USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Walking and its Possibilities

Walking in the City by Michel de Certeau opens with the narrative of seeing New York from a bird’s eye view, specifically the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. As de Certeau begins to discuss further he describes the form of the city through lands marks within his progression, seeing Manhattan as, “an urban island, a sea in the middle of a sea, lifts up the skyscrapers over Wall Street, sinks down in Greenwich, then rises again to the crests of Midtown, quietly passes over Central Park and finally undulates off into the distance beyond Harlem. A wave of verticals.” In these first few sentences I began to see parallels with our experiences in Hong Kong. On our first day in Hong Kong we were taken up to Victoria Peak to understand the city from above and it was here that we began to grasp the layers of the city in terms of its morphology in relation to the land, built, and water. The horizontally, the density, the skyline and its lights, the greenery was all seen but it did not capture fully Hong Kong. In the moment we were seeing Hong Kong at a distance, our height “transforms(ed) the bewitching world by which one was “possessed” into a line of text that lies before one’s eye. It allows one to read it, to be a solar Eye, looking down like a god.”

De Certeau then poses the question: “Must one finally fall back into the dark space where crowds move back and forth?” Asking “is the immense texturology spread out before one’s eyes anything more than a representation, an optical artifact?”

As we further began to delve into Hong Kong we began to walk the city. Most exciting was when we began our day at SOM’s Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Through a loose trajectory we walked from waters edge, through bridges, along the street edge and most importantly the elevated walkways. The practicality of the elevated skywalks is simple. Remove pedestrians from street to create a safer option with the bustle of cars on the ground plane. The experience on the other hand is a whole other animal. Here was a mediation ground between the street level and the buildings. Circulation began to be understood as movement between the built environment and the exterior; a constant rhythm that allowed us to see the events below and around us simultaneously.

In addition, the Central-Mid-levels escalators allowed another way of experiencing the city. This phenomenon is not just stagnant within its path it begins to ripple and undulate onto the buildings it passes and the streets it bisects; creating possibilities for different narratives to unfold as you are connected from street to street.  As we got off at various stops along the way we stumbled upon a vibrant produce market, found a small garden squeezed between two large buildings, and entered a street of rows and rows of shops and restaurants. We began to “transform(s) each spatial signifier into something else” thus, “the user of a city picks out certain fragments of the statement in order to actualize them in secret.”

De Certeau says this, “Walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc., the trajectories it ‘speaks.’ All the modalities sing a part in this chorus, changing from step to step, stepping in through proportions, sequences, and intensifies which vary according to the time, the path taken and the walker.” In Hong Kong we viewed the city as gods, we walked the streets; both elevated and low, and moved not only in the x and y but the z, simultaneously. It was a culmination of these trajectories, views, events, activities that led to a vibrancy that can only have been experienced through walking.

– Precious


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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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