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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

De-densification of the Physical City

Everyone’s eyes glued to their cell phones

By the year 2012, Korea plans on connecting every single home in the country to the Internet at one gigabit per second. Upon hearing this, the first thought that crossed my mind was how convenient it would be to stream 1080p HD quality videos on YouTube without any lag or buffering time. Its obvious, however, that the Koreans have far more important reasons for advancing their status as the “most-wired” nation in the world than for the mere sake of entertainment. We witnessed firsthand the extreme extents to which the Koreans have practiced their increasing digital prowess. They use their mobile devices to pay for public transportation, shop for clothing and other products, buy groceries, handle business, and do various pastime activities. These are all programmatic activities that at one point in time required architecture to house them.

But when all these programs are conveniently compressed into a singular handheld device readily and affordably available to an entire population, the growth of the physical city slows down.  Why waste space to build a physical grocery store? You can easily display pictures of food on the wall of a subway station and have customers scan bar codes of desired items with their cell phones on their way home.

Scanning barcodes with cell phones at subway station

All you need at that point is the manpower to deliver the food. The notion of a city’s physicality is diminished, if not completely trumped, by a nation that doesn’t simply want more efficient phones or faster internet; it wants to be a city that operates digitally. Lacking the competent manpower, landmass and political authority to compete with China, Korea has decided to conquer the intangible realm of the digital world. Consequently, the need for a physical building is so drastically reduced that the city actually begins to “de-densify” its built environment. As a result, a reduction in density leads to gradual increase in open public space.

            Chinese cities, however, cannot be any more different. Their cityscapes are covered with dozens of massive yellow cranes erecting steel skeletons of new high-rises under construction. Many of these cities, especially Shenzhen, are characterized by an artificially rapid growth of their built environments. Thus in China’s case, a city’s change in physicality becomes a standard by which we can gage the rate of its growth. Chinese cities do create parks and public spaces for leisure, but such projects do not result from a de-densification of the physical city. In fact, they have to sacrifice and allocate valuable real estate within areas of high density and rapid commercial developments for the sake of their people and their city’s image. With such rapid increases in built density, land not allocated for public spaces becomes too ex

Seonyudo Park

pensive for anything short of lucrative malls, offices, and residential high-rises. In the case of Korea, on the other hand, it is specifically the contrasting decrease in built density, resulting from a trend towards digital development, that actually leads to a reintroduction of open public spaces and landscaping. Intentions reach far beyond sheer leisure for the public. The recently finished, Seonyudo Park epitomizes this current trend of de-densification. It is an award-winning landscape project built on an island formerly utilized as a sewage plant. Its creation represents the nation’s strong willed trend toward providing more parks and public spaces for its people.

            It’s ironic how digital advancements in Korea can actually lead to a possible increase in social life. It’s a situation in which a country has become so developed in their digital prowess that they are actually stepping backward by building less buildings and implementing more green.

– Daniel

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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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