URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Symbiosis Between Information Technology and Cultural Interactions

“While advances like the telephone and automobile clearly had wide-ranging impacts on the twentieth-century city, the recent wave of information technology promises to prove many more”- Scott Page and Brian Phillips, Urban Interfaces Designing the In-Between

Technology has become so vital in our lives that it facilitates almost everything around us. It allows us to gather information and increase our awareness of different programs as the distribution of communication, interaction and information is constantly morphing on a day-to-day basis. It now holds a greater presence within our lives more than ever.

As cities are shifting towards technology based, the physical city and its inhabitants are relying on the developing network of communication infrastructures. Cities including Tokyo and Seoul have fully immersed into this concept. Tokyo’s transit stations, in particular Shibuya Station, are catering to its population density, entertainment, and commercial intensity. The city has tapped into digital technology resulting in its commercial centrality to reflect human patterns and culture. Seoul has immersed itself into a completely wireless city- regardless of the location within the city, one is guaranteed to have access to a wi-fi network above ground and below ground (ie. metro subways). The web presence is substantial, unlike any other city I have visited. Upon landing into the ICN Airport, I was immediately connected to the internet via iPhone. I had no network data yet the internet allowed me to stay connected- I was “in the network” and I was connected up until my departure one week later.

Information is constantly being created and distributed. Heavily influenced by “the perspectives of media, speed, and personal perception”, the representation of our world impacts the way in which we design (61). The evolution of technology affects the way we conceptualize design. With vertical and horizontal connections, the vertical builds upwards as the horizontal allows information technology to spread among the landscape through infrastructure.

Connections are formed between networks of the urban fabric or physical beings such as social networks. Formed communities via the web have created spatial constraints as they manipulate the manner in which the user desires to be apart of something. The downfall is that physical impacts are decreased which then blurs the distinction between virtual and physical space as location-awareness diminishes. The virtual interface focuses on the particular needs of the individual catering to personal environments. We are influenced by the physical form that acts as a vehicle for “modulating streams of images (62)”. Projected images such as advertisements or entertainment media instill in the user a desire to match what they see. Advertisements for reconstructive surgery were plastered all over Seoul. A city known for its surge in aesthetic surgery clinics, there is a need to perfect the physical form. The persuasive ads to achieve a ‘specific look’ send underlying messages of pressure to cave into the generic. As the city conforms based on economic exchange, this need for personalization overrides the importance of the collective users. The quantity versus the individual places the individual under the generic, simply a number within the population.

The need to regenerate the technological based society means that the system will collapse, it does not have the ability to personalize. It all reverts back to the idea that money is a driver for culture. There is a desire to discover new advanced technology as this has a direct correlation to power. The more information given and known keeps the distribution of communication going tapping into the culture that feeds into this phenomenon.

11/26/2013 Paula M Narvaez

Filed under: Architecture, Culture, Japan, Korea, Tokyo, Urbanism, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Anita

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

Urban Schizophrenia

The condition of schizophrenia is a state of delusions that can be challenging to understand. It is a terrifying battle that takes you through an existence that is “deranged, empty, and devoid of all anchors to reality”. In several cases, schizophrenics often have separate personas or ‘controllers’ whom entice them to abandon their realities and enter a place that causes severe emotion and a loss to what we perceive to be real. It would then become hard to decipher thoughts and eventually the everyday consciousness would be lost and taken over. In a similar way we as inhabitants act as schizophrenics in how we perceive reality within the realm of the metropolis where we are no longer aware but desensitized by the very factors that make up the city.

In Simmel’s Metropolis and the Mental Life, he clearly defines two key components that act as the basic construct of the city: the man and the external forces. As man it is essential to understand that we adapt to environments in forms of habits, convictions, and impulses that clearly “take a regular and habitual course and show regular and habitual contrast” (Simmel 410) From this Simmel suggests that the metropolis manipulates man’s formulated nature and conditions it with the “sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions”. This in turn slowly alters our psyches and distorts what we perceive to be real and uninterrupted in order to fuel a successful city growth. “With each crossing of the street, with the temporary and multiplicity of the economic, occupational, and social life, the city sets up the sensory foundations of a psychic life.” (Simmel 410) The forces in our daily routines are so constant and matter-of-fact that we have lost our sense of judgment in distinguishing what is real and untouched. Thereby numbing our actuality to make the metropolis’ reality our own reality and the metropolis’ struggle our own struggle. These external forces in the city play the parallel role to controllers in the schizophrenic world. The external forces or ‘urban controllers’ if you will, condition and entice man to constantly struggle in defining and achieving his individual role. And like the schizophrenics and their alternative personas, the urban controller and the man eventually become one.

