USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program


Located in the Qingpu district of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao is a water town lined with never ending merchants, colorful smells, and a culture that dates back 5000 years.  This video is a short compilation of my experience through this tiny village: the sights from a river boat ride and the sounds of walking through the merchant streets.  As it is impossible to remember every moment of an experience, the video slows down to focus on a few select flashes of the everyday culture in Zhujiajiao in order to enhance the reality of this unique place.



Filed under: China, River, Shanghai, Video, Zhujiajiao

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Of all the cities we’ve analyzed over the past three months, few have made us as susceptible to ‘the everyday’ like the metropolis of Shanghai.  I suppose it’s something that comes with living in any new environment for a prolonged period of time, once the undesirable status of ‘tourist’ has been outlived.  It is the point at which a foreigner becomes attuned to the defining characteristics and nuances of a place and culture. Whether it’s the daily routine of walking to a metro station or the man selling roasted sweet potatoes on the street corner, the day-to-day occurrences that often go unnoticed are what constitute ‘the everyday.’  In Henry Lefebvre’s The Everyday and Everydayness, he attempts to decode the modern world through this most common denominator that exists within every culture’s forms, functions and structures.  Our ability to identify the differences between the ‘everydayness’ of one region and another is what will reveal the diversity in a world of increasing uniformity.

Before modern times, people lived their lives according to their region, country, class, available resources, season, climate, profession, age, and sex.  The specific response to each of these contextual elements contributed to the diversity of culture and in turn the unique sense of place we enjoy experiencing as foreigners.  However, as we strive to programmatically rationalize and define the world around us, we are promoting the process of mass production, which inherently undermines this diversity.  As Lefebvre’s explains, all of the forms, functions and structures that are connected through ‘the everyday’ experience promote mass consumption on a global scale.  Although, similar forms, functions and structures existed in ancient times they were left unnamed within an ‘undifferentiated whole.’  In other words, their nature (meaning) was not clearly outlined, and therefore could not be associated with a universal category or style.  Without such associations, the distinctiveness of these elements could remain intact and exclusive to their respective origins.  Today he explains, “The relationship of form to function to structure has not disappeared.  On the contrary, it has become a declared relationship, produced as such, more and more visible and readable, announced and displayed in a transparency of the three terms.  A modern object clearly states what it is, its role and its place.”

It becomes apparent within Lefebvre’s logic that language as a tool is incremental in the modern rationalization phenomenon. According to Richard Rorty, a famous American Philosopher, there are many different beliefs about the world because “Anything can be made to look good or bad, important or unimportant, useful or useless, by being re-described” through the tool of language.  What accounts for the differences in cultures are the ways in which they describe events in the world.  If we acknowledge the fact that we think with language, then new ways of thinking will enable new ways of describing.  As descriptions change, so do the way people think and act in the world.  Similarly, the truth of Lefebvre’s “everydayness” is that it is not concerned with discovering some universal condition or system, it is about creating diversity (change) through the imaginative metaphorical re-descriptions of ‘the everyday’ human experience.  A common denominator that seeks to create rather than discover or find the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Metaphors that emerge from the human poet lead to new ways of thinking and living in the present environment.

Structure is one component of ‘the everyday’ experience which is most applicable to the study of architecture and urbanism.  Existing in both natural and constructed form, structure is the backdrop of ‘the everyday’ where forms and functions are enacted.  Lefebvre says, “…in the domain of architecture, a variety of local, regional, and national architectural styles has given way to “architectural urbanism,” a universalizing system of structures and functions in supposedly rational geometric forms.”  In the same way that language dictates the symbolic value of the forms and functions in our lives, so to does the predefined formal language found in ‘architectural urbanism.’  What influence does the architect have in ‘designing’ a structure that is simply defined by the inscribed functions?  Diversity within architectural and urban design becomes ‘apparent’ as the overriding rational geometric form is the principal means of consumption.  Work by Rem Koolhaas and OMA is successful because of its unique ability to broaden this formal vocabulary through metaphorical re-descriptions.  Seattle Public Library re-defined the typical organizational strategy of that type of institution and had a larger impact on ‘the everyday’ as a result.  As Louis Kahn said, “I just want to make my last demand in reverence to the work of what has been done by architects of the past. what was, has always been. what is, has always been. and what will be, has always been. such is the nature of beginning.”

