USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Sustainable Bubble.

The theme of Shanghai’s World Expo: “Better City, Better Life”.  The premise of this year’s Expo revolves around the idea of implementing sustainable actions in order to better the future of our planet and its resources.  Therefore, the pavilions designed for the Expo by the 192 countries and 50 organizations participating, all had to incorporate a strong sense of sustainable ideas within their designs.  Whether it was by use of materials, energy efficiencies, or simply by reduction of resources used, each pavilion had a unique way of promoting their country in a sustainable fashion.

However, the more often I visited the Expo, the more I began to think about the implications that an exhibition based on the idea of a “Better City, Better Life” was having on the city of Shanghai, outside of the Expo boundaries.  While inside the Expo, the use of electric buses, solar power, and water waste efficiencies are extremely apparent.   Although, while the inside of the Expo is taking a sustainable approach, how is Shanghai being affected as a whole, not just at the Expo grounds?

At a cost of about $45 billion, there has been more money spent on solely preparation alone for the Expo than that of the Beijing Olympics.  This money went to the opening of six new subway lines, a “highline-esque” boardwalk along the extents of the site, a revamping to almost every portion of the city, and a clean-up of the Expo site itself.  In addition to this, Shanghai had to prepare for the traffic of over 73 million visitors – many of whom will be traveling by airplane, automobile, and other forms of unsustainable transportation methods.  The city had to use resources that is otherwise would not have had to use in order to accommodate for the abundance of people.

As today is the final day, the decisions about what will happen to each pavilion following the close of the Expo will need to be broadcasted.  The general public does not know what will happen to almost all but four of these pavilions: China Pavilion, Expo Center, Theme Pavilion and Expo Performance Center.  I find it somewhat ironic that an event with such an emphasis on sustainability will be tearing down virtually all of the pavilions, except for the aforementioned structures.  With tons of steel, glass, and concrete being used in the pavilions, it becomes curious to see what will happen to all these materials following the close.  While some of the pavilions will be torn down and reconstructed, many have the possibility of simply turning to wasted materials.

In an article from NPR, “Critics Worry About Shanghai Expo’s Legacy,” by Louisa Lim, she discusses how an artist, Chen Hanfeng has a piece on exhibit in which he displays “a bubble machine hooked up to an IV tube, belching bubbles into a cage. He’s taking a sly poke at the Expo slogan ‘Better City, Better Life’ by titling his work ‘Bubble City, Bubble Life.’”   As Hanfeng discusses his exhibit, he states, “I think the concept of Expo starts from utopia, utopian-style architecture, and futuristic imagination. It’s kind of like a bubble.  After the Expo is gone, everything’s going to be gone, right?”  Although the final verdict on the Expo site is yet to be announced, this statement seems to be valid at this point.  It seems that once the bubble pops, the ramifications of the Expo will then start to ensue.  It is not until then that we can see how the demolition of the pavilions will endorse or contradict the overall idea of the Expo: “Better City, Better Life.”  Until then…


Filed under: Architecture, China, Shanghai Expo 2010, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Get away from the ideology

City: paranoid

City: ruthless

City: resentful

City: people

City: beautiful

The master plan is dead. The master plan is dead. Let’s repeat that again: the master plan is dead.

Gone are the storied days when Corb and Kahn could plan a city and have a realistic chance that some form of the plan could be built. Wolf Prix’s piece gives an excellent insight into how architects now can execute urban interventions as a means of resisting the growing privatization of public space in urban areas. This privatization is a result of a lack of public municipal funds for public space development and thus having to turn to private entities, that in turn gobble up all the valued public area in the city for themselves. Mr. Prix argues that architects resist this change by employing wider urban strategies through architecture.

Wait, Architecture + Urbanism? Has architecture not been a loosely related but still separate part of urbanism. Yes, architecture is a reasonable piece of a larger urban planning but so far all we’ve seen is a disconnect from the architecture and the role is plays in the wider urban scheme. The fact that a piece of architecture can actively play a role on the urban level, as Mr. Prix is describing, has not been done enough. More importantly, this utilization of architecture as means of creating an urban intervention goes against the way architecture operates described in Winy Maas’s Toward an Urbanistic Architecture.

