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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

“Made in China”

“Made in China”

Urban Hive & Guangzhou Opera House

The juxtaposition of the images of the Urban Hive commercial tower by In-Cheurl Kim and the Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid would most likely draw untrained eyes initially toward the latter. The playful form of the opera house is a radical accomplishment of structure and space that is framed to compositional perfection. But what is impossible to notice from the beautifully lit and digitally enhanced images online is the quality of its detail and construction. Blatantly smeared paint on the glass rail panels and large unsmoothed spots of plaster left over by the hands of rushed and unskilled labor show clearly how China has been constructing its architecture. Meanwhile, the Urban Hive tower, can be read as repetitive or even “boring” at the superficial level with its uniformly porous exterior; however, this seemingly less interesting form is actually an extroverted structural skin constructed in a way that the Chinese would not be able accomplish at the speed at which it is developing. It is a 230 foot tall concrete skin that is almost entirely cast in place. Kim is highly respected among Korean architects for taking this route instead of using pre-cast modules which would have obviously been the more economical, time-efficient, easily adjustable method for such a repetitive skin pattern.

Cast-in-place concrete

And yet it is possible for the building to be constructed with such a high level of quality because the nation has matured over time enough in its development to come to the conclusion that quality has some kind of desired significance. Regardless of its benefits in the long-term strategy of growth and development, the nation seems to have recognized the significance of producing quality at the cost of reducing quantity in building construction.

This kind of quality in building construction in Korean cities is apparent throughout the city at the urban level. Regardless of the kind and degree of vibrancy at the pedestrian level compared to Chinese cities, streets in Korean cities are significantly cleaner and greener even though some are much older than those of many Chinese cities. It is not simply a difference in the amount and density of shoes that have stepped on a given square meter of land, but rather everything from the quality of the layout of pavers to the absence of trash and drops of saliva. These clean streets are decorated with sufficient and well-maintained greenery that make all its wide boulevards psychologically wider by giving it visual breathing room.

Ultimately, this pursuit of quality seems to come from the country’s age. Korea is at an age that is still young enough to be expanding and developing at a rapid pace like many Chinese cities, but has, at the same time, enough years of experience and trials under its belt to pursue and understand the importance of a quality life and society. This maturity culminates beautifully in the recently renewed and revitalized Cheonggyecheon River at the heart of Downtown Seoul.

Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, Korea

It is a stream decorated with stones and gentle green that flows through a contrasting sectional frame of skyscraping steel and concrete. Its specific direction of “Design” and decoration can be argued but it is unquestionably a widely used public space for the community that is even used during business hours because of its strategic location in between a long stretch of commercial high-rises. A city that is willing to spend a hefty 386 billion Korean dollars to implement such urban spaces simply for free and unmitigated public enjoyment (and not commercial gain), is a city that has matured enough to afford the money, time and political will to do so.

But after three years of careful constructing the Urban Hive, the equivalent Chinese counterparts would have designed and constructed dozens more. Is the quality of smooth plaster and even paint worth the sacrifice of building dozens more projects generating money, advancing infrastructure and widening the availability of demanded program? Spending just two months in China has lead me to a kind of calculated tolerance towards this idea of quantity over quality in growth. While the westerner might see “quality” in a single program within the boundaries of a single building, perhaps the Chinese find “quality” in the sheer density and availability of an incredibly wide plethora of programs all spread out, but accessible by intelligent infrastructure.

Intersection with seven multi-story indoor malls, restaurants, and three subway lines

While we look down at the singular quality of products that are “Made in China,” we fail to realize the sheer quantity and widespread availability of goods they produce and provide worldwide. In fact, China has managed to accomplish this feat in a mere few decades of rapid development. We can only begin to imagine where the country will be in the decades to come.

– Daniel

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Filed under: building, China, construction, Facade, Infrastructure, Korea, Program, Uncategorized

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
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
Students:
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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