Lefebvre’s analysis of ‘the everyday’ is an insightful look into the often undesirable banality of the human experience.  In a world dominated by instantaneously available mass consumption, it is refreshing to observe the minuteness of the present moment.




Filed under: Henry Lefebvre, Language, Shanghai, the everyday, Uncategorized

Memory, Experience, and the Xi’an City Wall

One’s experience of place is unique. Over the past months, our class has time and time again discussed experience, narrative, and memory: mental constructs that inform one’s unique perception of architecture, urbanism, place. Recently, our class travelled to the Xi’an city wall, an event that many in our group regard as a highlight of our travels in Asia thus far. In the video above, I attempt to reconstruct my personal experience of the Xi’an city wall. While photographs and unedited film would seem to capture the reality of my surroundings, I have purposely altered the footage above to reflect the intangible qualities I felt while transversing this otherworldly space. Each shot dissolves, reemerges, and appears superimposed on top of other images, accompanied by music which enhances this layered narrative. My aim is to create a representation of my experience which produces a filmic effect akin to memory – abstract, etherial, non-linear.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Tea is Tea

Walking back from lunch one afternoon I decided to stop by a local convenience store to pick up drink. Standing there, in front of the glass refrigerator door, I am overwhelmed with my selections…. of tea.

Black teas, milk teas, oolong teas, green teas, herbal teas, lemon teas, “wang lao ji”….. WHICH ONE??!

I close my eyes and blindly grab the closest bottle; I mean, does it really matter? Tea is tea.

In my time spent in various Chinese cities, my observations of capitalism and free-market economic policies within the confines of modern China suggest that the modern Chinese society is all about the “spectacle”, an idea Guy Debord predicates in his text “Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere”. Debord defines culture first and foremost as “the general sphere of knowledge”. How fitting that in this last decade, the influx of information and information technology has advanced the world tremendously. Global communications and transferring of information has allowed platforms for cross-cultural exchange, from which China has now emerged as a major powerhouse in the new century. However, with the advancement of culture (or knowledge), the idea of the image presupposes all aspects within a society; knowledge becomes a commodity of a society of the spectacle. Surveillance is a large component of this as cities and government are now more and more prone to monitor their citizens. China, still a Communist government, still employs close watch and censorship over information outlets such as the Internet, television, printed media etc. We’re all reminded of this everytime we turn our VPN on to access social networking sites like Facebook, or staring up at CCTV surveillance cameras that seem to be everywhere.

Now we go back to the tea, how? Culture naturally is issued from a historical point of view and often struggles between tradition and innovation, which seems to plague many modern societies/cities. Debord states that. “Cultural innovation is impelled solely, however, by that total historical movement….tends toward the transcendence of its own cultural presuppositions-and hence toward the suppression of all separations”. Tea, both a widely celebrated beverage and long-standing ceremonial ritual in China, has met this drastic fate in a modern, consuming Chinese society. The fact that this once highly relegated ceremonial drink that was, at times, reserved for aristocrats is now being cheaply sold in mass quantities means the inevitability of that cultural item’s loss of significance. The uniqueness of the quality, or scarcity of the type of flavor becomes meaningless in a free-market system that encourages industrialized mass production and multiple competitors. The individual/consumer becomes desensitized with quantity, and this is what Debord calls the disappearance of separations.

This past weekend we made a trip to Xi’an where I was fortunate enough to visit an actual teahouse. Upon arriving at the front door of the courtyard house, I was stopped by the hostess. She pointed to a sign that said “20 RMB Tea Ceremony”. It didn’t occur to me in that instance, but now reflecting on that moment, I am conscious now of what Debord was getting at. Similarly to Benajmin’s argument in Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the society of the spectacle within the cultural sphere reduces what was once considered true art in the sense of enrichment, to the spectacle within a purely consumer-centric society. In essence, this devolution, if you will, of culture to a merely another product completely negates any real, intrinsic value it previously had. I recently read an article published earlier this year about Starbuck’s discovering that Chinese people actually like drinking tea….what a shocker. Needless to say, this was a market study that led to the recent introduction of  “ nine new tea drinks in China including three original-leaf Chinese-style tea drinks, four original-leaf foreign tea drinks, and two handmade special tea drinks”. I found an interesting quote from the article about the current move from Starbuck’s to “get in touch” with the Chinese:

“This is not the first time that Starbucks is trying to (slowly) localize in China. China Daily points out that there is already a tea-themed Starbucks location in Shenzhen and over the past few years, Starbucks has taken to selling their own mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival and zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival”.

