USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

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



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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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