, watching an ‘American’ sport, being played and experienced in a distinctively Japanese way. The Japanese songs, chants, sportswear and collective behavior of the crowd as one homogeneous mind can nowhere be found in baseball games in the States. Baseball in Japan has become uniquely Japanese. By the bottom of the 7th inning, the score was 8-3 Tigers, the Swallows would probably lose. We were seated in the losing teams section and I expected fans to start leaving early, cheers to die down and chants to be recited with less and less fervor. But the opposite happened, fans stayed put and sung and chanted just as loud as the opening pitch. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t about the score anymore, it wasn’t about winning or losing. In America, the idea of victory and defeat is so engrained in our minds, but what I was witnessing here was a collective group of people and their respective culture that was more concerned with the passing of time (like those Pacinco parlors) and with losing themselves in the sport (like those high-rise golf ranges).  I would argue that this is the essence of Japanese baseball at its most pure, and in a larger sense, the essence of The Metropolis at its most blase’.

~ Evan Shieh

Filed under: America, Assimilation, Baseball, Collectivism, George Simmel, Homogenous, Japan, Metropolis, Red Blinking Lights, Tokyo, Urbanism

Clock Work

Up on the 27th floor of the hotel, I sit at night and stare out my window at the city below. I sit there intrigued and occupied by the dynamic landscape that is constantly in motion. The scene is filled with trains, cars, people, elevators, buildings, and flashing lights. The cityscape reminds me of a clock, so many moving pieces that are constantly in motion, every piece important and vital for the overall composition to work.

Everything is organized at a larger scale, and this organization is apparent with how smoothly everything seems to be operating. I first noticed the smoothness of Tokyo’s infrastructure at the subway station the following day. Typically subway stations display signs of aggression and franticness of people trying to get to where they need to go. We have created the term “rush hour” to describe the influx of people and pandemonium in our city’s infrastructure, and a typical sight would consist of people plowing down the stairs to catch the train before it leaves the station. Not in Tokyo, although the subway system bares thousands of people, these people are not displaying the typical signs mentioned above. Their tranquility is eerie and very unfamiliar.

I believe that this shows when good systems are in play, and work with one another efficiency is achieved. After all efficiency is typically the bench mark for performance, and infrastructure in Tokyo may not be perfect, but it is pretty close. It is not just the subway system though that creates this smooth dynamic movement, rather it is the layers of infrastructure and sectional quality of the ground plane that are frequently used through out the city. This sectional life style becomes routine for the people living in Japan. Elevated sky bridges bring pedestrian traffic off the street to allow for cars to maneuver on the ground plane. Many buildings contain underground connections that connect to subway terminals to allow for a complex network of transportation underneath the ground surface. Lobbies and elevators are dispersed throughout the buildings to create successful nodes for each of these various circulation paths.

It is through these layers of circulation that efficiency is achieved, and the urban environment overall becomes more user friendly. When people can get where they need to go, in a punctual manner, it makes one ponder why more cities are not delaminating their circulation paths. With all of these systems working together it creates this dynamic landscape that runs so smooth that one might compare the city’s effortlessness to run like clockwork.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, Infrastructure, JR, Public, Rail, Renjilian, Ross, Tokyo, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urbanism, , ,

Land of the Setting Sun

First glimpse of Tokyo,

the land of the setting sun.

Do you ever sleep?


Filed under: Architecture, Japan, Tokyo

Tokyo // A Metropolis that Others Strive to Be

After experiencing most of my college education at USC in Los Angeles, AAU study abroad has given me a breath of fresh air even if it has only been 4 days into the trip. The months of waiting has finally culminated to the start of an amazing journey. Our first destination is Tokyo, a city where public transportation and pedestrian circulation eliminates the use of a car.

The differences between the Los Angeles and Tokyo were tremendously obvious right when I stepped foot into the hotel. Instead of a ground floor lobby space typically seen in Los Angeles, there was a large space that acted as interstitial lobby distributing users to their respective areas within the tower. After 24+ of traveling, all I wanted to do was get to my room and sleep. Why was it so complicated to not have a lobby on the first floor to greet us weary travelers? My American thinking was obviously not appropriate to view Japan. After a good night’s rest, I set out to SEE the city and the complicated layering systems that made it function seamlessly.