Maas uses the example of the World Trade Center site competition in which “blob and data designers fused with rationalists and super modernists, collaborated with local architectures, speed of technology, and employment of common pool of students led to convergence rather than differentiation of architectures.” This kind of collaboration that transcends languages, cultures, and methodologies is exactly what Ibeling’s writing on Supermodernism was talking about. Globalization has allowed this universal application of architecture to occur through the main element of supermodernism: neutrality.

When an architect employs the form-driven strategy that Wolf Prix’s firm Coop Himmelblau uses in their UFA Cinema Center project, the neutrality is lost. Through the architecture, Coop “amplifies the urban spaces by adjoining it through its own transistor-like spatial organization.” They raise the theatre box to allow a public passage to connect two key city spaces below. Instantly, the project has lost all neutrality within its context by becoming an important movement point between two urban areas. As a result, there is a shift or a morphing of the supermodernist agenda when combined with an urbanist thought process.

Out of the entire writing, a short page by Robert A.M. Stern gave the most valid point: urbanism is about human life. Human life would not exist without the city and vice versa.  Stern states that architects need to “get out of the confines of ideology and into fresh air of the real world.” What good is an ideology if it confines you from asking the better questions? Had Coop implemented a strict supermodernist agenda in their UFA Cinema Center project, would there have been such a bold urban intervention included?

Beauty will always reside in the eye of he beholder. The intro of the writing Aesthetics + Urbanism mentions Kenneth Frampton’s labeling of the New York City landscape as dystopian. Laurent Malone and Dennis Adams’ photographic project on a sequential series of storefront’s as a paranoid, ruthless, instrumental, and resentful landscape. It is true that much of New York City does not offer the picturesque view that the city wants to show to the rest of the world. Every metropolitan area from New York to London to Tokyo to Los Angeles has such qualities. I argue that there seldom exists a cityscape without these raw, unplanned fabrics popping up uncontrollably. But it is wrongly biased to label these “unwanted” elements as dystopian as long as there is a human variable in the overall equation. It is not all bad even if, as Stern states, “every site does not call for an architectural art project.”

For Laurent Malone, Dennis Adams, and Kenneth Frampton who have labeled New York City as paranoid and dystopian: the city is alive, and I leave you with this:


-Christopher Glenn


Filed under: Uncategorized

Going Astray for…

Beijing’s 798 is one of China’s contemporary art districts supported by a broad range of art galleries, cafés, artist studios, bookstores, and shops. Before entering 798, I considered the irony of Beijing, being the capital of Communist China and control center of censorship, allowing social commentary charged art to be displayed. Upon entering the first gallery, every piece of art had commentary on Chinese culture, past and present. I continued through 798, and immediately stopping the Cuba Avant-Garde art show. After seeing waves of galleries displaying Chinese artists, why was it that Cuban art was able to make it to 798?

I wandered into the Xin Dong Cheng art space seeing a various display of Cuban art, understanding that most pieces had a social commentary on the Cuban socialist government. I was drawn to Rene Francisco Rodriguez pieces because of its simplicity, but its high attention to detail.

This first piece displays a monochrome composition of people forming the Cuba with a stray figure wandering off to the right corner. Upon looking closer at the drawing, everything was composed of Q-tip sized dots for each person’s head, body, and legs. Rather than painting the background gray and dotting the people in, the artist painstakingly dotted every square centimeter of the canvas, making it impossible to ignore his intention for doing so.

The dotted paint seemed to represent the idea of socialism and everyone being equal. From far away, the picture appeared as a nicely shaded island of Cuba, indicating the country as a whole unified piece. Looking closely, the human figures appear to illustrate that Cuba is composed of individuals for the same good of socialism. However, what about the Stray veering off to the right?

Socialism on paper seems like a viable political concept. But in reality, not everyone is content with its agenda and outcome. Equality is great, but how much do you have to give up in order for everyone to be at the same level? How much are people willing to sacrifice for the common good? The stray figure symbolized the individuals who weren’t able accept the socialist Cuba and left for another life, deeming themselves as outcasts of the whole picture of Cuba. Perhaps the author sees himself as this single person, using art as a way to display his feelings towards Cuba’s communist regime.

From this analysis, I started to draw connections to China. The most obvious similarity is their communist government. Both countries underwent a transformation that affected the overall lifestyle of their citizens and many fled to other countries to pursue a better life. However, since then, China has had a different interpretation of Socialism than Cuba and has yielded extreme development results. Cuba’s growth has not evolved to that of China’s and perhaps gives many individuals like the artist frustration that the whole country can’t seem to progress further. It may have also been the intention of the curator to show very subtly the uncertainty and perhaps negative aspects of communism through the Cuban lens.

Looking at China’s fast pace of development, there is a mix between Communism and Capitalism. Few would say that China is completely socialist, but many policies like the lack of land ownership still remind people of its overarching communist stance. In America, we pride ourselves for having freedom of speech and press, but when these rights are challenged, there is a notion that people don’t necessarily have the liberty to express their opinions. We also pride ourselves on democracy, which is seldom seen because few policies are decided to benefit the people. As a communist country that has extreme censorship and human rights issues, China has been able to benefit its people with infrastructure, while America the Free is busy with airline companies lobbying against high-speed rail. The rate of progress for China has increased exponentially while the United States’ has slowed to a snail pace if not halted in the past decade.

The Stray in the painting is leaving Cuba, but where is it going? At this point the communist/capitalist hybrid system of China produces results while the United States, which advertises freedom and democracy, is stuck in a development slumber. Will the stray turn back, go to a country that has a similar system, but yields results, or a country that “promises” liberty?


Filed under: America, Beijing 798, Capitalism, China, development, promises, Reality, Rene Fransico Rodriguez, social commentary, socialism

Better City, Better Life. For whom?

While “preparing for arrival” in Shanghai, My eye was drawn to rows and rows of massive housing blocks. These mega forms give the first glimpse of the rapid urban growth being experienced in China. As the plane landed, an amazing transit system was right there to get you from point A to point B, and even more impressive is the system has only been in place for five years. This rapid growth to modernize China has created this new Chinese mentality of perspective. Most of this large-scale development is put into play to demonstrate China’s quantitative power, and to show the western world that it will soon be a new power. With this modernization for power, I question will the people be remembered.

In Japan, the level of development has nearly reached the state of perfection, if perfection could be achieved, and Korea is not too far behind. Japan’s success has to do with its culture. There was no trash in the streets and a degree of personal space is amazingly achievable in a dense metropolis. Somehow the Japanese have developed a sense of collectivism that is wired within their way of thinking. This is not saying that the Japanese model is correct, but it begs the question of what type of cultural and urban development is brewing in China.

My first reaction to China was even with though it is developing physically there seems to a lack of social development. For instance, standing in the gardens of the Forbidden City, the last stop in what been an extraordinary procession of architecture I felt a sudden grip on my arm. A Chinese woman was pulling me out of our group. My automatic reaction was to step away yet she reached for me again. As I shook my head, saying no to the picture-taking I was becoming accustomed to I could not help but wonder how this breach of personal space was a norm in China. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and we are at the Shanghai World Expo. Here within the pavilions that are boasting modern advancement people are spitting, throwing trash, pushing people, and cutting in line. Something we were taught not to do from the age of three.

The difficult part here is to not get into what’s proper and improper, rather stepping back and understanding their culture. As a person who has grown up in the West, I assume my social standards to be the same for the rest of the world. On the contrary being in Japan, and feeling rude and out-of-place, I started to realize how robotic and unnaturally human Japan has become. China has the grit and grime that makes the city feel more real and humanizing.

The world Expo was a great example of this real human factor. Although the event is meant to celebrate the development of different countries, the main emphasis on the Expo was the new power of China. Many different countries designed beautiful pavilions and exhibitions, but there is another beauty beyond the architecture. I saw a society that has been closed off for the past 40+ years experiencing something new and exciting. Seeing and experiencing what every country has to offer. As much as that woman pulling me away irked me in retrospect I am beginning to understand the fascination.

The theme for the world expo is, “Better City, Better Life” yet one cannot forget a City is not just the built environment but a make up of people, economics, and politics that drive it. I think the challenge for China will be finding a balance between social concerns and economical and political dominance. As they continue to push for a modernization will social issues such as the huge gap between the affluent and the lower class, begin to stunt its growth? I think China will begin to create its own identity, whether it is towards the hyper-density and collectivism of Japan or the sprawled, individuality of the west.

– Precious

Filed under: Architecture, China, Growth, Japan, Psyche, Social Development, Urbanism, World Expo

Walking Patterns & Mental Carvings

Ants move across the ground one after another, using scent to follow each other’s exact footsteps. When multiple ant trails are present and begin to intersect, the negative space between these pathways becomes defined. From an overhead view, these intersecting trails begin to appear as the streets in a figure field view of a city plan.

Spaces carved out by a mental process can in fact be tangible. Michel de Certeau’s Walking in the City states that, “The ordinary practitioners of the city…are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen… The paths that correspond in this intertwining…elude legibility… The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces.”

These walkers carve out space as they circulate through the city, similar to the movement pattern of ants. The tracks created by people’s walking patterns form barriers around mental objects. These mental pathways do in fact produce physical space. The void between the barriers becomes an object being contained by people. This metaphysical object becomes an obstacle not to be touched. Walkers produce a mental space rather than a physical one. Yet, this space is at the same time a tangible, visible space, which inherently becomes physical.

Japan’s model of creating contained voids through walking patterns is almost an exact replica of an ant’s trail. People follow one another in a set line. Virtually nobody steps out of line, or causes any sort of disturbance to this route. How are these routes determined? And by whom? It is almost as if the people of Japan are robots, following somebody’s master plan.

While the pathways of walking in Japan may be similar to the scrupulous organization of an ant trail, China lacks this control. In China, there are no apparent nor visible routes which walkers automatically fall into. The voids carved out by an ant’s trail become polluted. People, either moving or stagnant begin to dot these previous desolate spaces. These pedestrians move in an unorganized manner, sometimes against the flow of traffic, and sometimes come to a complete stop for no apparent reason. Even when there is an organized line, with barriers, where people are meant to queue, in China people attempt to push ahead. Instead of a single-file line, three or four people are standing side by side trying to get ahead. These attempts at pushing forward simply put pedestrians a whole behind due to a lack of efficiency.

Can the pedestrians of China be considered walkers? Or merely just people who are moving?

Although the well-defined void spaces created by Japan’s walking patterns may appear to be wasted space, Japan’s pedestrian traffic flow is much more efficient than that of China. China’s polluted void space and undefined pathways create almost a completely chaotic atmosphere. This polluted disorganization creates an atmosphere where true walkers cannot exist.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: China, japan, patterns, pedestrians, Uncategorized, walkers,

Time, Architecture, and Experience

I exit the subway, ascending a gargantuan staircase which terminates at ground level. Camera poised, I walk with expectation across each riser, expecting to catch a glimpse of the colossus located in the distance. And then, without warning, it appears – a hulking mass of concrete, steel, glass, laying dormant upon a plinth of concrete and stone. I take the obligatory photos, capturing the stadium in the fading daylight. This object of fascination, often referred to fondly as The Bird’s Nest or Beijing National Stadium, is perhaps one of the most recognizable structures erected in recent memory. The centerpiece of the Olympic games in 2008, it has come to represent the vibrancy and vitality of the Olympics and the spectacle of sport. On television, it appears a hub of energy; images taken from endless hours of Olympic television coverage play in my mind as I approach the sleeping giant. As I near the center of the Olympic grounds, the stadium’s iconic image fills my field of view. Surely this visit is a highlight of my experience in Asia thus far.