About two weeks ago as I flew into Hong Kong, I felt that I understood the city very well. I knew every bar, every subway line, and every good restaurant because beginning a few years ago I worked in the city for a few summers. Every morning I would go from my apartment to the office and every night I would leave the office for my apartment. Moving from place to place within Hong Kong became a daily routine and eventually I molded my habits and routines to the point to where I could travel swiftly across the streets, up the escalators, and through the foot bridges. Then as weeks pass I eventually discovered places to eat, things to eat, places to meet people, and places to shop. It is not until now do I realize that as I came to Hong Kong all those years ago that my mind was actively adapting to its environment by absorbing the streets, the advertisements, the people, the culture, etc. My daily choices and impulses came from the many external forces that is Hong Kong. I, in this case, was the schizophrenic and the urban controller was very much apparent. For instance if I picked up a particular brand of water bottle it would be because of the simple glance of a poster somewhere on my way to work through an air conditioned mall that I wanted to pass go through because the weather was so hot. Just by this simple, quick, yet unconscious decision I actively participated in the economic life of Hong Kong by fueling that particular business which fuels that particular habitant’s life. My needs, just as it is in the United States are the same as it is here in Asia. And the city, knowing well my internal nature has implemented forces into the city to subconsciously convince me to participate in city life. All these forces take over and eventually the urban controller and I became one.

In a recent public online diary entry, Janet Jordan, a 27 year old schizophrenic, has had severe hallucinations through the last 25 years of her life. She states in her entry that the controller in her head has taken over for so long that she does not remember the point when the controller wasn’t there. Fortunately her hallucinations would fall in and out thereby giving her a reality to anchor to. It was not until she acknowledged this reality could she feel she had a problem and begin to take hold of it. In the same way if we begin to take hold of these two components and understand the relationship between the man and urban controller, as Simmel calls us to, we can begin to experiment and begin an entirely new phenomenon much like the experimental city of Shenzhen. However in my observation I consider Shenzhen to be a fake reality because of its reaction to the extreme rate of urban control. At the ‘untouched reality’ Shenzhen is still a lower class village while the ‘controlled reality’ sees Shenzhen as a rapidly growing city, dense of glass skyscrapers, and with the highest GDP in China. In this case Shenzhen plays both the man and the controller because Shenzhen is trying to condition itself to catch up to their wild and experimental standards. I believe that the natural slow altering of the man’s psyche has not quite caught up with the pace that the urban controller is trying to condition the city to be. The city is expanding at such a rapid speed that there is a very big gap between habits and actuality and thus course the urban controller and the man are not one.

In the comparison between Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the case of urban schizophrenia, the relationships are so different and interesting that it calls into question which one will work better. Will the urban controller that has a steady pace or a rapid pace work out better? Will the rabbit or the turtle win? We can only allow the disease to play out in order to fully study and understand the condition of the mental vs. the metropolis.

//Anita//

Filed under: Architecture, Hong Kong, mental disease, Metropolis, schizophrenia, Social Development, Urban Village, Urbanism, Urbanism Is About Human Life

Not Welcome in the NYC

There is a reason that Mr. Gehry always seems to get run out of town whenever he builds in the Big Apple. 8 Spruce Street, the latest work by American Architect and USC alum Frank Gehry, is touted as a skyline success and labeled a turning point in the ‘transition from the modern to the digital age.’ Nicolai Ouroussoff’s ‘Downtown Skyscraper for the Digital Age’ Architecture Review article in the February 09, 2011 edition of the New York Times Art & Design section makes the particularly audacious claim that the building is the ‘finest skyscraper to rise in New York City since Eero Saarinen’s CBS building’ and even more boldly claims that the building marks the birth of the digital era as Philip Johnson’s AT&T building did at the dawn of modernism.