Because the sprawl of Tokyo is limited, many buildings have to rise vertically in order to have the most efficient use of space. The tower has multiple tenants including our lobby that starts at the 25th floor. In Los Angeles, a 25th floor lobby would be unacceptable, yet the hotels here work regardless of its vertical location in the building. Underneath the ground floor, a retail space and subway access relieves a significant amount of pedestrian congestion. The subway is located at the lowest level, and as people proceed upwards, they are surrounded by retail space. Thus the businesses are able to thrive even below the ground plane. The relationships among the layered programs all work in harmony, creating a sophisticated and “hybrid” condition. Offices, hotels, restaurants, residences, and other amenities can exist all in one building, making it extremely convenient for the occupants to the point that they don’t even have to step foot outside!

By wandering a few meters past the hotel underground, I was able to catch a glimpse of Japan’s sophisticated program and circulation system. I compared it to Los Angeles, a place I am most familiar with, and Tokyo made it look like an infant city. I have to drive to every destination I decide to go to because of the city’s XY axis of development. How could someone who grew up in Los Angeles go against it? Well, it feels GREAT to not have to fill up on gas or have responsibility taking care of a car. I don’t have to find parking, stress about driving, or spend time looking for it in a parking garage. Also, if Los Angeles had a more developed and streamline public transportation system, I could SEE the city from a pedestrian perspective rather than a car’s. The drastic change in pace really affected the detail of my observation. For example, in Tokyo, I was able to look at the detail of construction by walking on the pedestrian sky bridge, but in a car, I would never be able to experience anything close to that level of detail. I finally get to use my senses to hear, smell, taste, feel, and SEE the many layers that comprise of the city.

Even though this is only the beginning of the trip, my analysis and experiences have altered drastically. It is not another semester inside a classroom, listening to lectures and doing studio work. My objective is to understand the “architecture” of the city and see the effectiveness of different strategies and consider the possibility of a better one. It’s my first topic studio and I feel extremely grateful to visit all these sites to both broaden my architectural education and enhance the kinesthetic learning experience.


Filed under: America, Architecture, comparison to Los Angeles, Hybrid Building, Japan, Public Transportation, Tokyo, Urbanism

Is this real life?

Following Yo’s lecture this morning, I found myself questioning the meaning of “real”.  During the discussion, real was loosely defined in terms of the natural vs. man made.  Take a landscape for example, in a dense urban environment such as Tokyo.  You can almost always assume that it has been designed by man.  This tree was put here on purpose.  Seldom can you find a “natural” landscape within a dense concrete jungle that has been preserved in its original state.  But does this disqualify it from being real?  I would say no.  Later in the day, my friend and I were arguing over the same definition, and I came to the realization (no pun intended) that real can be defined in the sense of perception.  We recalled a professor’s lecture about imitation designer hand bags.  The “real” bags are produced in China, and then the Chanel/Coach/Louis Vuitton label is added afterwards before reaching the US for sale.  The “fake” bags are produced in the same factories, by the same workers, with the same materials.  They are then sold on the street without the designer label for a tenth of the cost.  The only reason we consider the bags in the designer stores to be real is because of our perception of the label.  So why can’t this apply to architectural constructs?  If we as designers can fashion a landscape so as to prompt a certain perceptual understanding from the user, we have essentially created something real.  If the user thinks and feels as if they are in a natural environment, than to them it is real.  “If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”  In this sense, real can only be defined by the self, thus supporting the perceptual defenition of the word.

I have also observed how this “perceptual reality” has become an integral part of the Japanese culture, and how it applies to both the city and its architecture.  As we all have noticed and marveled over, a large part of Tokyo city life occurs beneath the ground, on multiple urban sub-levels. One particularly interesting aspect of this subterranean network, is that often times you hardly even notice that you are underground while occupying them.  They have been designed to imitate a real surface city, and include many of the same programs and circulatory patterns.  With the use of voided atrium spaces to bring in natural light and air, it becomes hard to tell the difference between above and below ground.  In essence, the view of this underground system as an integral part of the surface world, rather than a separate sub-level, creates a perceptual reality of a singular, unified city network.  Juxtaposed to American cities, this is quite unique.  In cities with underground systems such as New York and Washington D.C., there is a clear distinction between above and below.  Sub-level, there only exists the transit systems, with little program or other uses, and there is rarely a moment which blurs the line between the two distinct worlds.

