USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Homes Away From Home

What is “home?” When one thinks about the qualities that such a concept embodies, phrases exuding feelings of comfort, safety, and routine tend to arise. However, the idea of a home extends much further than the traditional adaptation of a walled fortress where one carries out his/her common routines. In Henri Lefebvre’s excerpt titled The Everyday and the Everydayness, Lefebvre poses a statement arguing towards the constant repetition of practices exhibited on a daily basis. He asserts that there are two types of repetition, a cyclical cycle and a linear cycle. The cyclical represents the commonplace natural activities that we as human beings experience every day. Functional opposites such as activity and rest as well as hunger and satisfaction both apply. The latter of the two cycles described by Lefebvre is represented by the linearity of the former cycle over a certain period of time. The constant repetition of the everyday cycles essentially comes to define the so called “rational” process of the linear. These two phenomena are tangential to the idea of home.

According to Lefebvre’s definition of cycles, it’s clear that every human being has individually experienced this notion. Personally, since I had left the confines of my northern California home in Saratoga, my own definition of “home” had already been blurred. Having stayed in Los Angeles for such an extended period of time, I had gradually begun to adapt to the southern California lifestyle and carried out my daily routines according to its stereotypes of glistening beaches, year-round sunshine, and, of course, traffic congestion.

While it is the banality of the everyday cycles that I had experienced during my time spent in Saratoga or USC which has allowed me to actually call either one “home,” the irony of the repetitiveness of the everyday is that everything changes. Put simply, one undeniably eats, sleeps, and breathes; but one can choose to eat a different meal, sleep in a different bed, and breathe a different quality of air. In Lefebvre’s excerpt, he makes a reference to this type of fluctuation by assigning it as programmed change. The variable characteristics of a common day is its grand quality which allows us as humans to realize the repetitive cycle of daily rituals we tend to inadvertently fall into. And in my case, it was the decision to implement the variation of studying abroad which had allowed me to realize how hackneyed my everyday life in California had become.

Hong Kong City Line

Contrary to the type of programmed change that Lefebvre has posed, other factors can also influence one’s mindset of what home could be. For instance, when first touching down in Hong Kong, the immediate surrounding environment seemed, without a doubt, very foreign. The food was different, the dominant ethnicity was different, the language was different, and most of all, the city fabric and density were absolutely mind-blowing. I thought things couldn’t get any more unfamiliar, until the Pearl River Delta portion of the trip had come along. From the ancient remote villages to the bizarre culinary options to the imitation of fashion items, southeastern China had truly given me my most outlandish experience yet. Returning back to Hong Kong after nearly three weeks in the Pearl River Delta, a large sigh of relief had somewhat fallen over me. I had realized that there was actually a good amount of people that spoke English, the cultural make up of the city was actually quite diverse, and most of all, the food was surprisingly more international than I had previously thought. In essence, for a surrounding environment to allow one to feel a sense of comfort and belonging, all it takes, in my case, is a more unusual one.

Kaiping Village: Guang Dong, China

Following Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan were the least bit alien to me. South Korea was exceedingly modernized and everything that I had fancied could be found. Taiwan, moreover, was my parents’ birthplace, and I had visited the country probably a dozen or so times. Furthermore, during these stays, a charette was also imposed at each, which allowed the USC students to work in conjunction with the local universities. By collaborating with the students whom were native to the place of study, we, as foreigners, were exposed to the area with their knowledgeable guidance. In turn, the process of settling into the two countries was quite immediate.

This constant settling in and moving out lifestyle has now led me to Shanghai, China, where the stay is approximately seven weeks. Undoubtedly, a near two month stay in one place will allow anyone to begin to blindly fall into his/her commonplace routines. From studio, to the gym, to the coffee shop down the street, everything is within such a comfortable reach that it’s almost impossible not to just become part of the everyday. Yet, it will be the subtle decisions of change that will allow me to slip out the cycles of the mundane.


Filed under: everyday and everydayness, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Reality

Beauty is Only Skin Deep

Within the city of Zhongshan, a city of six million people in the Pearl River Delta region of China, the powers that be have refurbished Sun Wen Xi Road—formerly a deteriorating patch of old urban fabric—and turned it into a lively, hip shopping area.  But has it truly been renovated?