Unfortunately, I believe the project falls short of those boastful claims.

Mr. Ouroussoff needs to reanalyze the building as apart of the dense urban environment of New York City. I fear that the Times writer is still constantly obsessed with the makeup of a particular building rather than its operation and performance within the urban construct. There is so much said in the article praising Mr. Gehry for contrasting beautifully with the terrible commercial drones that poison its context. There needs to be more discussion on how the architect missed a genuinely precious opportunity to pay homage to Tschumi and inject some cross-programming magic into this rather mundane Manhattan high-rise. Mr. Ouroussoff mentions a minimum of three user groups and programs that will occupy the building: residential, educational, and medical. Herein lies a fantastic mix of different users groups under one building skin and yet no program is altered to coerce the three to interact.

Unfortunately, the access points and circulation paths never come together so that at some juncture the user groups could mix. There is a precedent for a similar strategy that SOM utilized with their Tokyo Midtown Project by creating a collection of various programs and organizing them so various user groups could interact and utilize the space to its full potential. For those of you not familiar with the project, SOM organized, in one particular tower, a variety of different programs-from offices, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a hospital, post office, and a kindergarten-in order to achieve an efficient flow from the bottom of the building to the top. What can also be appreciated are the unique interactions that occur from different program users at interaction points. This aspect was completely lost in the Spruce Street project.  The author continues on to say that this “is architecture that convey[s] the infinite variety of urban life.” Urban life is about the interactions of an assortment of peoples, places, ways of life, beliefs, etc. There is very little urban life in the Spruce Street building. It is simply another skyscraper on the Manhattan skyline that does not seem interested in entertaining an intelligent urban strategy.

The city on a macro-level is an ecology of different inhabitants who all live, work, and interact together on a daily basis. Why not create a microcosm of this in a multi-programmed skyscraper, challenging the traditional notions of what a skyscraper is and how it functions?  Philip Johnson’s AT&T building challenged the then-assumptions of what a skyscraper was, why not do the same in a different era? The fact that you could plug this building into any other context only makes the architectural and urbanistic situation worse.

Instead of a sound urban approach, the aesthetic features of the building have become the unnecessary focal point of discussion for this project. The age of the decorated shed is dead as well as Deconstructivism. Architecture can no longer be content with merely providing visual pornography for a public whose tastes have evolved considerably since the dawn of the printing press. The author does make the correct point that the new era of architecture shares an involvement with technology, but where is that seen or discussed on the building? All that is written about is how great the building looks on the skyline and how great the shifting surfaces ‘attack the kind of corporate standardization that is so evident in the buildings to the south and the conformity that it embodie[s].’ There is no contextual response other than the fact that maybe the reflections of the surrounding buildings could be seen on the buildings façade. So even if Mr. Gehry is carrying out an homage to a Mies van der Rohe project, he is still practicing an outdated form of architecture and urbanism.

As for the author, as a student of architecture, it disappoints me to read an article praising a piece of architecture lacking in the essential urbanistic ingredients that are not suggested, but required in the 21st century. You are writing about an outdated form of architecture that has run its course and is not helping the cause of discovering and embracing new forms of architecture that are more about the programmatic interactions of its users than the façade material details.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: 8 Spruce St., Architecture, architecture review, AT&T building, cross programming, Downtown Athletic Club, ecology, Frank Gehry, Manhattan, Mies van der Rohe, New York City, New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, Philip Johnson, Program, Rem Koolhaas, skyscraper, SOM, Tokyo Midtown, Uncategorized, Urbanism, ,

Absurdity, Sex, and Architecture

Our judgment of what is good or what is acceptable is widely based on what we see in the day to day as well as our own boundaries of what is exciting or simply ridiculous.  There is a degree of absurdity that makes something really interesting and exciting- that little rub of inconsistency and obscurity.   It is that little inconsistency of mystery or absurdity that sparks our interest as critics of the everyday.  In this sense, architecture is like sex.  Both seek to push boundaries in able to reach new heights of understanding.  This is portrayed and evaluated in parallel formats as we’ve seen by Rem Koolhaas, Sophia Coppola, Paulo Coelho and Godard’s own analysis.