Lastly, our screening of the film Tokyo-Ga also reinforced my understanding of a perceptual reality within Tokyo culture.  This was largely supported by the artificial food replicas that appeared throughout the film.  In nearly every restaurant, you can find a plastic food display in the window, or at least a photographic menu of plastic foods.  This example is about as purely perceptual as you can get.  You order food based on your perception of the fake as the real.  For six days now, I have not once ordered a meal based on the English description of the dish, but rather by how appealing the picture or plastic food appears.  Another perceptual reality found in the film is that of the golf world.  Since Tokyo does not have the luxury of space that America does, there is no room to construct an 18 hole golf course or 400 yard driving range.  The solution lies in perception.  If you can see, feel, imagine you are playing the game, than it becomes real.  This is best illustrated by a shot of a man in the film, who stands atop his apartment building, dozens of stories high surrounded by other structures on all sides.  The nearest park is probably miles away, let alone a golf course.  Yet he practices his swing, clutching a rolled newspaper as if it were a club, driving imaginary balls into the urban abyss.  For him, this is probably about as real as golf will be for quite some time.  In a city like Tokyo, it is almost necessary to accept this perceptual reality, for it allows one to live and experience things that are otherwise inconceivable within such a dense urban fabric.


Filed under: America, Architecture, Japan, Perception, Reality, Tokyo, Urbanism

Density, Collectivism, and Cultural Norms

North Americans possess a spatial understanding which influences our daily routines and activities to an astounding degree. In Japan, many people in our small group – myself included – seem completely inept in transversing a dense urban environment that many Japanese navigate with ease. While seemingly normal in North America, our group seems wholly out of place in Japan as we naturally occupy whatever amount of space is available to us, rather than compressing our seventeen-strong unit into a more compact formation. Even when arriving in Japan by airport shuttle, we chose to “fan out” and occupy only one seat in each two-seat cluster, causing our group to inhabit nearly the entire bus rather than only a small portion of the available space. Many Japanese, on the other hand, appear to innately understand the great value of space in their hyper-dense society. Lines of people form without outside direction, passengers in subway cars sit so as to maximize space for others, commuters walk with purpose and an awareness of their compatriots. Though likely influenced by the spatial constraints of vast Japanese cities such as Tokyo, this respect is somewhat alarming for those visiting from North America. Our culture of bigness and individuality places little emphasis on a spatial understanding and consideration of a collective whole. Through careful observation, however, it is clear that many American behaviors are formed not through thought and necessity, but rather are the result of luxurious ignorance. Our norms are justified by an abundance of space, of time, of resources.

In fact, I would argue that these cultural attributes – specifically Americana and its unwavering attention to the narcissist – seeks to prevent many American cities from evolving beyond a mere aggregation of citizens and resources. Tokyo shows us how a city can function with astounding efficiency and complexity, while allowing complex urban mutations to flourish and develop in ways which would seem bizzare to the inhabitants of many North American cities. As I write, the fifty-story building adjacent from our Tokyo hotel shows offices, apartments, and restaurants uniformly distributed throughout its height, forming a complex sectional network of program and activity. Yet such a distribution of commercial and residential spaces would seem unthinkable in many North American cities. Restaurants on the twenty-fifth floor would see no business, offices vacant due to a lack of branding potential in a mixed-use building. Here, however, the residents of Tokyo innately embrace this complex organizational strategy, in turn generating an increasingly sophisticated and layered use of space. While American spatial paradigms offer successful urban relationships in many instances, it would appear as though cultural understandings more in tune with density and collectivism foster a new breed of activity and density not seen in the West.

