URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

My Last Argument

My friends and I argue a lot.  From the nutritional value of milk, to the mathematical reasoning behind terminal velocity, there is always something to debate.  Slowly, over this past semester, it seemed as if everything was becoming an argument.  I could no longer go anywhere, see any building, or experience any part of the city without debating its meaning on multiple levels, if not with my fellow classmates than in my own head.  It is somewhat reminiscent of that time following the first semester of school, our minds freshly exposed to the beginnings of architectural process and thought.  Form, space, program, circulation all took on new meanings, and we haven’t viewed a building the same ever since.  It almost feels that way all over again, only this time with respect to urbanism and the city.  Nearly every notion I had about the city prior to coming on this journey has now been tested and put through the ringer, time and time again.  What I once thought I had figured out has five new points of understanding.  We all know by now that there isn’t a definitive right or wrong in this course of study… there is much gray area in between the black and the white.  In effect, we can only argue for what we reason as viable solutions to architectural and urban challenges.  So now that we are home, how do we continue these arguments that we have been struggling with all semester, and furthermore how do we decide which ones are worth fighting for?

I flew into Washington Dulles International Airport last night, the final stop for me before home.  There’s all this hype at the airport over a new underground tram system that was just installed, linking the four terminals together and eliminating the previous and less efficient shuttle system.  It was late and stormy out, so my parents told me to get a taxi home.  Forty minutes later and sixty dollars poorer I arrived at my front door.  The entire ride home, I couldn’t stop telling myself how ridiculous this was.  One of the largest international hubs on the eastern seaboard, serviced only by roads!  No metro, no trains, no other infrastructure.  I wanted to argue… take the money and the time you spent on that tram system and put it towards a subway line into the city center, and eventually one out to the suburbs.  Save thousands from pricey and unsustainable commutes, and expedite public transit between major urban nodes.  This is worth arguing for.  The high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco is worth arguing for.  Projects such as these now seem infinitely more significant than figuring out the structural layout or the façade system of my next project.

Ultimately, we have to stay curious and continue to question the relevance of our work and our studies within the context of a more macro scale.  This semester provided us with a rare opportunity to witness the process and the results of such urban awareness, which remains at the forefront of the Eastern metropolises’ agendas.  It won’t be easy to leverage all that we have learned back home, seeing as the western mindset has a different take on many of the issues we explored.  But if we continue to make our own arguments, and continue to find cause in the urban, than the purpose of this semester, in my opinion, will have been fulfilled.  There is no way we can possibly synthesize all that was presented to us, but we are now equipped with four, five and six new lenses through which to view our environments, lenses that many of our peers won’t have yet.  It would be a shame not to put them to use.  In the words of our professor, we can only be led to water.  It is up to us to remain thirsty.

Alex

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Filed under: About, America, Architecture, Uncategorized, Urbanism

Welcome to the Good Life?

“One city, nine towns.”  This is the initiative passed by the Shanghai Planning Commission in 2001, calling for the creation of nine new urban developments outside of the Shanghai city center to provide an alternative living condition.  Thames town in the Songjiang district, and Zhujiajao in the Qingpu district were two towns we toured a week ago, Thames town a new development, and Zhujiajao an ancient river town around which a new development is being planned.  Visits to their respective urban planning exhibition halls preceded our arrival, as we learned of the district’s new plans for urban growth in the area.  What was most interesting about these new developments was their seemingly “reverse” urban strategy.

As we have studied over and over, the development of great cities is wedded to the infrastructural networks that sustain them.  Following this notion, airports, train lines, subway systems and highways often develop simultaneously with the city itself, if not before.  Thames Town and Zhujiajiao’s development strategy has proposed the opposite; Build first, infrastructure later.  Neither town has it’s own metro station in place or any semblance of a major transportation hub.  Our group arrived by bus to both locations, after more than an hour travel time from Shanghai’s center.  So what of their success and vibrancy, without a critical infrastructure in place?  In Thames Town’s case, it is quite dead.  Empty streets, vacant shops and restaurants, a strange ghost-town feel pervades the atmosphere.  The only sign of life comes in the form of young Chinese newly-weds, who flock here for a photo shoot against the picturesque English market town backdrop, after which the architecture is modeled.