It seems in an age of globalization, the purity and significance of culture becomes one of the first to take a hit from the ever-changing society of the spectacle. What happens to our perceptions of culture? What is real vs. fake culture? The everydayness of walking the city presents itself with various images and advertisements of “culture”, fashion, entertainment, lifestyle, etc. Consumption and negation within the modern era leads us ever closer to the blurring between reality and the surreal, which toggles the understanding of our own culture.



“Starbucks discovers that Chinese people like tea”,


Filed under: China, Culture, Debord, knowledge, Psyche, spectacle, Starbucks, Tea, Walter Benjamin

My China

As a class we have talked often about experiential phenomena in the city.  Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai…they all have high rise buildings, elevated expressways, subway systems, bustling boulevards, bright lights, and throngs of people.  We have seen this together as a group but experience, the interpretation and comparison of small differences, occurs on an individual basis.  Experience is the stuff of memories, the ideas we take away from a place and the ones that resonate with us even if nobody else pauses to notice.

With only a couple weeks left in China, two thoughts chase me around everywhere I go.  The first is my excitement to return home to California, where life will regain a sense of normalcy.  The second is fear that this normalcy will handicap me, that my jolting experience abroad will by comparison render anything back home inadequate – or worse, boring.  So what is my experience? What has China been to me?  Here are a few of my favorite parts of the day – the things I look forward to when I wake up and the things I will miss most.  This is my China.

-At the beginning of the fifteen minute walk to the subway station, we cross a large boulevard shortly after leaving the hotel.  A concrete pedestrian island separates lanes of car traffic passing in front and bike traffic passing behind.  When I huddle on this island with ten other people, the city whizzing by on all sides, I imagine a boulder sitting still in a fast moving river.  This is the most peaceful part of the day.

-Whenever I get change at a market, it’s always a mystery whether the cash register attendant will give back One Yuen notes or coins.  I try to guess which one it will be, and secretly hope to get coins because the notes feel small and insubstantial.  Occasionally the coins will be counterfeit, but nobody seems to pay too much attention.

-Most subway stations have a pair of soldiers standing silently at the entrance and exit.  For some reason one of them stands on a one-foot tall pedestal, and the other on the ground.  The shorter soldier always stands on the pedestal.  This makes me happy.  I have not sought out any further explanation, and don’t plan on doing so.

-When ordering drinks, ‘lemon iced tea’ is almost always written as ‘ice lemon tea’.  If you say the former, servers will correct the order of your words.  To order Coca-Cola do not ask for ‘Coke’ or you will get a confused look.  Ask for ‘Cola’.  Drinks invariably come with knotted straws that force your beverage to make a loop-the-loop as you sip it.  The jury is still out on whether this adds anything to the experience.

-The undersides of elevated expressways are all brightly lighted.  A nighttime cab ride passes underneath, on top of, and above floating ribbons of color twisting their way through high-rise canyons.  I think about how this looks futuristic, and also a little bit silly.

-Elevators usually have no button for number four, because the Chinese word for it resembles the word for death.  This always reminds me of how many American buildings omit a thirteenth floor.  Superstition both amuses and annoys me but I’m not even sure why thirteen is superstitious to begin with, so I find the Chinese version more legitimate.  Checking for this is always the first thing I do in an elevator.

-Inside the subway station there is a long corridor you must walk down between the entrance and turnstiles.  At rush hour the corridor is filled with people, some walking briskly, some walking four abreast, some on their cell phones, some listening to music, some holding briefcases, and some completely unremarkable.  All these people moving at different paces make it impossible to walk the length of the corridor in a straight line.  You have to judge speeds, make passes, navigate groups, twist and turn your body, rub shoulders, and keep alert.  I love this.