Rem Koolhaas writes of this relationship in SMLXL.  He sites Japanese porn as this instance where it is more exciting to have the most essentials parts hidden from view.  In many Japanese pornographies the essentials are blurred out and left a mystery, revealing nothing but pixilation.  Rem relates his pixilation to miniature Mondrian paintings of flesh colored squares and dark lines.   These vague lines and color blocks reveal nothing and everything  because the excitement of what could be there is so much more promising than see the actual genitalia.  In this case it is the relationship of the unseen and the seen that relates to good architecture.  It is not the absurdity of the new and different but the allure of what could be there.  An architectural example of this is Mario Botta’s part of the Leeum Museum.   The exterior begs of mystery, giving no hint of what is inside.  The brick is pixilated unto itself, departing from what we expect it to be.  Upon entering you are shuttled to the top and forced to circulate in a downward spiral.    The cylindrical stairs are punctuated with framed views to reveal what lies ahead of you, but only as a glimpse.  When traversing each floor the circular plan furthers this selectivity.  One is never allowed to see the museum exhibit as a whole, there is no grand hallway lined with celadon blue ceramics.   Instead each piece is revealed to you in its own time, each turn you walk around allowing a new experience.   There is a constant sense of being teased by unknowing of what is around the up coming turn and never being allowed to see the whole.

In this way good architecture can vastly be related to Sophia Coppolla’s Lost in Translation.  The sexual relationship (or truly lack there of) between the film’s main characters is reflected in how the city is framed.    The sexual and visual tension between these characters is overtly apparent.  There is obvious attraction between these characters, shared feelings, but nothing is ever done about it.  They lie in bed next to each other, speaking so very intimately, but nothing physical ever happens between them.  This is reflected in how Tokyo is filmed.  In a sense, Tokyo becomes a visual embodiment of their sexual relationship.  When they positively interact we see the Tokyo Skyline from some high up floor- out of reach, beautiful and alluring in all the glory the Tokyo skyline can possess.  It is only when their relationship becomes tumultuous that we are allowed to see the city in any other way.  When there is no longer a tease or allure in those character’s relationship the city is no longer distant and alluring- it’s sonorous and crowded.  When they go out to lunch in the prime of their disgruntled state the bowels of Tokyo are shown- the street life, cars, taxis, honking, ect.

Finally, there is the attraction of the absurd.  This is an attraction we can’t help but simultaneous dislike and enjoy.  The absurd identifies with the book by Paulo Coelho Eleven Minutes.   The main character briefly gets drawn into the world of sadomasochist sex because of the clarity is brings her.  Physical pain helped to take her to the limits of what is her conceived reality.  However the absurdity involved is that each experience creates a new outlying boundary, therefore each following experience forces further exploration to get that previous high.  Each experience then becomes more absurd and desensitizing, creating greater distance from the original meaning.  A further example of this is in Godard’s Week End, a film so absurd it is literally a car crash in which you can’t help but stare.   Despite the obvious spectacle of absurdity throughout the film, the film opens by talking about a woman’s fetishized threesome.  She describes each act in her sexual encounter involving improbable positions, cracking an egg with her buttocks and cumming in a dish of milk.  Essentially these types of absurd sexual experience relates back to the absurdity of architecture.   They are removed from the everyday life, and have one far beyond that rub interesting inconsistency, so very far from its origin, that it is a bad thing.  Such architectural sites include Paju in South Korea or The Ring in Shenzhen.  Paju falls into absurdity due to the excessiveness of design.  Each building holds true in singular form but together, a town where everything is individually designed without consideration of its surroundings, becomes absurd.  It is too much and too far from its origin.   This is also true for The Ring but in a different way.  It’s the scale and perfect symmetry that makes it so absurd.  Its simply too large for anyone to walk casually, programmed or not.  Yet for some reason there is something rather enticing about both of these pieces of architecture.  For Paju, there is an allure that can’t really be explained except to say it is visually stunning.  That these publishers and stores care to define themselves by using architecture on this type of design scale is impressive.  Each building creates an identity and draw for itself.  The Ring stands to be even more impressive to me.  In a country like China, where the Great Wall can be seen from outer space, how does something as large and cumbersome as this massive ring as a centralization tool seem out of place?  It is by all means fantastical, yet still has a function that could only be fulfilled in a country such as China; in city like Shenzhen where everything is so new everyone is always looking for that next boundary to top.  But what could possibly be that next fix?