Zhujiajao is much more promising.  Woven through the context is a small river, from which the life of the historical village thrives.  It is along this waterway where the most vibrant street life can be found… hundreds of small shops, cafes, restaurants and residences line the riverbanks, and crowds of people wander through the narrow streets and over the bridges of this old fabric.  A Far East Venice, if you will.  Interestingly enough, this small river which now only serves tourist boat rides was once a major infrastructural artery, providing transport and goods into and out of the village.  Even though it cannot be considered a major piece of infrastructure in the contemporary sense of an urban node, it was still essential to the sustainment of the area, and eventually the decision to develop around it.  The new development under Shanghai’s initiative seems to be working as well, and feeding off of the inner-vibrancy of the waterway.  Quite literally, this historical pocket is being left alone, as new development is building up around it.

Another question to ask of these new development models concerns their legitimacy within a larger urban agenda.  As mentioned before, the goal of the “one city, nine towns” initiative is to provide a different living condition from the “suffocating” city center.  In doing so, many of these towns are appropriating new, undeveloped land around the periphery of central Shanghai.  This could have a negative affect however, and result in vast urban sprawl and inactivated developments, especially due to the missing infrastructure.  As Robert A.M. Stern argues in his piece Urbanism is About Human Life, “We don’t need new cities; we need to reuse and make better use of our existing urban areas.  We don’t need to take new land; we need to reclaim wasted, abandoned land.”  I am not arguing that Shanghai should not be expanding, but only to consider solving some of its urban issues from more of a “compact urbanism” standpoint, from which more broad scope urban tactics can be reasoned.   If “urbanism is about human life”, than our urban interventions should respond to it, and enhance it.  Developments like Thames Town seems to be completely re-defining what life is for Shanghai; Cobblestone streets, red brick buildings, and Victorian churches couldn’t be further away from city life, and as of now are proving unsuccessful.  New life doesn’t necessarily mean better life.  Ultimately, we should continually remind ourselves of the questions Stern asks… “What is a good city?  What is the good life that we as architects should advocate?”

Alex

Filed under: About, China, Infrastructure, Robert A.M. Stern, Shanghai, Thames Town, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Urbanism Is About Human Life, Zhujiajiao

Highway to Development

Urbanism; the focal point of our entire semester abroad.  Twelve cities, nine hotels, seven flights, six high speed trains, subways, taxi rides, countless miles covered on foot, and most recently an eight kilometer bicycle tour.  From infrastructure to infratecture, urban sprawl to hyper-density, developing to developed, the city has been our life.  With the feeling of total immersion beginning to set in as we approach the four-month marker, our weekend trip to Xian could not have come at a better time.  A rare opportunity to experience the rural country towns provided a much-needed release from our daily routine in Shanghai.  As our bus edged further and further from our hotel in downtown Xian, the density of the city center began to fade away, along with every other sense of the urban.  City blocks were replaced by farming plots, dense fabric with crumbling residences, highways with dirt roads.  Our final destination was the Jade Valley winery, at which a private tour and wine tasting awaited us.  As we stepped out of the bus, and began ascending the hillside towards the vineyards, thoughts of endless fields filled my mind, entirely devoid of structure, of concrete, of man.  I was expecting nature, I was expecting vastness, I was expecting tranquility.  I was not expecting what actually was.

There, staring me in the face just beyond the vineyard, was the beginnings of an enormous piece of urban infrastructure; a multi-lane superhighway that will eventually link Shanghai with Xian, providing an express land route.  This was the last thing I expected to see.  What was equally impressive was the development beginning to sprout up atop and beneath the vineyard hillside, and more so that it is largely the result of a single man… our Dean Qingyun Ma.  With plans for a sixty-room hotel, expansion of the winery facilities, and soon a major expressway passing through, Ma is slowly building the small town of Yushan into a potential destination.  Granted the town has a long, long way to go, it is still intriguing to speculate about the beginnings of an urban agenda.

This situation reminded me of a previous instance along our journey; the highway linking Hong Kong and Shenzhen.  As this infrastructural route is firm in place, new developments have already arisen along the way.  Like Yushan, these destinations were relatively rural, and fall within Hong Kong’s under-developed expanse between the two larger city centers.  As an urban model, this example speaks to the power of infrastructure, and its ability to spur growth in otherwise undeveloped areas.  Whether or not Yushan and other peripheral towns of Xian develop similarly after the superhighway link to Shanghai is completed is hard to say.  The dedication to development is there, and the infrastructure is fast approaching.  Time is the only remaining factor.

