USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

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, , ,

Art for the Few

Does art lose its value when it is readily available to the public?

Art that is easily mass produced is often no longer viewed as art in today’s society.  Copious amounts of a work of art takes away its value.  Many times posters and books are no longer even considered to be works of art because of their mass production.

How readily available should art be?  And to whom?

Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction states that, “mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.  The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.  The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert.  Such fusion is of great social significance.  The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public.  The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion.”

What happens when a mass amount of viewers view a singular work?  Although the piece may not be mass produced, it is still being viewed by masses.  The social significance of the piece changes.  With more viewers, the piece is no longer being criticized and analyzed, it is merely being enjoyed by the observers.

Benjamin also points out that “mass reproduction is aided especially by the reproduction of masses.”

The visitors to the Shanghai World Expo may not necessarily be visiting the Expo for its social and educational value.  Rather, the Expo is seen as a spectacle to many Chinese visitors.  Most are more preoccupied with obtaining a stamp from every pavilion in the Expo rather than learning about each country.  Taking pictures next to what looks aesthetically compelling at many times appears to be more important to the Chinese visitors than the actual content inside the pavilions.

What happens when art becomes a neglected spectacle instead of a valued exhibition?

What does this say about a society as a whole?  Is the fact that society does not see value in the exhibitions a problem with the society, or a problem with the fact that these exhibitions are too readily available?

Mass accessibility devalues art.  The art remains the same, with the same content, yet this content is overlooked when put into an overly inhabited environment.  The few that still critically analyze the work exist within this mass, but at the same time are unable to be completely critical of the work because of the chaotic backdrop surrounding it.

Would the Shanghai World Expo be more successful in terms of its educational value if placed in a different location?  The Expo would have been more successful in a pedagogical sense if the amount of visitors was limited.  However, by limiting the number of viewers, the masses would not have a chance to attempt to experience all that the Expo has to offer, whether or not they can overlook the spectacle aspect and see the Expo for what it truly is.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, Art, China, Expo, mass production, Shanghai,

Rational Irrationality

K. Michael Hays’s The Crisis of Humanism, the Dissolution of the Object argues that Mies van der Rohe’s work “exemplifies…the central strategy of anti-humanist thought: against…rational understanding, in which the mind is supposed to have a preformed and permanent structure that parcels out the objects of experience, it is now the temporal, historically developed, and irrational structure of society that is determinant.”

Hays states that Mies creates space in a way which it has no inherent qualities of its own. Users makes the space what it is. By interjecting society into a space, the space then has qualities due to its population.

Does space differ on formal and cognitive levels? No. If a house is built on a beach, it is automatically a beach house.

Users do not make a space irrational due to a lack of knowing how they will interact with the space. A space is a space. The use of the space may be defined by the user, but even the user’s intent of use cannot be irrational.

Irrationality is the product of a rational syntax.

True irrationality is not attainable.

Form and space have fundamental physical qualities. Users of a space are predictable. Everything is thought about before acted upon. One cannot act without thinking at all.

Kazimir Malevich, a Russian artist from the early 1900s, exhibited a piece which he believed to be a “zero form” at his 0.10 show in 1915 in St. Petersburg. This piece, entitled Black Square, is quite literally a black square on a white canvas. This form was meant to represent a void.

Can a void be depicted in a 2-D representation?

Can a void be represented at all?

Even if an empty space is surrounded by something which gives it a sense of context and defines its shape, that is not a void. Nothingness is void. A void cannot be demarcated.

0.10 was full of Malevich’s irrational, yet rational, suprematist and transrationalist art. Malevich gave each piece a subtitle, such as, “suprematism airplane flying,” as to get the viewer to look for something nonexistent in the work. By giving the pieces of art seemingly meaningless titles, in an attempt to confuse the viewer, Malevich aims to make an irrational point, and fails. Although the subtitles may be irrational in regard to the work of art, his intent behind the subtitles is entirely rational.

Black Square was placed in the corner of the room, the focal point of the gallery, where the icon would typically be. This makes a nod toward suprematism becoming a new religion. Malevich saw Black Square as perfection. He states that “the corner symbolizes that there is no other path to perfection except for the path into the corner.” One cannot arrive at perfection without a rational syntax.