And yet, something seems wrong. My emotional reaction to this bizarrely familiar place is far from that of the jubilance conveyed by the media’s coverage of the summer games. What once seemed a jubilant structure echoing with the footsteps of tens of thousands of people now seems hollow, devoid of its intended energy. Its sadness is almost palpable. Turnstiles lay barren, staircases devoid of footfall, seats without occupants. The giant, designed specifically to house a record-setting crowd, now sits barren of its program. Street vendors, selling Olympic-themed merchandise, surround its gates as the sole companions of this wallowing giant. Upon closer inspection, the concrete facade is beginning to wear – dirt from rainfall is evident on its steel shell. I begin listening to Stars Of The Lid, a band whose sombre ambience befits a moment so overwhelmingly laden with pathos.

This response on my behalf was completely unexpected, but in hindsight underscores an element in architecture too often overlooked by students such as myself – time. Hyper-temporal architecture, or that designed only for a singular moment in time, only magnifies this dimensionality tenfold. Though some structures are conceived to whether an endless expanse of time, standing with ever-patient dignity, those born with a limited lifespan exude importance of the moment, place, and program in the spirit and image of a structure. The Bird’s Nest, standing empty of its former life, was perhaps even more powerful as a result of its obvious loss and emptiness – an architectural icon forever reminiscent of a singular event. Though saddening, my visit was one of the most overwhelmingly visceral reactions of any architectural icons I’ve visited to date.

As Hans Ibelings describes at length in his book Supermodernism: Archiecture In The Age Of Globalization, architectural theory is closely tied to a series of value judgements. Certain methodologies of design are embraced, rejecting specific principles in favor of ideals which often appear fresh and full of possibility. Though the conceptual implications of different architectural polemics are arguably most visible at a strictly formal level (the stark minimalism and endless repetition of post-war modernism, the visual assault of postmodernism, the abstract formal language of deconstructivism), it is important not to forget time as an important component in the experience of architecture. Whether experienced as an explicit component in Archigram’s “Instant City,” or an implicit constituent of Bernard Tschmi’s proposal for the Kyoto JR Station, time is a fundamental component of architecture. In the case of the Bird’s Nest, even a tacit incorporation of time as a resultant of limited use plays an overwhelming large role in defining one’s experience of such an artifact.


Soundtrack of this experience: Stars Of The Lid – A Meaningful Moment Through A Meaning(less) Process, accompanied by images taken from Disney’s 1966 EPCOT proposal. The superimposed audio in this clip gives the once-auspicious footage new meaning (and with it new emotional implication) in the face of its neglect and disrepair as utopian urban strategy in modern-day America. A must-watch.

Filed under: Architecture, China, Urbanism

Madrid es tu casa

Madrid is your home. Or at least what a home should be. Our visit to the Madrid Social Housing Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo encompassed the many ideas and concepts that we have been exposed to on our trip so far. Various other country pavilions on the other side of the river have touted their ideas about environmental-consciousness and sustainability endlessly, but few had physically manifested those ideas into the pavilion itself.

The Social Housing Pavilion is comprised of the bamboo house and the air tree, both of which are replicas of existing projects in Madrid. The bamboo house’s program, as a social housing project, is represented as different exhibit spaces within the pavilion. For example, the bedroom space houses the housing exhibit, the corridor represents the Gran Via boulevard and its importance to the city of Madrid, and the bathroom houses the exhibit for sustainability and efficiency Madrid is practicing.

The bamboo house is the epitome of the themes and ideas that Madrid as a city is putting into practice in order to make their city better. The first exhibit I visited detailed and mapped the various green spaces throughout Madrid and how there has been a legal municipal initiative on many levels to create a sustainable urban environment. One of the points of interests I took from the exhibits was the topic of green space in the city. They had diagrammed the green space in the entire city, a diagram which would have dwarfed the green space diagram of Los Angeles or many other cities in the U.S. for that matter. The implementation of this was seen on an architectural level on the bamboo house itself, with plants on the roof along with solar collectors.

