URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

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

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

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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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