So is it better to seek that perfect mysterious moment or break out of the everyday?  Each architecture we’ve looked at through Asia and in truly in our lifetime seeks to accomplish at least one of these.  And so it is when we see these moments of inconsistency, mystery, or absurdity that makes that moment come to life and be more than simply the mundane.

//Lexie

Filed under: Architectural Absurdity, Architectural Spectacle, Architecture, China, Godard, Korea, Psyche, Rem Koolhaas, Uncategorized

Thinking Outside the Small Box

If one word can be identified with America, I think it would be individualism.  Individualism is our greatest strength.  But we’ve gotten high on ourselves, its become too much of a good thing.  Our individualism seems to now be misguided.  We need to re-evaluate and think about the huge improvements on our lives if we stopped to think a little bit more about the big picture instead of our single city microcosm.  I’m primarily identifying this problem with city planning.  We’re all worried about our little piece of the city block instead of how we could improve that little block by thinking statewide.  This strategy lacks a greater intelligence.  Reformed thinking could not only improve our economy but strengthen what is essentially American: individualism.

America thinks in a singular nature instead of thinking in a complete set.  Los Angeles as compared to Shanghai for example- yes, Los Angeles has its own little districts that each have a huge sense of regionalism.  But lets go from small to large.  First of all there seems to be a love of the object building.   A singular destination instead of the overall area I could affect- hence making a singular attraction instead of set of destinations.  For instance, Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall- the ultimate object building.  There is almost no supporting program surrounding it.  The closests one could call supporting program is the Dorthey Chandler.  It’s actually surrounded by parking lots.  Why isn’t there a 5-Star restaurant next door?  For that matter, why not several restaurants?  Boutiques? Coffee Houses? Not applicable in America.

On a larger scale, how about the smaller cities that are outliers of Los Angeles?  Those could easily be connected to Los Angeles proper created a satellite situation as Shanghai has with Qing Pu.  If there were easy, efficient, and reliable transportation to Cabazon, Palm Springs or Santa Barbara Los Angeles would be a very different place.  Especially with Los Angeles’ traffic, the idea of a day trip would have a very different characterization.  This could create ‘big box destinations’, as in whole districts for furniture or shoes.  Cabazon would probably be the most synonymous with this idea as it is entirely devoted to one specific type of shopping: outlets.  However the only time anyone ever goes to Cabazon is if they are already on their way to Palm Springs or Arizona- it is not a destination by itself.  It needs better transportation services to its location (one that doesn’t evolve strategic planning around traffic hours) and a bigger draw than stores whose merchandise is years old because so few people make it out that far away from the city center.  If Cabazon existed as a nodal destination, the space in between itself and the city center would fill in appropriately.

In essence I am asking LA, and America on a larger scale, for some urban intelligence.  If LA were designed, not necessarily master planned, with the notion of what could improve a given area by making points of interest, these areas would expand into the surroundings.  These areas would bring massive foot traffic and could better support a retailers economy.  This ultimately aligns with the American perception of itself because it promotes competition, encourages new business models and spurs economic growth.  Business that are in that ‘big box destination’ would have to identify what makes them different instead of relying on a name brand or being the only retailer to sell ‘x-type’ product in the local area.   What is more American than pronouncing individualism?

//Lexie

Filed under: America, Architecture, China, Infrastructure, Los Angeles, Urbanism

The Autonomous Individual

“The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.”

The flight back to the states granted the time for reflection on what had just happened to me (and hopefully all of us) in the last four months.  A journey like the one we just partook in has the ability to completely change one’s life, usually for the better.  In my perspective, this experience has allowed me to gain a better perspective on myself, what I want to accomplish in my lifetime, and where I fit into the equation of the metropolis.