And green space is not necessarily restricted to parks in Madrid. The exhibit also had an example of a project where the city solved a problem of physical disconnect between two areas with a strip of green space. To be honest, it is frustrating when project after project showcases a ‘green’ aspect of their project and have a strip of grass and that’s it. But to utilize a piece of green-scape as a part of an urban strategy to promote not only a sustainable environment, but also an environment that is enjoyable to its users is something that needs to be done more often. Just by plopping down a park in the middle of a city without any foresight is not the solution.

The far extent to which the exhibit documented not only the green spaces of the city, but also in mapping the various infrastructure and various commercial and residential districts was something to marvel at. This was truly a city that cares about itself and where it is going.

The implementation of this strategy not only in European cities but also in cities worldwide is something that was touched upon in Ibelings writing on Supermodernism, which discuss how globalization has enabled the rapid sharing of ideas, not just architecture, amongst the international community. The fact that cities are growing similarly and facing related problems has allowed for comparable urban strategies to be implemented in cities all across the world. So the solutions that are being used by Madrid are not just something one can marvel and appreciate but solutions that can be further be digested and taken to heart, so that people can return to their home countries and tell about what they’ve seen and employ ways to make their cities work more sustainably.

The air tree, located next to the pavilion, acts as a flexible outdoor multimedia screening program space that is powered by turbines on its roof which in turn powers a fan that keeps temperatures inside cool. It is easy to imagine something like the air tree being implemented in various urban situations, acting as means of bring a community together as well as being a tool of sustainability.

The pavilion guide describes their pavilion as ‘building a house and planting a tree in Shanghai…for you to make it your own.’ This pavilion truly stood out from the other pavilions by making its exhibits and information its own.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: Uncategorized

Anywhere, Everywhere

The world of today is growing ever larger, yet paradoxically growing smaller simultaneously. The common man can now access everything in the world much closer both physically and virtually, and the scope of that reach has leaped tremendous bounds through telecommunications and technology. And it doesn’t just stop there; globalization has cultural and economic implications as well. Continued spread of cultural consciousness all embody an overarching goal to diffuse culture across the world. As such, more and more consumerist ideas are adopting technology and communication as a means to advance the proliferation of foreign products as a way to participate in the global culture. But the spread of globalization has its inherent consequences. A phenomenon that seeks to unify a largely diverse group of individuals into one singular, functioning society will have a large impact on the urban both on the physical and social levels. If the world is systematically being reduced, on the spatial front, as a result of increased mobility, Ibelings concludes that, “space itself is being steadily reduced to a zone that is traversed, an interval in a continuous movement interrupted at most for a brief stopover”. We all experienced this notion of spatial reduction on our first flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo. With merely a brief stop in Hong Kong, our 12-hour flight took us from one country to another, merely passing through several airport lobbies and train stations, spaces of “placeless-ness”. As such, the result is a loss of meaning within built structures. Spaces such as airports, bus terminals, subway stations are all transient spaces serving the modern, mobile person. The mere function is not for social gathering, but rather a nodal diffusion point within a broad network of transit oriented services. Thus, unlike post-modernism, which seeks to charge meaning into the built structure through contextualization, this new age of “Supermodernism” rejects that in favor of a more neutrality through non-places. With this in mind, it is conceivable to envision the future of cities within the era of globalization as conglomeration of service industries. Individualization of services and the autonomy of individuals in relation to the urban would totally affect the use of public/semi-public space as less and less “social”. These spaces do not function or act in the traditional way that perhaps a town center is used as meeting grounds; there is no “special attachment” that creates any meaning to it. If, in fact, places are charged through social interactions between individuals and memory, the contemporary notion of traversing through transition spaces creates non-places.

The modern man, as Ibelings puts it, is “constantly being bombarded with information” (abundance of signage). Whether it’s the virtual gamut of research we have at our fingertips, or the commercial intensity of neon signs we walked through in Kowloon, the global industry of commercialism seems heterogeneous from the observations we’ve conducted throughout the trip. The fact that we’ve seen McDonalds in every city and country we’ve been to so far, or that high end retail here still encompasses brands such as Prada, Gucci, etc. all speak towards the global nature of commerce. On the architectural/urban front, the consequence of such programmatic and social tendencies creates heterogeneous urban physiology in almost all major global cities. Ibelings states that contemporary architecture has lost all contact with context and is an, “architecture in which superficiality and neutrality have acquired a special significance”. As cities, more so nations grow to attract investments abroad, the tendency is to create a “branding” of sorts to showcase modern services. Architecture has become large, monumental, and stylized, a slogan for many countries to attract global attention. “Starchitects” like Rem, Gehry, Nouvel, and many others have captivated the world with architectural wonders of the contemporary age. China is now the new stage for supermodernism to play out itself within the urban developments sweeping across the nation. As both China and the rest of the world continue to globalize, it will be interesting to see the evolution of cities on the macro scale, as well as the development of the social and urban spaces within the micro.



Filed under: Architecture, China, Ibelings, Japan, Shanghai, supermodernism, Tokyo, Urbanism

Parallel Cities

After returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen, it occurred to me that the urban villages of Shenzhen and the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong were similar in its mix-use, low-rise housing developments. Also, Shenzhen’s Central Business District (CBD) was eerily familiar to Hong Kong’s financial district. Both instances in each city are distinctive enough to justify their differences, but because Shenzhen lacks the critical mass present in Hong Kong, this results in these two varying city development and experiential conditions.

Critical mass can be observed in the macro scale of a city especially if it has undergone either densification or sprawl. Sprawl allows for individuals a relief from population congestion, but increases the reliance on vehicular transportation. Therefore, it increases congestion on transit routes. On the other hand, individuals living in dense cities do not have this relief, but in exchange have increased efficiency in both pedestrian and vehicular movement.

In Hong Kong, there is an apparent density, especially with the clusters of pencil towers soaring 60 floors with pipes relocated to the exterior of the building. Every square meter is valuable and cannot be wasted on unusable space. Hong Kong has a condition of vertical density as a result for horizontal sprawl limitations. However, in Shenzhen, there are housing towers clusters and office buildings, but the proximity of each is quite generously spread apart. Shenzhen was established 30 years ago as an economic experiment, and has since established multiple city centers. Shenzhen has a condition of a continuously sprawling city that has not yet achieved a critical mass of people to occupy its expansive development.

As a result of densification, Mong Kok’s Market Street is bustling with life that extends beyond the sidewalk. An additional layer of temporary structures eats away at the street that was intended for vehicular traffic while the pedestrians take over the residual space. It is the presence of this critical mass that has allowed both the ground floor retail and temporary shops to thrive. Without this critical mass, it would possibly look like the urban villages of Shenzhen. In Shenzhen, each housing development also has ground floor retail and housing above, but lacks the additional layer of temporary market that Mong Kok has. The restaurants and shops are mostly empty and shop owners oftentimes sit outside killing time by playing cards or socializing with their neighbors.

Hong Kong’s financial district is lined with overhead walkways to separate pedestrian from vehicular traffic. This allows people and cars to move more efficiently rather than have both occurring on the same level at the same time. However, in Shenzhen, the boulevards are fairly wide and oftentimes littered with jaywalkers impatiently beating the pedestrian light. Sometimes streets have overhead walkways. It is not to make the pedestrian and traffic conditions more efficient, but rather to allow pedestrians to safely cross over the wide avenues if cars are driving at higher speeds.

It is difficult to say that density is bad, sprawl is good, and vice versa. Both yield different effects that offer various types of analyses. The lack of people in Shenzhen illustrates the importance of having a plethora of individuals occupying the city. Having people in a city is a commodity, and without it, conditions like Mong Kok and the Hong Kong Financial district’s overhead walkways would not have been conceived. Because of people, cities must accommodate for and create ingenious ways to deal with pedestrian, vehicular, and subterranean traffic to make them more efficient and less problematic for all parties. Critical mass allows for these new activities to take off, reinforce itself, and cluster, making a city more layered.

The presence of a critical mass contributes to the layering of a city, instigating the interactions between activities that would otherwise be segregated. This level of hybridization is what ultimately defines and dictates the quality of the experience.


Filed under: critical mass, densification, Density, experiential, layering, sprawl, Uncategorized

Supermodernism to the rescue!

We are all wondering in the dark. Modernism is the light at the end of the tunnel we entered from. Postmodernism is the lantern that ran out of fuel two decades ago. Deconstructivism was the packet of matches we found on the ground that lasted for about 5 minutes. Alas, what have we here? The light at the end of the tunnel, an end to what we have been in search for all along?

For years architects and philosophers alike have been contemplating what will follow deconstructivism and ultimately postmodernism as a means by which architecture is created, critiqued, and understood. As a student of architecture, my instructors have told me that they are unsure what will shape the architectural landscape for my generation. What will be our modernism or postmodernism? According to Ibelings writing, Supermodernism is that answer.

If you think about Modernism and Post-modernism as being on two opposite ends of the spectrum, I imagine that Supermodernism is somewhere in the middle, in the neutral, or in the grey. In the current age of globalization, ‘mobility, accessibility, and infrastructure have become the themes we live and die by.’ Additionally, this is not a movement that is touching just one or two areas, but the entire world. Thanks to globalization, architecture, technology, and the way we think are all being shared on the international plane. As a result, we see ‘cities around the world that have developed and assumed similar shapes.’ It is one of the reasons why you could look satellite night views of Madrid and Los Angeles and not be able to tell the difference between the two.

The writing elaborates on the topic of airports using the Supermodernist framework. One particular mention of the Chicago O’Hare international airport caught my eye because our studio project is dealing directly with what is occurring on a similar scale in Chicago. The O’Hare airport is developing into an ‘edge city,’ which is in turn taking away business from the Chicago city center. In essence, we are seeing a visible shift across the entire spectrum on how mobility and infrastructure nodes, such as an airport, can drastically affect the way cities and metropolises operate. Why is a businessman flying into Chicago from Shanghai going to travel from the airport all the way to the Chicago business center when he is able to carry out the same business in an area in close proximity to the airport?

The essence of Supermodernism is neutrality. Neither this nor that. Neither modernism nor post-modernism. No hierarchal structure, unity, or center. Supermodernism is not new. The author refers to cities like this as heteropolis’. The amazing thing is, I have seen it on this trip and have not even realized it. I saw it before we left, in Los Angeles; I saw it when we were in Tokyo; I saw it when I was Shenzhen. I see it when I look outside my window in Shanghai. All of these conditions exist in three different countries. One of the more important elements is that Supermodernism is not limited to architecture. In the era of globalization, it is foolhardy and reckless to think about architecture by itself and not of the urban as a whole. Not only is architecture being shared, but strategies of infrastructure, from airports and train stations, to the pedestrian walkways are being exchanged. The ability to move people has become an necessity in the constantly growing city-scape. This is one of the reasons by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has visited China to investigate how their high-speed rail operates and for perhaps future implementations in California.

It is also important to note that as a result of the constantly-connected environment that has been born out of globalization, any shifts in architecture are going to be felt on a global scale rather than a regional scale like in the past. Whereas modernism had its strongest origins in Europe and North America, trickling out to the rest of the world from there, globalization will allow a quicker action and reaction to changes in the architectural landscape. It will also allow for a much wider means of strategic application. In other words, a transportation and commercial node strategy in Hongquiao, Shanghai might be applicable in New Dehli, India, or Abuja, Nigeria. The metro-system in Tokyo could be looked at and used similarly in Shanghai.

How ironic is it that the 2010 World Expo is themed, “better city, better life,” with dozens of nations showcasing various methodologies and strategies that can be shared on the international stage in order to better each countries cities? The Expo is one of many examples where we can see the immediate exchange of ideas that has already started happening on the global scale and under the umbrella of Supermodernism.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: Uncategorized


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