– Taylor

Filed under: America, Architecture, Japan, Urbanism

About AAU 2010

“The real place of the improbable is in the city.” – Manfredo Tafuri

“By Architecture of the city we mean two different things: first, the city seen as a gigantic man-made object, a work of engineering and architecture that is large and complex and growing over time; second, certain more limited but still crucial aspects of the city, namely urban artifacts, which like the city itself are characterized by their own history and thus by their own form.  In both cases architecture clearly represents only one aspect of the more complex reality, of a larger structure….” Aldo Rossi


Welcome to the Fall 2010 Asia Architecture and Urbanism Study Abroad Program [AAUF2010]. This site will serve as a travel diary of the program – a diary not in the sense of a repository of mementos or musings of the students’ travels but instead an academic platform for the students to leverage their exposures and experiences as forms of critique and constructed narratives of and about the city. The program director, participating students and enrichment faculties will maintain the site.

The cities of any culture in time is an obvious manifestation of its social and cultural mores, however, it is not only the repository of its culture but also a provocateur, a catalytic agent to the generative narrative of place as object interacting with its subject.  To fully synthesize cities experientially as place and culture, one must be able to critically engage in its manifestations not only in the skein of its histories but also in its mental and social complexities as urban narratives, as the allure of the spectacle, as theatres of human events.

The modern cities, across geographical boundaries in a global spatial atlas are vibrant and complex ecologies.  Their often-contradictory configurations and manifestations must be understood as active and provocative participants in the experiments of modernism and the metropolis life.  This program will accentuate the city as a protagonist of the metropolis life and the facilitator of its cultural productions.  The cities traveled for the program and their urban artifacts will serve as subjects for study not only in the traditional approach of constructing specificities of historical and/or physical manifestations for analysis but also as framework for critical dialogue and engagement about the idea of the city.  To achieve this investigation into the complex underpinnings of the city as spectacle and cultural production, we will engage with the social, political, economic, art, film, architecture and the urban topics as vehicles for creative and critical discourse.  The goal is to provide the students with a penetrating look at the generating forces of culture as forms of urban artifacts traceable through the development and evolution of cities.

Aldo Rossi, a 20th century architect, theorist and educator asserted that works of architecture are creations inseparable from civilized life and the society in which it is manifested.  While architecture references singular creations, architectures, as a collective, are the constituents of the urban – the city.  Urban morphology speaks of the existence of cities as overlays of urban syntax of which architecture is a layer.  As such, morphological studies of the urban constitute the exploration, analysis and synthesis of all the possible facets and solutions to a multi-dimensional, non-quantified (constantly evolving) complex equation.  Arguably, to fully comprehend urban form, we must not stop at learning its physical qualities, we must also actively engage in comprehending the mental and social complexities as experiential narratives of the everyday.

While the traditional notion of city historically had its roots in Western civilizations, the current trajectory of evolution and formation of the city is in Asian countries, particularly that of China.  As the new frontier of city making and proliferation, China offers a student of architecture and urbanism great opportunity for a cross sectional understanding of city genealogies and mutations from their Western counterparts.  Though the momentum of new city formations rests with China, many Asian cities have been in developed existence and are constantly undergoing incremental regenerations and therefore serve the academic purpose for comparative study and analysis.

Recognizing the above, the Asia Architecture and Urbanism [AAU] program will provide an opportunity to explore this new urban paradigm in China with a 15-week study abroad program. Though the program will be anchored in Shanghai, urban/design workshops will take place in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Shenzhen.  Enrichment excursions will also take the students to Sendai, Yokohama, Kyoto, Paju, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Xi’an.  Students will engage in the transformative forces of urbanism and built environments to mediate the spectrum between universal civilization and the indigenous particularities of place and culture.  Students will be taught to observe and synthesize the similarities and differences that exist between their own social/cultural norms and the critical means for thinking about architecture and the city.  This challenges their assumptions and expands their horizons, which is the very essence of an exceptional education.  It is with the above outlined understanding and academic mission that the AAU program is formed.

Please visit often or subscribe to the site and follow our physical, mental, creative, and intellectual journey.

– Andrew Liang, Director of AAU, Adjunct Assistant Professor

Filed under: About


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu