USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Footprints and Fingerprints

Every person is born with an individual identity…a unique fingerprint that no other person replicates.  In many respects, cities are like this as well.  Cities are born (and often reborn) with a specific agenda, and although many cities carry the same agenda, each is still maintaining its own identity – something that makes the city that city – a footprint on the planet.  After being in Shenzhen for 6 days, I found myself still struggling to grasp what gives this city its own identity.  There are the evident characteristics: a sprawling city, the strong urge for development and rebirth, the need to create an image for itself, and the artificiality of the city.  However, these are all qualities of plenty of other cities as well.  But what really makes the city?  Gives it an identity of who it really is?

If a city is generically urban, generically developing, and generically establishing its city, does that necessarily mean that it lacks any sort of culture or identity?  From my first impression, Shenzhen seemed to lack the cultural aspect of the formation of an identity in the way that I am familiar with.  This morning, we had a discussion about this identity (or lack thereof) of Shenzhen, and a point was brought up that generic urbanism can almost equate to an urban form of culture.  In a sense, every aspect of a city promotes culture.  It may not be the culture we are accustomed to, but it is some manner of fabricating a type of culture.  I think that coming to China (and every country for that matter), we all assumed that there was going to be this beam of culture that we are not quite acquainted with beaming in our eyes, but that was not so much the case in Shenzhen.

It was not until we went to a couple of urban villages in the city that we got a sense of the culture we expected to see all along.  It was unreal to see these villages muddled up in between all the development and sense of freshness that was experienced just one footstep outside of each urban village.  Each housing building was nearly butted up against the next one – so much so, that it seemed to be endless.  Nevertheless, within one step, we were on the complete exterior of the village, peering in on the urban village from the future.  One of the most remarkable moments that this occurred was standing literally on top of rocks from the demolition of one of the urban villages, looking out into the “identity-less” city.  Besides the initial culture we saw from the villages’ buildings, we also stumbled upon residents participating in outdoor cultural activities such as dancing and tai chi.

Experiencing these urban villages is what really illustrated a portion of a clear identity of Shenzhen through culture.  It was through the encounter of these villages that gave me an understanding and insight into the innate and somewhat hidden fingerprint that Shenzen bestows.



Filed under: Architecture, China, Culture

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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

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