USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Urban Order

In the contemporary city, the notion of idealized urban space is extremely hard to come by, given all the prerequisite considerations of urban design.  At a contextual level, you must respect the existing fabric, and consider the significance of your intervention as a functional and polemical component within a greater network.  From an economic perspective, projects must adhere to the monetary stipulations of private investors and corporate developers.  Politically speaking, the proposal must be approved by the city, and follow the appropriate codes and regulations.  With such a dense layering of systems that urban interventions must work around, it is useful to examine their operation from a spatial perspective.  According to Wolf Prix’s assertion in Aesthetics + Urbanism, “the actual dynamics of urban transformations” are free from the rigid orders, namely the grid, of many of the cities in which they exist.  “Contemporary urban interventions take place in an amorphous and imponderable space, analogous to chess figures moving horizontally across blurred television screens – but the grid of the chessboard has disappeared, as have the rules determining how the pieces move.  Yet the figures remain.”  This speaks of a new spatial order, detached from the linear streets and orthogonal parcels that make up a calculable system.

When we begin to observe this distinctly urban spatial order, critical nodes within the city are brought to the foreground, along with their infrastructural links, and their interactions then surpass the dominance of the literal grid.  “The more the background recedes… the more distinct the figures can become; in the wake of the implosion of the old order, it is these figures that make a city.  Their coming together creates force fields of tension and new, dynamic urban spaces.”  As I try to visualize and substantiate what this order looks like as a diagram, the image of a subway map comes to mind.  Major urban nodes are identified by their respective stations, and linked by infrastructural transit lines.  If this order were to be superimposed over the surface grid of the city, there would be an understandable difference.

Prix goes on to argue that, “this process is infinitely more complex than laying down a grid and filling it up square by square with architecture.  Space is no longer predetermined, but rather develops through the tension and interrelationships between figures.”  What I find interesting is that this “new model of urbanism” seemingly necessitates the pre-existence of a spatial order to develop within.  Without the rigid order of a city system, the dynamic quality of the urban order could not form within and throughout.  This is also facilitated by the many considerations mentioned previously, which cause a distribution of urban interventions based on factors other than ideal location within the city.  Thus, dynamic urbanism is possibly dependent on an existing system of order, and evidenced by the many metropolises that we have visited in which it thrives.


Filed under: About, America, Architecture, China, Urbanism

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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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