At the beginning of the program, the readings we were assigned spoke about ideas and concepts of cities that we probably could not relate to just yet.  I thought I understood what the readings were trying to convey back then, but now, looking back, I realize that there is no way I could have comprehended these readings as well as I have while simultaneously traveling throughout metropolises in Asia.  As I reopened Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” I read the first sentence (quoted above) and instantly had a stronger stance on the reading.  Prior to this trip, I would think that being an autonomous individual would be a positive characteristic, however, I quickly realized how preserving my autonomy while in a foreign culture would be extremely detrimental to my ability to gain a new perspective and ascertain an understanding of various cultures and cities for that matter.

Being abroad offers something that is so far out of reach from a classroom’s offerings.  Reading pieces like Simmel’s, Ibeling’s, and deCerteau in the comfort of my living room at school would not have had even the closest impact on me as they did while in Asia.  Reading these articles and excerpts and then being able to look out of my hotel window into the city, walk the city, and be immersed in the culture is something that is of the utmost value…something that could never take place inside of a classroom.  Architecture is a field that requires this kind of supplemental knowledge.  Gaining a better understanding and perspective of architecture requires one to become aware of how this discipline affects people internationally (whether people realize it or not) and how simply by crossing the border to a neighboring country, these affects can morph into something unrelated, each carrying their own distinct qualities.

So, as Simmel points out, one of the biggest problems today is that we as individuals take too much interest in our own independence and persona that we forget (or lack the general interest) to look at the bigger picture…society, culture, architecture, history, as an international organism, rather than merely through the eyes of our own culture. There is so much that people miss out on every single day because they do not search for it.  Knowledge is always surrounding us, it just has to be found.

_sunny.

Filed under: Architecture, China, Japan, Korea

Peace and Quiet

Finally some peace and quiet! As I sit in my house in suburbia writing this essay, there are no horns blaring out the window, no maids yelling/ strangling each other in the hallway, and no listening to 17 other classmates bickering what to do for lunch. Like I said earlier, its nice to have some peace and quiet. I can make my own choices, without having to justify my every move to my peers. Instead of hiking to the train station, passing hawkers interrogating me “bagus, watch, hello?”, I can now get into my car, isolate myself from the world, and freely sing at the top of my lungs. After one crazy semester this is just what I needed, to literally clear my head of all the surrounding stimuli, and allow my mind to settle and digest everything that I have just encountered.

The truth is though; this shock of jumping into an environment that is desolate of exterior stimuli is kind of eerie. After being submerged and becoming a part of the urban fabric, I truly think this submersion will be one of the greatest experiences I had on my study abroad expedition. It’s easy to justify locations as being the highlights of your experience for example The Great Wall, or The World Expo, but in my opinion they are just blips on the larger picture of what we experienced over in Asia. For the first time in my life, I saw a sprawled density, a density that even when we were out in the boonies at our hotel, there was still a very active street life, with bystanders waiting at intersections, locals buying produce from the back of a truck, and shops lining streets that are not necessarily major thoroughfares. It is this lack of urban that creates isolation in suburbia, and I am starting to see how this is in many ways has been detrimental towards my development along with how our country has developed.

By creating nodes that become objects in the field, as opposed to a fabric, it creates an inward focus. Every time I leave my house I have to justify to myself where I am going and what I am looking to accomplish, whether this is going to drop off my laundry, catch up with a friend, or pick up dinner, every time I venture outside of my home it becomes a task. By always having an objective, it limits the spontaneous encounters that happen by chance, and hinders curiosity of what will be in the next alleyway or what new products will be in the windows as one passes by.

One element of the urban environment that is really interesting is its ability to create obscure conditions of program overlaps. For example having a grocery store, next to a grade school, backed by a subway station that the kids take home, enjoying their recently purchased snacks after school. By allowing these conditions to overlap onto one another different narratives and experiences start to play out, and become elements of the everyday. On the contrary creating nodes that are islands surrounded by a sea of pavement, strips the fabric of any potential of layering, restricting the diversity of the narratives that can take place.

Is there still hope? I think this is a question that everyone in our group is starting to ponder. Has America become so desensitized and lost in our ways that we have left behind the potential to create curiosity, ambition and tension with the built environment? Even Urban environments like Los Angeles, have become numb of experience, and have been characterized as a city for the automobile. We have stripped the layers out of the fabric and have replaced the fabric with isolated objects. In my opinion it’s easy to throw up our hands, and say America is done for, with our addiction to oil and economic depression. I don’t want to be that person that gives up hope, and walk away from the situation. Having the ability to take from my experiences abroad, and start finding ways to apply them back in our homeland, will hopefully start to create a better urban understanding. Taking on projects that push its impact on the urban environment, and understand no matter how large or small a project is, it has the ability to become something greater. Just like throwing rocks in a pond, no matter how small or how large the rock is it has the ability to have a greater rippling affect, than just the size of itself. This is not the end; rather it is just the beginning of a long journey ahead.

 

Ross Renjilian

 

Filed under: Architecture, Asia, Car, Density, High, Nodes, Renjilian, Ross, stimuli, Suburbia, Urbanism,

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

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

Revitalized by Programming

Buildings go through life cycles, a time period in which the use of the building no longer suites its original purpose. Some developers choose to knock down and start over, but others choose a different approach by reprogramming, and creating a new life out of something that flat lined. Here in China, we have seen a couple of precedents that reexamined the potential for old warehouses, by converting them into trendy creative industries.

Through gentrification, old warehouse districts have been converted into lofts, studios, galleries, cafes, shops, event spaces, and coffee houses. By tailoring these projects towards artists, collectors, and the public, these districts start to become thriving communities, allowing artists to live and work amongst their clients and other artists. These vibrant settings bring people from all over to appreciate artwork, and also to support the parasitic programs. Through successful gentrification, these creative industries become their own ecosystems that support art and the community.

We had the opportunity to visit a couple creative industries in China, The first one we visited was called OCT in Shenzhen, which was designed by Urbanus. Looking at an old warehouse district they were able to use the shells of the existing buildings, and retrofit them with gallery spaces, creative offices, lofts, and cafes. A steel and glass network of bridges, corridors, and storefronts, parasitically connect and feeds off of the existing fabric. This parasitic network grows through the different warehouses creating a communal public space that connects the multitude of retrofitted loft buildings. This contrast of new and old creates this distinctive texture that allows the two systems to be understood for their individual characteristics, and collectively as a way to create a unique public condition. The project is still under construction, but one could imagine these parasitic connections filled with people actively participating and being a part of the creative industry.

798 district in Beijing, created a creative industry by taking over an old artillery factory that was no longer used for manufacturing. 798’s quaint town atmosphere is created through its different street scales including: a major artery cutting through the district, side streets focusing on a smaller more intimate scale, and pedestrian friendly alleyways full of tiny shops, and art. The streets are lined with galleries marked by intricate entryways that carve into the old fabric, giving a fresh edge and identity to the individual warehouses. As you move from gallery to gallery you pass through a series of vaulted spaces and pristine white walls, contrasting the rough brick and aged wood. This district creates more of an attraction than a community, but the specificity allows the creative industry to be very unique, and engaging to the public. By taking out the sterile atmosphere and high admission fees, 798 creates a completely different setting for art that in my opinion, can become more appealing to a broader range of people. Art museums have their place, but this different setting gives art a new audience and appreciation.

The interesting design element behind these creative industries is the importance of program. These buildings were designed with the intentions of manufacturing, and ended up becoming vibrant creative industries. Instead of the buildings being torn down, the shells of the buildings were recycled and given a new life. The importance of program is not necessarily in the form of the space; rather it is in the strategy of program allocation, and finding a concept that creates stimulating environments. The ability to create culturally rich, and vibrant public spaces, out of something that was once intended for private mass production, demonstrates the importance of program strategy. As architects we may not have control of what happens to our projects when we finish the initial design stages, but if we envision interesting concepts, and strategic program strategies, we will hopefully see our ideas successfully carried on. If not the project may be reprogrammed to better fit its users, and sometimes that is just as exciting too.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: 798, Architecture, Art, Beijing, China, Culture, Districts, Gentrification, OCT, Parasitic, Program, Programming, Renjilian, Renovation, Revitalized, Ross, Shenzhen, Urbanism, Urbanus, , ,

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