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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

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.

Alex

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

One Response

  1. Nice quotation from The Matrix.

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AAU FALL 2013:

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

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
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
Students:
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

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