Despite the fact that Malevich rejected conventional sequences and form, he still utilized these entities, just in a radical manner. His rejection of establishment and normality through art does not mean his work is irrational. Although his final product may be irrational to the viewer, Malevich reduced art to a formulaic existence. By utilizing a rational system to create his irrational art, Malevich succeeded in creating art which appeared to be irrational to the viewer.

Incomprehensible and irrational are not one in the same.

“Zero form” exists as form without a social context. “Zero form” is not irrational, it is simply unattainable. Something is not irrational because it is built out of context or does not fit into its surroundings. The injection of users into a space automatically gives it a rational essence. Once form is put into existence, it is also immediately placed into a social context, even if that context happens to be a lack of social awareness.

The plausibility of a built “zero form” is irrational. Void does not exist.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, Art, irrationality, malevich, rationality, space, zero form

Factory 798-In the middle of the Beijing Dichotomy

During our time in Beijing, our group was fortunate enough to spend part of a day at the Factory 798, a former industrial-turned-artist district in the Chao-yang district of Beijing. Although there is a factory named ‘Factory 798,’ the district is made up of a number of former factories that now house artist studios, exhibitions, shops, cafes, and restaurants. The genesis of the area began when artists moved into the industrial complex after the factories were deemed obsolete and shut down. There have been several attempts by the government and developers, who want to bulldoze the area and put in expensive developments, to shut down the area. Fortunately, such attempts have failed and the 798 zone is thriving.

While touring the complex, I came across an exhibition by the artist Wang Du entitled Top Secret-Flying Carpet III. Wang Du employed incredibly complex pencil drawings composed of objects relating to aerospace and the Forbidden City, two entities that seemed completely unrelated to me. The fighter jets depicted in the drawings were incredibly dynamic, their movements sketched over and over again in a progression across the canvas. This movement eventually created one connected motion of the same fighter jet, making it difficult to recognize one full fighter jet by itself.  When the aircraft were depicted on the same canvas as the Forbidden City, the two were draw separately, only connected by movement lines that indicated that their movement originated from the city, which seemed to float in space by itself.

Wang Du’s pieces caused me to reflect on why he would chose to depict these two unrelated objects and with just pencil, leaving them colorless and in black and white. Much of the contemporary art that I had viewed prior in the day had many colors and their message, critical to say the least, was more clearly viewable.

From what I am able to deduce from the Top-Secret gallery is that Wang Du is commenting on the secrecy, and further more the dichotomy imagery, that Beijing possesses. The southern part of Beijing is the location of the country’s aerospace industry. The aerospace industry in China is a state-run military industry and thus a highly top-secret. The secretive nature of the industry has prevented the growth that much of the rest of Beijing has seen in terms of commercial, financial, and residential center growth. Wang Du’s pieces are making a modern-day reference to the days when the Forbidden City was off limits in the manner that the aerospace industry is in present day. Now that the Forbidden City has become a tourist attraction, does this mean that China is finally completely open? No. Instead, in a society that lacks the imperial family, the industry of military technology and government control, has taken its place as the hush-hush medium of the day.

Beijing has become a city of black and white, with Factory 798 acting as the grey mediator that allows us to see both sides. If the top-secret aerospace industry of southern Beijing represents the black, then the Olympic Village represents the white. The Olympic Village, located just north of the Forbidden City, is the epitome of the image that Beijing wants to relay to the international community. That much was seen in China’s preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games, where the government would bulldoze entire undesirable areas overnight because they did not want them to be seen.

The fact that both the aviation industry and the Olympic Village are both along the north-south axis created by the Forbidden City links them all together. So if this is the scene that the artist has painted for the viewer, what role do areas like Factory 798 play? Factory 798 offers an alternative interpretation of Chinese society in contrast to places like Tiananmen Square, where the Chinese Communist ideology is touted gloriously. 798 offers a glimpse into the grey region that is not commented on by CCTV or read about in the papers. It offers the opportunity for Chinese artists to utilize and showcase their own critical lens of Chinese society when they are unable to do elsewhere without reprisal from the government.