Matt Luery

Filed under: America, Architecture, China, everydayness, experience, phenomena, Urbanism

Evolving Space

Architecture is a discipline which has the ability to generate activity in any given space.  Whether that space is a bridge, a building, an alleyway,  or a patch of grass, is not always the issue.  Any number of activities can occur in a space, regardless of what use the space was intended for.  For example, while in Hong Kong we visited the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.  On any given weekday, the bank fulfills its purpose as a fully functioning bank; however, Sundays call for a different purpose at the bank in the free-flowing open space on the ground level.  The activities that ensue at the bank on Sundays are not the typical characteristics of a bank.  The Hong Kong Shanghai Bank transforms from a commercial and purposeful place to a place of leisure, conversation, and relaxation.  In fact, this characteristic of the bank is stronger than the day-to-day purpose and activity that a bank generally provides.

While visiting and art community in Shanghai, M50, I came across a gallery containing all different expressions of art by one artist.  This included close-up photographs of smiling faces, a crumpled up red star in a corner, painted physical landscape, and a film.  After walking through the main portion of the exhibition, I made my way into the film gallery, where “The Fifth Night” by Yang Fudong was being screened.  Seven screens, seven cameras, just one scene.  The idea behind this film exhibition was to demonstrate the ways in which one scene can be perceived.

I find this exhibition to relate to the notion of various activities occurring in one undefined outdoor place.  As the film clip takes place on an ominous evening on a city side street, the viewer can begin to see the different activities taking place, all within the larger picture of a single activity.  All of the characters being shown are part of the same scene, all involved in the same action.  One character relates to another character, which relates to another, which relates to the next and so-on.  However, once these different camera angles and points of view come into play, the exhibition can easily seem to be portraying the act of seven different activities in seven different places.  What the viewer could perceive as differences, are actually simultaneous instances tied together into one scene.  Just as many activities can transpire in one place, so can the perception of these activities.

Architecture cannot cater to activity without accepting the fact that activities can change over time.  What is now an art gallery may one day morph into a restaurant.  What is now a museum could very well be transformed into a daycare facility.  How do we then base a design based on the strictly the possibility of an activity?  Maybe we don’t.  Instead, we can provide the opportunity for different activities to arise, and other activities to fade off into the past.  Without the opportunity, there is no possibility and it is up to us as architects to design always considering the prospects of the activity, keeping in mind that specific activity is not always stagnant.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Four Hours

Since being in the French Concession of Shanghai, I have not given myself the task of exploring the area, so I head out at around 6 p.m. hoping to learn more about this place. I find a shop that sells Monchichi, a doll I recognize from a toy bin I used to have (the ones I remember once belonged to my sisters). Further around the block I find several hair salons, all manned (pun intended) by well-stylized individuals. I keep walking around, going into a few places here and there. Model shops, cool t-shirt design boutiques, a pet store with clear containers containing furry felines, a bookstore/cafe, a massage parlor and an interesting stack of small boutique stores.

Heading in the opposite direction, I make my way to the park I discovered a few weeks ago. Sure enough, I am quickly transported to one of our earlier discussions about program, space, and activity. The first time I heard this lecture I was in my second year of architecture studies, diligently taking notes on heat sensitive glass walls that served as urinals in a men’s bathroom…

Once in the park, where music seems to emanate from the trees lining the walkway, I see dozens of couples waltz precisely and rhythmically, like a school of fish. In no other instant have I witnessed this behavior in China. There’s no competition, no need to rush up against one another in an effort to get ahead, because there is no apparent destination. They cautiously avoid each other, nimbly prancing from one step to the next.

As I watch these men and women, women and women, solitary men, solitary women (never men and men), I almost forget that I’m sitting on a park bench watching and writing. My pen seems to follow the beat with each stroke, dancing in the park and dancing in my sketchbook… a paper ballad.

And this is the same park where I also discovered several men writing with water on the stone pavers. These dancers paint the path on the ground with the swift strokes of their choreographed steps, just as the water of the calligraphers paints evanescent messages on the ground. Who says a park can’t be a dance floor, or a blank piece of paper, ready to morph itself into the setting of a new story?