Shoppers enjoy all of the features of trendy new malls—a different pop song screaming from each storefront, the promise of stylish brands within, ice-cold air conditioning blasting out of doorways—and the whole assembly is appropriately packed behind a front elevation resembling something much like a Caruso project; it is quaint, pseudo-traditional, and most importantly clean.  However, it takes a mere twenty steps down one of the now discrete inlets that lead into the depths of the old fabric to find that the old is still very much in existence.

Meanwhile, understanding how the conditions of Sun Wen Xi Road relate to skin comes down to an understanding of scale.  On the immediate human scale, the stucco walls that face the road compose a skin, in the traditional sense of the word.  However, take a step back, and the row of store lining said road becomes the skin, but now in a more conceptual way.

The "Beautiful"

As such, the façade lining Sun Wen Xi Road is not in fact the pastel colored stucco with white accents, but the stores themselves; it is merely a several-meter thick habitable skin.  So habitable, in fact, that it can accommodate activity.  So what is this heavy coat hiding?  Just beyond the flash is a similarly programmed street of retail, however these shops are quite different.  In fact, one might even call these stores ‘shady,’ or even ‘risqué.’  These shops, which are not unusual to China, sell things like imitation watches, handbags, and clothing items, in addition to less refined items such as cheap lingerie (see Sun Wen Xi Road plan).  In one instance, a vendor in a passageway (which I may call the ‘intermediate zone’) even goes so far as to adopt the logo and signage of the American eyeglass retailer LensCrafters, despite the fact that his store was merely


a wall hung with cheap imitations.  Looking up and seeing that more than one person has hung his laundry out to dry over the corridor between storefronts (which, by the way, is significantly narrower than the refurbished section) makes it apparent that these spaces are still very much occupied. The implication of this is that the less refined program primarily serves the immediate residents, while the ‘freshly applied’ skin serves those in a different class level.

So what does this mean?  Is the city of Zhongshan trying to hide the true nature of its urbanism, or is it simply trying to make a buck?  Was this renovation project meant to draw visitors to the area, or did they rebuild Sun Wen Xi Road in hopes that it will bring up the local culture?  And finally, if this is the case, is it a valid strategy?  Perhaps people do not actually want to see a thin veil over the truth, but do in fact want to see the substance of a city which is clearly composed of layers of integrated program, as well as a complex history neither of which are visible through the mundane façade.



Sun Wen Xi Rd. plan

Filed under: Uncategorized

The accessibility brings me to tiers…

Zhongshan Avenue

While Los Angeles was spending over one billion U.S. dollars this summer to add a lane to the already impossibly congested 405 freeway, the people of Guangzhou were enjoying their brand new Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT).  The system, which includes 22.5 kilometers of segregated bus lanes, 26 stations, and 40 bus routes which enter and leave the BRT corridor (which runs along Zhongshan Avenue, see section through street), has only been open since 2010 and already services over eighty thousand riders at each station per day.  In just one year, people have embraced the BRT wholeheartedly, and by choosing it over cars or taxis they are thus helping to improve overall traffic speed and flow.  Moreover, what is merely the icing on the cake is that the system has helped eliminate fifty thousand tons of CO2 emissions in its first year due to fewer bus kilometers driven.

As it was only possible to build the BRT by dedicating five lanes of Zhongshan Avenue—a major east-west thoroughfare of Guangzhou—to the project, the system made use of the ‘old’ and turned it into the ‘new,’ requiring that barely any new infrastructure be built.  The entire project only cost about ¥1.3 billion (just under $190 million), just one tenth of the initial cost that was required to build the metro.  Planning was begun in 2005, and the system was already in full swing by 2010.  Conversely construction on the Los Angeles County Metro Rail, which is a comparatively inefficient system, was not begun until 1985 despite having been conceived a whole nine years prior.  Today, the eight year to twenty-one year old LA system has an average weekday ridership of fewer than four hundred thousand, while the BRT enjoys a daily rate of 2.08 million users.  And yet, with only three on-grade crosses, the BRT affects the flow of traffic very little.  (In fact, it is essentially an aboveground subway system.)

Successful transportation systems move their users through tiers, and the new orange busses of the Guangzhou BRT are level two of a five-tier configuration.  To compare, Los Angeles is primarily a one-tier arrangement—the car—with even the pedestrian level being obliterated.  If tier one of Guangzhou’s approach to public transit is the city’s metro (three BRT stations have direct transfers to the metro), and three is the existing city bus, then

BRT bike station

four, which is perhaps the most innovative component of the BRT, is the bike share component.  Every BRT bus stop neighbors a bike station filled with recognizable orange bicycles (to match the busses, of course) where riders holding a transit pass can check out a bike which is free for the first hour, then only ¥2 ($.31) for each additional hour.  The idea behind this is that the system can branch into areas of the city (i.e. the urban villages) that public transit could not previously access.  In the future, these electronically-monitored ‘satellite’ stations will be installed deep within the villages, so that migrant workers can get off the bus, ride a bike home, and then ride one back to the bus the following day.

In one example after another, it is proven that not only is the BRT beautifully engineered for expediency and efficiency, but that it also provides mobility for the populace, not the rich.  By collecting and incorporating the existing city lines into the BRT, the existing system had to change very little, which was both civically cost effective and socially sensitive in that it did not upset the routines of the regular users.  And, although car users are said to dislike it, the traffic congestion in the car lanes does not seem to have changed much since the segregated bus lanes were introduced.  Moreover, at a cost of only ¥3 ($.47) per journey no matter how far one is travelling, these lower class migrant workers who reside within the aforementioned villages truly can afford to utilize the BRT.

The new combined arrangement covers over ninety kilometers. One can travel about 29 kilometers in one hour, and at any point along the BRT segment of Zhongshan Avenue one can get off the bus to enjoy a meal at a number of fast food restaurants that have opened up since the BRT stations were established, then get back on quite soon if so inclined, since there are busses every ten minutes. It seamlessly connects to the urban fabric in spite of its young age.  In fact, my exploration of the BRT and its surrounding parasitic program was the first time I understood Guangzhou urbanistically, despite having already been there for a week.  And the whole activity only cost me ¥6…

Section through street


Filed under: Automobile, Car, comparison to Los Angeles, Infrastructure, innovation, Los Angeles, Parasitic, pedestrians, Public Transportation, traffic, Urban Village

Raised by Digital Wolves

For the past three years I have watched my niece Emily grow from the point where she was conceived in the hospital until now. And simply watching her development has been one of the most extraordinary phenomenons I have ever seen. Although I’m only less than 2 decades older I can see a huge gap in the way that we were raised. Just last year when Emily was only 2 years old, I found out that she could count in 5 different dialects: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Cantonese, and Hungarian. Although it’s true it was our family has taught her Cantonese, English, and Hungarian, none of us could’ve possibly have taught her any Spanish or Mandarin. It came to me that the very thing that taught her was the very device that she held on so dearly: the iPhone. This wasn’t  happening to just Emily but to all those that were her age where  kids less than 5 years old could already count, read, and write before even signing up for elementary school. IPads and DS lites were suddenly in the hands of every child and our generation started to see the power and influence of technology.

One of the hottest topics nowadays is the effects of technology on the developing world. We have noticed people to be extremely involved in the cyber world to the point where we have entire cities rely on using smart phone as means to purchase, travel, and conduct conversations. Technology has been so influential to our lives that we can, at any time of the day, exchange and interact with people from all parts of the world simply by sitting in front of a desk or sitting in a taxi. Even now while I’m traveling I am able to see the site, know its history, experience it by video, and understand every inch of floor plan moments before I arrive at the site. The extent of the information that is available to us as well as the sense of or time and space has completely been released and rearranged by the introduction of technology. Then as architects, as those who are crafters of space and time, we can only imagine what this means to the future of urbanism.

In the 19th century we witnessed the dramatic rise in the debates of new cities in the future of the built environment and its influence to the new urban vocabulary. Urban planning was no longer about the traditional sense of space and time because it has redefined our capabilities by placing us in a world that is timeless and placeless. We are now living in a generation where everything is hybrid and instant. We require high speed broad bands, ‘on the dot’ high speed rails, and one click financial transactions. The narrative of the 21st century suddenly changed and we took it all for the better and for the worse. The good part was that technology led to new materials, new ways to solve major urban problems, and new ways of architectural expression but it also created an enormous problem of making the public space less public.

The Boulevard, as understood by the Parisians was a wide street that encircled the center of the city. This was a place of high quality landscape, wide lanes, and was considered one of the principal features of the city where everyone gathered and socialized. But now we begin to see the traditional spaces of gathering slowly depopulating because with the rise of the digital age, it makes us “depend less and less on being in a specific place and a specific time “(Negroponte 35) And now “the bandwidth has replaced the boulevard” (Lerup).

Although this is partially true, I believe that architects and planners have begun to see the change and have used technology as a medium to the new urban developments. Digital living has simply ‘added another layer’ to our urban life where public areas now are able to not only interact with people around them but simultaneously interact with people around the world. Weeks ago while AAU was in Seoul, my classmates and I were walking down one of the main boulevards with the rest of the group when suddenly we lost them. With no means of communication we found one of many “media poles” down the boulevard and we were able to email a picture with a message to our instructor. The media poles were only one of the many artifacts that made Seoul such an icon as a digital city. The streets are full of digital signage, subways are fully interactive, and museums are mostly interactive as well. We have come to see in the 21st century the introduction to the ‘smart street’ and ‘virtual communities’.

Another benefit of the digital age is that we are witnessing a language of extreme compression and hybridization where not only are our devices getting smaller but the programs are experiencing hybridization as well. In Taiwan, one of the major places to gather in Taipei is a bookstore called Eslite. Eslite  is a super node of program that integrates not only a wide selection but books but is also a place for retail, food and beverage, and possibly anything the heart can desire. It has become such an amazing place of gathering that people literally spend their weekends at the bookstore. Another super node is the IFC in Hong Kong where people can live, shop, eat, go to the doctor, do their laundry and go to the airport all in one building. As Leffbvre says it “abandoning humanism allows us to enter super humanism” (Leffbvre 10)

So for those who have seen this rise of the digital forces and have called it a death to our generation do not realize it is the very thing raised us. We are no longer raised in the traditional sense but like Emily, we are raised by technology and are the resultant of a great transformation in the way of life.  So whether we are architects or urbanists, we should come to see that now there is a new way to think about the narrative and that technology should not restrain our designs but rather enable it to achieve better and higher goals.


Filed under: Architecture, Digital age, Korea, Seoul, Social Development, south korea, technology, Urbansim

The Bar: My Classroom

After fourteen hours of flying from LAX to Hong Kong I was so relieved to finally settle into the Cosmo Hotel and just relax. Yet, the second I was handed my room key Andrew said, “Meet downstairs in ten minutes at the bar”. A bit confused, I grabbed my bags, threw them into my temporary home, and went back downstairs to see what Andrew had in store for us. Opening the massive iron door, I saw a projector cued up and a power point presentation, and I knew this wouldn’t be a leisurely welcome drink. As Andrew proceeded to give his lecture, he mentioned mixing multiple programs in one space giving the example as this bar as our classroom.

Then the real lesson began. Walking around Hong Kong I could really see the combined programs Andrew talked about: the subway station as a shopping center, the street as a restaurant, and the lobby of the Bank of Shanghai as a pedestrian road and public gathering space. It made sense that by not limiting program, the city becomes a more lively and urban place.

These extra programs latch onto the major program and feed off of the energy and foot traffic this main program has to offer. An example is the underground shopping that is parasitic to the pedestrian traffic in the subway paths. I experienced this relationship in Hong Kong, Korea, and Taipei; all three times this type of dual programming really contributed to the urbanism of these underground walkways. Combining uses of one space combines users as well. It allows for targeted or untargeted interaction with the public and public realm. By using this type of infrastructure as programs, the density of a city is dispersed to the Z Axis as well and this generates a dense section through the urban fabric.

Making a cut allows you to see the connection of the public realm and how important the intersection of program is for this interaction to occur. The retail and public interaction inside the underground walkways compels the public to retract into the infrastructure while engaging in the collective. This space is now not only a place to access point A from point B; it is a restaurant, a market, a pharmacy, a place to access the internet, a mall, and an optometrist all in one space. Now the juxtaposition of program becomes a sequential narrative for the users, and begins to bring the street-life down into the Z axis. By extending the street, the city becomes more vertically interactive and a much more 3D place. This new urban avenue connects the layers of a city and communicates a temporal sequence that is unique to each person. Creating and weaving new relationships with the city everyday, the user now constructs his or her own perception of life in each urban environment. Good or bad, this relationship is unique and no one else can experience this exact progression through time and space. Inevitably the city and the user unite.

Look at this video to understand the urbanistic layers that mixed programming creates in Hong Kong:


Semone Agasina

Filed under: Program, Uncategorized


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