Alex

 

Filed under: About, China, Uncategorized, Urbanism

The Urban Order

In the contemporary city, the notion of idealized urban space is extremely hard to come by, given all the prerequisite considerations of urban design.  At a contextual level, you must respect the existing fabric, and consider the significance of your intervention as a functional and polemical component within a greater network.  From an economic perspective, projects must adhere to the monetary stipulations of private investors and corporate developers.  Politically speaking, the proposal must be approved by the city, and follow the appropriate codes and regulations.  With such a dense layering of systems that urban interventions must work around, it is useful to examine their operation from a spatial perspective.  According to Wolf Prix’s assertion in Aesthetics + Urbanism, “the actual dynamics of urban transformations” are free from the rigid orders, namely the grid, of many of the cities in which they exist.  “Contemporary urban interventions take place in an amorphous and imponderable space, analogous to chess figures moving horizontally across blurred television screens – but the grid of the chessboard has disappeared, as have the rules determining how the pieces move.  Yet the figures remain.”  This speaks of a new spatial order, detached from the linear streets and orthogonal parcels that make up a calculable system.

When we begin to observe this distinctly urban spatial order, critical nodes within the city are brought to the foreground, along with their infrastructural links, and their interactions then surpass the dominance of the literal grid.  “The more the background recedes… the more distinct the figures can become; in the wake of the implosion of the old order, it is these figures that make a city.  Their coming together creates force fields of tension and new, dynamic urban spaces.”  As I try to visualize and substantiate what this order looks like as a diagram, the image of a subway map comes to mind.  Major urban nodes are identified by their respective stations, and linked by infrastructural transit lines.  If this order were to be superimposed over the surface grid of the city, there would be an understandable difference.

Prix goes on to argue that, “this process is infinitely more complex than laying down a grid and filling it up square by square with architecture.  Space is no longer predetermined, but rather develops through the tension and interrelationships between figures.”  What I find interesting is that this “new model of urbanism” seemingly necessitates the pre-existence of a spatial order to develop within.  Without the rigid order of a city system, the dynamic quality of the urban order could not form within and throughout.  This is also facilitated by the many considerations mentioned previously, which cause a distribution of urban interventions based on factors other than ideal location within the city.  Thus, dynamic urbanism is possibly dependent on an existing system of order, and evidenced by the many metropolises that we have visited in which it thrives.

Alex

Filed under: About, America, Architecture, China, Urbanism

Lookin’ Good

I can confidently say that many of us in this program, myself included, were firstly intrigued by architecture because of its aesthetic value.  Even up to the point when we all decided to choose it as our course of study and possibly our career, the thought of designing a visually appealing, beautiful building principally fueled our pursuit of architecture.  There is no doubt that by now we are able to transcend our initial aesthetic conceptions of what great architecture is, and to consider the functional, polemical, and societal implications of design.  But at the end of the day, we still want our work to look good, and more so, to look unique.  What happens then, when this allure of creating the next iconic and significant architectural aesthetic becomes harder and harder to realize?  As Winy Maas of MVRDV points out in Towards and Urbanistic Architecture, “The notion that from a technical standpoint everything that can be constructed coincides with the awareness that every type of architectural object has been made.  Have we reached the limits of architecture?”

The current digital age and the universal access to information, photos and drawings of nearly all significant projects of the past and present are without question leading contributors to this crisis.  Maas points to the, “rapid spread of ideas through international magazines, the increasing opportunities for collaborating with local architects abroad, the speed of technology, and the employment of a common pool of students [that] lead to a convergence rather than a differentiation of architectures.”  We have witnessed this constantly over the past months.  Last week at the design office where class is held, as I browsed through the many physical models of the firm’s projects with several classmates, we couldn’t help but designate each to its’ respective stylist.  Koolhaas, BIG, SOM… the list went on, without crediting the actual designer with any originality.

This example only refers to the pinnacle of architecture, however, which in reality makes up only a trivial percent of the built environment.  The crisis is even more noticeable in what remains.  From the cookie-cutter McMansions of Orange County to the endless public housing towers of Hong Kong, the fabric suffers from a majority of the same.  “Currently, the world is dominated by cheap, banal structures, a sea in which the architectural object ceases to exist.”  This condition is rationalized, however, by economic and political viability.  Replicable construction processes and efficient floor plan extrusions minimize the need for pricy design consultants and maximize occupancy and developer profits.  In the end, everyone gets what they want, but the quality of design and visual distinctiveness suffers.

The question still remains then, how do we as architects realize a new aesthetic amidst the overwhelming uniformity of the existing fabric, without merely referencing a previous architecture?  Maas suggests that this crisis “bifurcates the role of architecture.  On the one hand the interior becomes more important, and on the other, the urbanism is brought to the fore.”  In my opinion, the solution rests with the latter of these.  Urbanism encompasses an entire list of issues that surpass those of just architecture, a list that is ever diversifying and thus has the potential to inform a new aesthetic.  Time, scale, infrastructure, growth, migration, mobility, specialization and climate are some of the larger issues Maas identifies that will literally, “shape architectural practice in the decades to come.”  The aesthetic potential of the urban agenda and urban design has continued to amaze me, especially now that we have been tasked with creating such.

Alex

Filed under: About, Aesthetic, America, Architecture, China, MVRDV, Towards an Urbanistic Architecture, Urbanism, Winy Maas

Wash-Rinse-Repeat

“Wash-Rinse-Repeat.”  The all too familiar instructions we follow every morning while washing our hair in the shower.  A cycle that has become so monotonous, so ingrained in our everyday routine, that we accept it as such without question.   We have all felt this repetitiveness of the everyday, and struggled to find reason and purpose behind it…  I can think of no better example than high school.  Each day programmed exactly to the same schedule, down to the minute, so cut and dry as to package this sameness into red and blue blocks.  What a relief it was to graduate from that structure, to transition into the freedom of university, where we choose our own agenda.  But even now, even far way from home and from USC, from where every sense of our everyday is derived, the days are beginning to echo the same “repetitive gestures of work and consumption”.

I would have thought that a semester abroad would have facilitated entirely unique experiences every day.  This was the case for the first two months of touring.  Each day a new building to visit, each night a new restaurant to taste, each week a new hotel and a new city to explore.  Now that we have established our “base” in Shanghai however, this excitement is somewhat fading.  Yet we have only scratched the surface of what Shanghai has to offer, and there is still freshness to the city, still so much to discover.  So why then do we find ourselves falling into the familiar grooves of the everyday, eating at the same restaurants, watching the same shows on our computers, and even going to the same studio and class to work on the same project.  Partly because it is all interesting and beneficial, and it is only natural to repeat enjoyable and useful experiences.  But as Henri Lefebvre points out in his article The Everyday and Everydayness, “the everyday is repetitive and veiled by obsession and fear.”  Obsession to complete our assignments, to get a good grade, to compete with our classmates.  Fear of trying a strange new restaurant, of falling behind with work, of having a bad review.  Perhaps these emotions influence our propensity towards the everyday, if only subconsciously.

What I find interesting is that Lefebvre’s assertion also applies to the design process.  Particularly as students, we are constantly browsing through precedents of famous projects, and borrowing elements to inform our own designs.  What has worked and what has not.  “The concept of the everyday illuminates the past.”  We are sometimes obsessed with replication, designing something that will function like that which came before it, for fear that it will not operate successfully.  Does this produce an everyday architecture, an everyday urbanism, a designer’s “wash-rinse-repeat” cycle?  I would argue yes.  Perhaps this is one angle from which to measure the success of a project.  When it is unfamiliar in space and experience, form and function, and it jolts you from your normal conceptions of what it should be, you are amidst great architecture.  “The spectacle of the distinctly noneveryday” is what sets it above and beyond the rest.

Alex

Filed under: About, Architecture, everyday, everydayness, Henri Lefebvre, Urbanism

Photo First, Questions Later

After five days of experiencing the Shanghai World Expo, I was reminded over and over of several impressions of the Chinese culture I had formed so far this semester.  Civility by American standards is completely different here…  pushing and pulling is acceptable in any form of line, children urinating on public sidewalks are common, and drivers are rarely hesitant to run you over while crossing the street.  It was not until arriving at the Expo however, that I observed the seemingly indifferent manner of many Chinese visitors towards any and all content within the numerous pavilions.  I can’t count the number of times that I witnessed Chinese expo-goers breeze through the wealth of information in the multi-national exhibits, stopping only to take a photo in front of each display.  At first I was almost angered by this, but upon further reflection and reading, I realize now that this behavior is not a shortcoming of Chinese culture, but perhaps evidence of globalization’s affect on this developing nation.

Hans Ibelings explains the phenomena of globalization in his publication Supermodernism Architecture in the Age of Globalization and how, “increased mobility and telecommunications and the rise of new media, all of which have been ascribed a major role in the globalization process… alter our experience of time and – especially relevant in this context – space.”  He goes on to argue that the world is “smaller… and closer” due to the immediacy one can experience nearly anything via electronic medium such as internet and video.  It is no doubt that the Chinese are at the forefront of this digital age.  Nearly everyone here is always busy with their phone, camera or hand-held television, on subway cars, during meals, even while walking.  The virtual fly-thrus and touch-screen tours found in the back of taxicab headrests instill such familiarity with the expo that you almost feel like you’ve been there beforehand.  This is perhaps why many of the Chinese visitors struggle with, “the paradox of the expanding world… for while the area designated as familiar territory is larger than ever before, people find the world less and less meaningful, precisely because a large portion of the known world is familiar only from a fleeting visit.”  With “the rising tide of information” it is then unnecessary to waste time learning from exhibits that are much more easily experienced digitally.

To take another stance on this observation, it is worthwhile to evaluate Chinese experiential values.  One will notice that the Chinese always include themselves as the subjects of their photos, as opposed to Americans who often only shoot the architecture or exhibits.  Perhaps this is telling of the importance they place on substantiating their experience, rather than the experience itself.  This is, in a sense, a very symbolic materialization of an experience, which is even better represented by the artificial passports sold at the expo.  A popular piece of expo memorabilia, the booklets showcase stamps from each and every pavilion visited.  The fact that there is high demand for pre-filled passports from locals indicates that they value the “proof” of their visit, which embodies “a bearer of meaning, a conception that lead to special attention being paid to the symbolic dimension”, a characteristically post-modern idea from Ibelings’ commentary.

Whether or not Chinese cultural ideals fall at either end of this spectrum – post-modern or supermodern – is hard to say.  Chances are it is somewhere in between, in the gray area as we have discussed time and again these past months.  It will also be interesting to see how we can apply Ibelings’ analysis to the architecture and urbanism of Shanghai, once we are able to explore more of the city.

Alex

photo:  Herman Lai, micgadget.com

Filed under: About, China, Culture, Globalization, Hans Ibeling, Post-modernism, Shanghai, supermodernism

What is Shenzhen?

“What is Shenzhen?”  This was the question asked of us this morning before heading out for the day.  While many of us recognized various urban conditions and critiqued the city from an economic and political stance, we struggled to address a critical aspect that helps define any and all cities; its cultural identity.  After nearly a week in Shenzhen, it is fair to say that we have not experienced a fair amount of the city’s “culture”, which left us asking questions of our own.  In particular, what issues are influencing this apparent lack of cultural identity, and how has the development of Shenzhen fostered this condition?

The rate of development is one major factor to consider.  It takes as little as a couple years for new developments to move from the design phase to completion in Shenzhen, a rate nearly ten times faster than that of the United States in some cases.  Because of this rapid pace, existing developments are quickly becoming obsolete.   As we have seen, the political and economic powers at play waste no time in demolishing these older developments, some less than a decade mature, to make way for new financial high-rises, government institutions and residential towers.  Unfortunately, many of these developments that are being destroyed are rooted in the initial culture of the city, which is now only found in the small-pocket “urban villages” of Shenzhen.  These were born from farmers who converted their land into housing developments to profit from the influx of migrant workers once Shenzhen began to grow.  Unsurprisingly, the fabric of these urban villages is much more culturally vibrant than the Americanized city grid in which our design project and hotel is centered.  Consequently, it is becoming increasingly harder for Shenzhen to retain this original culture, and furthermore hold on to an identity, if it is continually being replaced by new development.

It is also important to consider the physical growth of the city and its affect on Shenzhen’s identity crisis.  In particular, we can examine the prevalence of land reclamation.  Each year, several miles of infill is added to Shenzhen’s coast, and developed at the rapid pace mentioned above.   However, if we consider the standard supply-and-demand model for rationalizing the need for new development, Shenzhen exemplifies the opposite.  Here, there is an excess of supply before there is demand.  Developments are green-lighted with the economic assumption that they will be occupied.  Because of this, the so-called “threshold of development” is ever pushing outwards onto newer and newer reclaimed land.  In its wake are left the fledgling developments that are only a year or two behind, most of which haven’t had the time to establish a cultural foundation, or strengthen a citywide identity.  Time then becomes a critical dimension from which to analyze this condition.  As Walter Benjamin states in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to the history which it has experienced.  Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter.”  Without time to establish the history of such a development in the face of reproducing new multiples, cultural authenticity cannot take hold, and therefore the fabric cannot retain a cultural identity.

Ultimately, our original question of, “What is Shenzhen?” still remains unanswered.  Perhaps the cultural identity of this city is not as accessible as we have witnessed elsewhere.  Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong’s cultures were more easily identifiable, and physically prevalent within the fabric that we explored.  Maybe our observations of a city devoid of cultural identity are correct, and merely strengthen the argument that Shenzhen is too young to possess one, or too development driven to allow for one.  Or maybe we just aren’t looking hard enough.  Hopefully, we can shed more light on this answer with more investigation in the coming days.