The elderly woman sitting next to me surrenders her seat as she reaches to take the hand of a younger woman who just approached her. They’re lost on the dance floor…

I get up to leave almost wishing I had taken the opportunity to learn a dance, but tell myself I shall return.

Heading towards the subway station, I walk past the intersection and stroll into the McDonald’s near the entrance. I step up the register and order a number 3 (not number 1 as in the U.S.) with a Sprite. I take my tray and find a nice vacant corner to sit in. As I sit there eating away at the layers of my Big Mac, I can’t help but think of Ray Kroc and how his humble idea grew into something so large, now manifested indefinitely around the world. Something taken for granted and merely accepted into the daily ritual.

Order, pay, eat, and leave.

I finish my meal and head further north towards Cathay Cinema, where we watched the first part of the seventh installment of Harry Potter. That was quite an experience. I walk past it and make my way into the shopping center nearby thinking I need a new hoodie, but quickly dismiss this thought upon remembering that I left my credit card in the safe back at the hotel.

Up four sets of escalators and back down, I decide to head back. I had forgotten my phone and never got around to buying a watch, so I have no idea how long I’ve been gone. Stepping onto the street, I wonder why there isn’t a Chinese version of Big Ben in this part of the city – I could really use one at the moment. I even contemplate walking into one of the boutique shops to ask the time, but I don’t know how to ask in the native tongue. Which reminds me, I just bought a Rosetta Stone to learn Mandarin Chinese. If only I’d had that over summer.

The choreographed walk back to studio is less exciting than the spontaneous route I’d followed earlier. Wondering if the couples are still dancing, I choose the path adjacent to the park. By then there are only two or three people standing on the almost vacant dance floor. Maybe tomorrow night.

As I turn into the alley that leads to Dean Ma’s office, I run into Ross, Precious and Sara. The looks on their faces convey how long I’ve been gone. On the work tables inside the office I find a piece of A3 paper folded in half with the following written on it:


We have your stuff, don’t worry about that.

Doorman has Joyce’s # please call her ASAP. We are worried.

I guess time flies when you’re watching people dance in the park.


Filed under: Dance, French Concession, Park, Shanghai, Uncategorized

A Weekend in Xi’an

On our recent trip to Xi’an, I was exposed to the last frontier of China.  On the outskirts of Xi’an around Qingyun Ma’s Jade Valley Winery, small clusters of dilapidated houses and a vast, green patchwork of farmland covered the landscape.  I was in agruarian China, right at the cusp before development.  Next to the clusters, I could see the construction of a new school and a small town center starting to take form.  This experience of being away from the city was a relief, but for the people who lived there, this was their everyday life.  For cityfolk like me, anything beyond the city that I did was a spectacle, or even absurd.

In Henri Lefebvre’s Everyday and Everdayness, he sees the world destroying diversity and working towards uniformity.  He stated that “Every complex ‘whole’ from the smallest tool to the greatest works of art and learning, therefore possessed a symbolic value linking them to meaning at its most vast: to divinity and humanity, power and wisdom, good and evil, happiness and misery, the perrennial and the ephemeral.  These immense values were themselves mutable according to historical circumstance, to social classes, to rulers and mentors.  Each object was thus linked to some ‘style’ and therefore, as a work, contained while masking the larger functions and structures which were integral parts of its form.”  However, because the “functional elements was itself disengaged, rationaled, then industrially produced, and finally imposed by constraint and persuasion: that is to pay, by means of advertising and by powerful economic and political lobbies”  these everyday items have lost their “essence.”  We have been numbed by society to not see differences and be curious about the world.

