USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Eye vs. Foot

Staying in the outskirts of Shanghai has provided a somewhat different experience during this program that we have not really been accustomed to in some of the previously visited cities such as Tokyo or Hong Kong.  In the aforementioned metropolises, we were in the heart of the cities, whereas here in Shanghai, we are at a little bit of a further distance. This is not to say we are staying in a remote area by any stretch of the matter, but we are at a further distance of the immediate “city”.  Due to this, venturing off into areas of Shanghai such as The Bund and The Finance and Trade Center in Pudong becomes much more of an exposure to the life of Shanghai as a city, as opposed to being submersed in the busier parts of the city on a daily basis.  Our location also provides it so that the busier parts of the city are not something I take for granted, and each time they are visited, I am viewing Shanghai from a fresh set of eyes.

A huge attraction in The Finance and Trade Center is of course, the tallest building in Shanghai: the Shanghai World Finance Center.  At 492 meters, it takes the crown for the tallest skyscraper in China, exceeding its neighbor, Jinmao Tower, which stands at 421 meters.  Being such a spectacle, it is only obvious that there would be a way to make a buck off of the skyscraper…okay more like 150 RMB ($22.58 US).  However, it is most certainly money well-spent.  After purchasing my ticket to get into the observatory of the building, I was escorted to see a short introduction about the building, followed by an elevator ride to the 95th floor.  I stepped into the elevator expecting to stand in there for at least 45 seconds or so.  1…2…3…95?! The only thing that made me realize how high I was at the moment was the fact that my ears were popping constantly for the approximate 8 seconds in the elevator.  In any other situation, I would have assumed I had arrived at the 15th floor for the amount of time spent in the elevator.

As I reached the prime viewing destination in the observatory, de Certeau’s “Walking in the City” came to mind.  The opening of the piece alone described a scenario occurring in New York similar to the experience I was having at the time.  As I looked out of the window, I obtained a view of Shanghai that is not attainable at ground level.  De Certeau describes his experience on the 110th level of the World Trade Center:

“To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be lifted out of the city’s grasp.  One’s body is no longer clasped by the streets that turn and return it according to an anonymous law; nor is it possessed, whether as player or played, by the rumble of so many differences and by the nervousness of New York traffic.  When one goes up there, he leaves behind the mass that carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators…It allows one to read it, to be a solar Eye, looking down like a god.”

Walking the city on the way to the World Finance Center, I felt like I was being swallowed up by the immense number of skyscrapers surrounding me.  However, once I reached that prime view of the city from the 94th floor, it provided me with the opposite sensation.  Suddenly, in the context of the world, these buildings were insignificant in volume.  I was now superseding the city, purely in a visual sense.  In “Walking the City,” de Certeau also comments on the notion of walking here and there along with near and far.  However, up in the World Finance Center, you can see here and there, near and far.  While looking down upon Shanghai in the skyscraper, I had the ability to get there while being here and get far while not moving an inch.  My eyes had become my feet and Shanghai the idea of the skyscraper took on a whole new meaning.


Filed under: Architecture, China

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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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