Alex

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. New York, NY: Classic America, 2009. Print.

Filed under: About, China, Culture, Identity, Reclamation, Shenzhen, Urban Village

About AAU 2010

“The real place of the improbable is in the city.” – Manfredo Tafuri

“By Architecture of the city we mean two different things: first, the city seen as a gigantic man-made object, a work of engineering and architecture that is large and complex and growing over time; second, certain more limited but still crucial aspects of the city, namely urban artifacts, which like the city itself are characterized by their own history and thus by their own form.  In both cases architecture clearly represents only one aspect of the more complex reality, of a larger structure….” Aldo Rossi

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the Fall 2010 Asia Architecture and Urbanism Study Abroad Program [AAUF2010]. This site will serve as a travel diary of the program – a diary not in the sense of a repository of mementos or musings of the students’ travels but instead an academic platform for the students to leverage their exposures and experiences as forms of critique and constructed narratives of and about the city. The program director, participating students and enrichment faculties will maintain the site.

The cities of any culture in time is an obvious manifestation of its social and cultural mores, however, it is not only the repository of its culture but also a provocateur, a catalytic agent to the generative narrative of place as object interacting with its subject.  To fully synthesize cities experientially as place and culture, one must be able to critically engage in its manifestations not only in the skein of its histories but also in its mental and social complexities as urban narratives, as the allure of the spectacle, as theatres of human events.

The modern cities, across geographical boundaries in a global spatial atlas are vibrant and complex ecologies.  Their often-contradictory configurations and manifestations must be understood as active and provocative participants in the experiments of modernism and the metropolis life.  This program will accentuate the city as a protagonist of the metropolis life and the facilitator of its cultural productions.  The cities traveled for the program and their urban artifacts will serve as subjects for study not only in the traditional approach of constructing specificities of historical and/or physical manifestations for analysis but also as framework for critical dialogue and engagement about the idea of the city.  To achieve this investigation into the complex underpinnings of the city as spectacle and cultural production, we will engage with the social, political, economic, art, film, architecture and the urban topics as vehicles for creative and critical discourse.  The goal is to provide the students with a penetrating look at the generating forces of culture as forms of urban artifacts traceable through the development and evolution of cities.

Aldo Rossi, a 20th century architect, theorist and educator asserted that works of architecture are creations inseparable from civilized life and the society in which it is manifested.  While architecture references singular creations, architectures, as a collective, are the constituents of the urban – the city.  Urban morphology speaks of the existence of cities as overlays of urban syntax of which architecture is a layer.  As such, morphological studies of the urban constitute the exploration, analysis and synthesis of all the possible facets and solutions to a multi-dimensional, non-quantified (constantly evolving) complex equation.  Arguably, to fully comprehend urban form, we must not stop at learning its physical qualities, we must also actively engage in comprehending the mental and social complexities as experiential narratives of the everyday.

While the traditional notion of city historically had its roots in Western civilizations, the current trajectory of evolution and formation of the city is in Asian countries, particularly that of China.  As the new frontier of city making and proliferation, China offers a student of architecture and urbanism great opportunity for a cross sectional understanding of city genealogies and mutations from their Western counterparts.  Though the momentum of new city formations rests with China, many Asian cities have been in developed existence and are constantly undergoing incremental regenerations and therefore serve the academic purpose for comparative study and analysis.

Recognizing the above, the Asia Architecture and Urbanism [AAU] program will provide an opportunity to explore this new urban paradigm in China with a 15-week study abroad program. Though the program will be anchored in Shanghai, urban/design workshops will take place in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Shenzhen.  Enrichment excursions will also take the students to Sendai, Yokohama, Kyoto, Paju, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Xi’an.  Students will engage in the transformative forces of urbanism and built environments to mediate the spectrum between universal civilization and the indigenous particularities of place and culture.  Students will be taught to observe and synthesize the similarities and differences that exist between their own social/cultural norms and the critical means for thinking about architecture and the city.  This challenges their assumptions and expands their horizons, which is the very essence of an exceptional education.  It is with the above outlined understanding and academic mission that the AAU program is formed.

Please visit often or subscribe to the site and follow our physical, mental, creative, and intellectual journey.

– Andrew Liang, Director of AAU, Adjunct Assistant Professor

Filed under: About

ABOUT THE AAU PROGRAM

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.

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PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP

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