Our class had to take cars to visit Dean Ma’s father’s house and one mode of transport was in the back of a pickup truck.  Riding on the back of a pickup truck in America is different than riding it in the Xi’an countryside even if the pickup trucks were the same.  With my conditioned mode of thinking, I have rationalized that its dangerous and the police would not hesitate to issue me a ticket for such ridiculous behavior.  But in Xi’an, I wanted to ride the back of the pickup truck because there were no such thing as rules to govern me.  I was responsible for my own injuries because it was my decision to ride in the back of the pickup truck.  For the people living in the Xi’an countryside, people ride in the back of trucks all the time.  Society has conditioned me to think that riding anywhere besides the passenger seats is considered unsophisticated and dangerous.  Most of my classmates and I WANTED to sit in the back of the pickup truck because we could break free from society’s constraints and enjoy the Xi’an countryside in an absurd, but memorable way.  Our bickering to ride in THAT pickup truck in THAT setting subconsciously justified our appreciation and desire to experience the everyday.

This event reminded me of the film Weekend because it extremitized the everyday by making it completely ridiculous and because of its absurdity, thus making events more memorable.  One particular scene filmed a traffic jam with cars set ablaze and dead bodies sprawled, but some people have casually parked their cars having a picnic, or running around.  At the time, I was thoroughly confused and thinking “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON”, but those emotions and thoughts jolted me out of my complacent mindset of what a movie should be.  But does the absurdity of the everyday imply that it’s impossible to occur?  I would argue that it is more improbable than impossible that the absurdities occur, especially in a desensitized world today.  But when noticed, they give me a jolt of excitement that I immediately want others to also see.

Back in the city, I visited Xi’an’s city wall.  The width of the wall was wide enough for charriots to pass through, and now as a tourist attraction, visitors can ride a bicycle along it.  After recently watching Beijing Bicycle, this strange coincidence came full circle.  In the movie, the bicycle becomes takes on a character because the movie shows it being more than it is.  For one character, the bicycle is a dream to have, enjoy, be cool and to attract a girlfriend.  The other character values the bicycle because it is his way of making a living delivering packages.  Both become attached to the bicycle that stir a range of emotions like sadness, courage, fear, and worry.  The bicycle transcends its normal meaning of transporting a person from point A to B.

Seeing the Beijing Bicycle and Weekend helped me understand that I was not just riding a bicycle.  I was riding it on a relic and ancient artifact of the city.  I was seeing the roofscape of the buildings inside the city wall.  I was seeing the new skyscapers just outside of the city wall.  Riding a bicycle on the street would not have given me this same experience [nonetheless riding a bicycle in a country that doesn’t give the pedestrian the right of way is another expierence].  The meaning of this bicycle went beyond just riding it, but all the other sights that came about after I started pedaling.

I am ashamed of the fact that I have been numbed by society and blinded to see the excitement and beauty around the city.  Now that I notice that simple things that occur in the city as part of the everday experience, the city is not just a place where I inhabit. It is a larger, living organism that has varying scales of activity that my curiosity allows me to see.


Filed under: America, beijing bicycle, China, conditioning, Desensitize, everyday, experience, society, transcend, weekend, Xi'an

Becoming the Everyday

One views and interacts a city differently through a camera lens than without the guise of the lens. Through the lens, one can never truly experience the city. Preoccupied with taking photographs of what appears to be exciting and new does not let the photographer become aware of the small nuances of a city. The attempt to become part of a city occurs as these subtleties begin to be noticed.

“The concept of the everyday illuminates the past. Everyday life has always existed, even if in ways vastly different from our own. The character of the everyday has always been repetitive…In the study of the everyday we discover the great problem of repetition… The everyday is situated at the intersection of two modes of repetition: the cyclical, which dominates in nature, and the linear, which dominates in processes known as ‘rational’… In modern life, the repetitive gestures tend to mask and crush the cycles. The everyday imposes its monotony. It is the invariable constant of the variations it envelopes. The days follow one after another and resemble one another, and yet—here lies the contradiction at the heart of everydayness—everything changes. But the change is programmed: obsolescence is planned. Production anticipates reproduction; production produces change in such a way as to superimpose the impression of speed onto that of monotony.” This is Henri Lefebvre’s interpretation of the everyday as stated in The Everyday and Everydayness.

Is it possible for an outsider to become a part of the everyday? Can they become an element of the monotony?

For example, after being in Shanghai for a few weeks, when walking from the subway station to MADA s.p.a.m., one is no longer bombarded by street peddlers, trying to sell their “bags-watch,” because they recognize the walker, who constantly tells them “no.” Once the peddler begins to recognize certain cycles and constant variations to their day, they begin to anticipate certain aspects. One has effectively become part of the peddler’s everyday. Because one is part of the peddler’s everyday, does that make one part of the city’s everyday?

There is a difference between the city becoming one’s everyday and one becoming an everyday aspect of the city. The city becomes part of one’s everyday once one becomes a passive member of society. When getting pushed out of the way by locals, one begins to mindlessly push back. One is no longer phased by everyday occurrences which may not be routine. Although one may have become a passive member of society, this does not mean that one is part of the society’s everyday. A temporal aspect of the everyday, maybe. The city becomes a monotonous part of one’s life, but the same does not hold for one’s impact on the city.

The repetitive cycle of outsiders coming and going becomes a part of the everyday. The linear aspect of the everyday is how the city’s everyday impacts one’s life. The cyclical everyday for the city repeats itself. Unlike the everyday for the city, which remains unchanging and almost mechanical, the everyday for the user is much more erratic. Day by day, one goes about their linear journey, letting the everyday aspects of different cities impose their distinct qualities on one’s life. The outsider remains a stranger to the everyday of unfamiliar cities.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, China, everyday, Urbanism, ,


Having stayed in Shanghai for almost two months now, it almost feels like I’ve been living here my whole life. A few days ago, I was at the subway station waiting for the next train to arrive when an elderly woman came up to me and inquired whether or not the train I was waiting for would bring her to her destination stop; In one of my proudest moments, I answered that question without hesitation and even suggested what exit to take to get to her destination, all in Chinese! It seems to be getting easier and easier to get into an everyday routine nowadays, especially at the subway station. One second you’re descending the elevators into the terminal and the next, you’re surrounded by a sea of black haired and brown-eyed men and women crowding to squeeze into the subway cars. Trying to hold your balance during jolts of the subway cars, the musty scent of body odor and sweat, the occasional beggar journeying from one end of the subway to the other shaking his coin jar, being inches away from the person next to you during rush hours; all that has become part of the everyday, at least for me. All this reminds me of what Michel de Certeau validates as being a “haunted” place,

Haunted places are the only places people can live in”.

Scary, right?

I think what Certeau is ultimately getting at is the core of all this phenomenology within a city: the notion of a place. If place is defined by the metaphysical (memory, time), than that place is no more defined than through what is seen. The existence of that significance is within the memory, which associates certain emotions/ideas embedded within a space. Memories, are in essence, the practice of spatial ordering because places are merely fragments of private histories accumulated from everyone who has passed through there. People are the make up of the city. Certeau even suggests that the city space is, in itself, the canvas on which the people (pedestrians) write the story through their movement through and within these spaces.

However, I would argue that unlike what Certeau argues as the inevitability of non-place as a direct result of mobility, the city itself is full of urban places solely because of pedestrian traffic. If walking is the “acting-out” of a place, the city is then the container of these acted spaces. The very act of naming spaces are the “impetus of movements, like vocations and calls that turn or divert an itinerary by giving it a meaning (or direction) that was previously unforeseen”. Names we are all too familiar with now like “The Bund”, “People’s Square”, and even our very own “Old Humin Road” all connote some sort of experience or memory that transcends just the physicality of the site or the label. These places have become more than names or streets but destinations, meeting points, symbols. It goes beyond just being a dot on a map, but only to be experienced fully from the viewpoint of the individual. And all this is part of the story that the city tells through the observer. These “Urban Texts”, if you will, are written through the mobile nature of the individual and the masses that each offers their own experiences. Spaces can only be defined as long as the person stays there, with the next person replacing the narrative with a fresh perspective. The city can never maintain one image since the mass population can never remain static nor impose one unifying image on a space in which they move through. It’s amazing and simultaneously wonderfully exciting to think that what I offered as my own experience of the subway ride may be the total opposite image of the next person riding the same train, five cars down. So perhaps while I silently let the subway rock me back and forth on my next Line 1 ride, I’ll be reminded that what I see, feel, and hear is just an excerpt from my Shanghai narrative that has yet to be fully written.



Filed under: Architecture, China, haunted, Michel de Certeau, Shanghai, Subway, Urbanism, Walking in the City


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