USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Building Cities

I picked AAU because I wanted to learn about urbanism. I had no idea what I was getting into and that was the draw.  I always wanted to explore Europe but I saw that feasible. When would I ever go to Asia? The weekend before we left our professor, Andrew, set the initial framework of how we should begin to look at cities. First question; what makes a city? Our response; blank stare, a look we mastered quite well throughout the trip. With a few pokes and prods we began to throw words around about what a city is.  As the discussion continued we ended up with six words: physical, social, economics, political, cultural, and mental. Then Andrew threw another curveball, what is a metropolis? We had just finished watching Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and many of us talked about the imagery: huge towers, a crisscross of infrastructure, an underground life that facilitated the above. All of this implied, the XYZ, critical for the vibrancy of any city. Thus, metropolis was defined as is an urban morphology which encompasses the XYZ and the six words: physical, social, economics, political, cultural, and mental. It is the lack of some or all of these components that make a metropolis into a mere city.

At the end of our final review we talked about the growth of Asian cities and the static nature of American cities. The attitude towards Asia is optimistic, the passion is palpable, and in Asia architects can help build cities. The attitude towards America is bleak. In the US architects make pretty objects and the profession has grown static, we are now service providers.

One of the reviewers mentioned Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City. In their time these schemes were visions of what could happen, a possibility in the future. In China these proposals are becoming reality. What architect does not want to be apart of that? A chance to build cities, how awesome is that. Earlier I asked the question, when I would ever go to Asia and after being here it is a strong likelihood that many of us will be back. Even if we are not located in Asia a majority of our projects will be located here. It’s a truth that many of us are going to face. The drive is in China. Everything is happening here. Now is our chance to jump in and make the best of it and to help design projects that take on the macro level as well as the micro.

So where does this leave America? The discussion of urbanism is pretty much non-existent and that is something we are going to find frustrating. Do all young architects with bright hopes and dreams for the future dash off to Asia? Or do we stay in the states and fight for the little that we can and hope like foolish idealist that we can unearth the urbanism that was buried years ago? The United States has decided that politics and economics will dominate and other four words; physical, cultural, mental, and social will be pushed to the back burner. What many do not realize is that all six must be weighed equally. The United States is all about check and balances and we need to see how urbanism in terms of infrastructure/XYZ can promote economic growth, sponsor cultural exchange, help to morph the physical, create a healthier political system, and foster a better social and mental life.

– 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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