We see a similar set up in Shanghai, with the creative industry M50, which is similar to Factory 798, but on a smaller scale. Nevertheless, the soul of the two is the same: expression. In looking at it from an international perspective, one begins to question the presence of such creative industries not only in China, but also in countries like the United States, where there are no political or social boundaries to creativity and expression. Why is there not an abundance of Factory 798‘s and M50‘s in a country that would be completely open to their existence. The creative industry circuit in the U.S. could be accurately described as scattered and decentralized. Artists do not feel the need to gather together and instead rather stand alone. This perception of the individual is where the cultural differences between a nation like the U.S. contrasts to that of China, which is primarily focused on the whole. There is safety in numbers in China and this has resulted in an intriguing and continual growth of places like Factory 798.

One might wonder why the Chinese government could even fathom allowing a place where capitalistic creativity and expression can run freely. Yet this is the same government who has advocated the creation of cities like Shenzhen and encouraged the existence of cities like Hong Kong, who utilize capitalism as a means of operation. By implementing contrasting economic operational methodologies, as well as political and social ideologies, China has thus seen a creation of the ‘in-betweens,’ which has been the most fascinating observation as of yet.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: aerospace industry, Art, Beijing, Capitalism, communism, creative industries, critical art, factory 798, in-between, olympic village, top secret, Uncategorized, wang du

Lambo Effect

After visiting 798 creative industry in Beijing, there was one sculpture that caught my eye. The sculpture was a model of an old school Lamborghini, Finally art that speaks my language. Instead of the model being covered in Lambo yellow, it was patterned with a multitude of bright colors. As I stepped closer I realized that it was not actually paint, rather it was plastered in Lottery Tickets.

The sculpture, by “Ghost of A Dream”, is a reflection of wealth promised by the lottery. Each object in the exhibit represents a familiar, western symbol of wealth that people can easily associate with. Creating these objects out of scratched lottery tickets represents individual’s monetary hopes being followed by their frustrating loss. This philosophy is backed by Western’s obsession with the pursuit of happiness through materialistic goods. Displaying this piece in China, a country that is fascinated with western way of life, reflects a universal frenzy for consumption.

The drive for consumption is created by the free market, and the ideas of  creating a government driven by corporations and consumerism. This model created industrial revolutions, which sky rocketed America’s economy, power, and influence through modernization and development. As a country, America started to understand that it cannot consume forever, and currently the economy is faltering due to over consumption and free market faults.

China currently is going through a very similar growth model that America has previously been through. The political model of communism is starting to take on more of a free market approach in China, and the “American Dream” model is starting to become much more prevalent in the east. This rapid development and modernization in China has already started to create a free market, in which many western values are being used as precedent. In order for China to grow as a country they are going to also have to consume.

What is starting to create tension with the idea of consumption is that resources are already starting to dwindle. Wars have been fought over oil control, and the amount of pollution that has been pumped into the environment is starting to make areas inhospitable. When we start to compare numbers, America is a country of 310 million people compared to China’s roughly 1.4 billion people, the idea of scale starts to come into play. America is starting to realize that the “American Dream” model is not necessarily a practical mindset for a world where resources are limited. America’s dependence on the car has started to create congestion and a market dependent on the price of oil. Oil is only one of numerous resources that are starting to vanish, and in the future different resources will become higher in demand.

We can only predict the impact of western values possessed by the east, and in many ways we can only hope that China learns from America’s faults as opposed to mimicking them. With the argument that America had its chance to develop, and now it is China’s turn, we already see the immaturity of the situation, and this is the part that starts to get serious. China’s search for quantitative and economic power has really been the driver for this western, free market ideology. As cities in China start to get covered in smog, this is not necessarily viewed as a problem rather as progress. Factories begin to pump out more and more products, and the instant result is that China becomes more powerful and modernized. This mentality ultimately creates the effect of 1.4 billion people searching for their yellow Lamborghini, and we can only hope they will be hybrid.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: 798, AAU, America, American, Art, China, Creative, development, Dream, Free, Industry, Lamborghini, Market, Modernization, Politics, Renjilian, Ross, Urbanism, , ,


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

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

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu