URBAN GORILLA

Icon

USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Downfall of Subways

Subways allow for an amazing proliferation of people throughout the city.  Railways are part of the infrastructure that defines a culture as civilized.  It recognizes that they have developed far enough industrially and economically to not only have need for such a thing, but the capability to construct these huge nodal linkages.

One can enter into this wormhole on one side of the city and arrive on the other side in just a few minutes.  The stop takes you within a few minute walk of wherever your destination may be.  You can exist underground- you switch lines entirely underground, shop underground, eat underground, all on your commute.  Emerge and submerge, never really knowing on what side of the ground plane you’re on.  Time becomes irrelevant, and yet the only thing prevalent.

The perfect example of the utmost efficient subway system is in Tokyo.  One never has to travel far to find a subway station, and the stop will take you to precisely where you want to go.  The subways are incredibly clean.  No one has to wait longer than a few minutes for a train to come, and it seems to always accommodate all its users.  In cases when the subway is really full it still remains highly civilized.  The front train care is always reserved for women only, so women would not feel uncomfortable being too closely packed to their stranger counter parts.  Even as a foreigner to the Japanese subway system there are always information booths available more than willing to give you directions or help with whatever problem you have concerning your subway experience.  For that matter, police booths exist at ground level, or ‘koban’, that can help direct you as well.  Ultimately, this system goes beyond providing the needs it was constructed for.  It creates a standard any city can only hope to live up to.

While speeding under Shanghai, I ponder my nearly hour long route to ‘work’.  More precisely how my commute breaks down to about 20 minutes of walking to the station, a 5 minute wait at the station, 15 minute train ride and finally a 15 minutes from the station to my place of work.  If I go during ‘traffic hour’ I have to wait for a couple of trains to finally fit in one.  If I wait for an off time I can hop on a train right away.  Once inside the train I feel like a sardine.  That’s when I start to wonder, when do demarcations of civilization cease to be civilized? – as someone’s elbow jams into my ribcage and the man rubbing against my frontloaded backpack burps loudly in the face of the woman smashed against him.  At the particular stop I take, to switch lines I must go above ground and walk couple blocks to reach the transfer, then buy a new ticket as their systems are not yet connected.

There is one main issue here: the subway does not meet the needs it was constructed for.  That is when it stops being civilized, when it can’t meet the demands made on it.  It is not efficient, or timely.  This subway is not part of large spanning underworld, it is simply pieces of what it could be.  Shanghai’s subway system is scheduled to double by 2022.  And it needs to, as of now the city is growing faster than the infrastructure that provides for it. It is only the city center that is well provided for by the subway system.  People’s Park is incredibly easy to maneuver via subway.  However on the current outskirts of the city there aren’t nearly enough stops or lines going to those far reaches of Shanghai.  Once additional lines are built there hopefully will not be a problem with overcrowding a train car or lining up for the third subway to arrive.  Shanghai is a huge sprawling city.  For the area the system covers it does quite well.  All of Tokyo only covers a fraction of the area Shanghai covers and furthermore has only been developing for a fraction of the time.

//Lexie

Filed under: China, Infrastructural Growth, Japan, Subways, 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

The Future of China

I am departing Shanghai once again.  This is my second time visiting this great city, but this time with 3 months of travelling in between analyzing Asian cities.  I will be leaving with a different knowledge of Shanghai than with my first departure–  my first exeperience in Shanghai gave me a familiarity, while this one allowed me to appreciate the “real” Shanghai beyond the cliche and realize the beauty of the everyday.

Making an impromptu decision to visit Hangzhou, I decided to take the high speed CRH Chinese High Speed Rail.  Just recently, CRH set the world record speed of high speed rail trains and I wanted to compare this experience to the Shinaksen in Japan.  Once I arrived at the platform looking at the aerodynamic nose of the CRH train, I was overcome with the same excitement that I had months ago in Japan riding the Shinkansen.  Though my emotions were the same, the reasons why I had this amazement was completely different.  I was in the People’s Republic of China, a country that has just come out of the Cultural Revolution only 30 years ago.  After a decade of isolation, China has the technology that matches and even exceeds that of Japan, which has developed with constant progress.

Perhaps in Japan, my amazement came from this first sight of the great and majestic Shinkansen.  Japan was the first country to effecitvely utilize high speed rail by alleviating the congested and overloaded roads and rail lines between Osaka and Tokyo.  Now, the Shinkansen connects cities like Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, Yokohama, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.  As the bullet train arrived in Tokyo station for a few short minutes, I saw its long, aerodynamically shaped nose that reminded me of a duck or platypus.  When the train reached this as its termius, I wanted to ride the train right away as the passengers got off.  However, I had to wait because the workers were preparing the train to head the other way.  I was easily amused by the automatic turning of the chairs as the train prepared itself for the new wave of passengers heading towards another destination.  I loved watching window washers meticulously cleaning to keep the prisitine apperance of the train.  When I was finally allowed in, I waited for the food cart lady to come by, not because of the snacks on it, but to see her bow before she exited each car.  Everyone had their belongings neatly stacked on the overhead storage area or in the back of the cabin.  A man would eventually walk by to check our tickets recording it in his book, and sometimes stamping it with a purple insignia that was handed back to me with two hands and a quick bow.

That was in Japan, and now I am in China.  I arrive in a large atrium space after purchasing my ticket to ride the bullet train to Hangzhou.  I blinked my eyes like I was in a dream because I was in disbelief that that China is capable of having this major transportation hub and have high speed rail connceting major cities right underneath after a period of global isolation.  However, I was upset because I couldn’t see the arrival and preparation ritual of the train for its next journey like in Japan.  I didn’t even know if there was one given the fact that China neglects the maintenence of things.  As I reached the platform, everyone quickly rushed to their cars, while I deliberately walked to the end of the train to see the nose of the bullet train.  Not quite as cool looking as Japan, but it can still hold its own in speed.  The workers looked at me funny because my peers and I were the only ones who were taking pictures in the chill, while everyone was already comfy and cozy in the train.  Once inside, there were many migrant workers who stuffed many of their belongings unorganized on top of the bars.  People were eating and constantly talking especially if they had companions sitting next to them.  There were also sliding doors that people never closed because it became and inconvenience for both the stewardness and the people walking to the bathroom.  I was anticipating a cart lady to come by, but instead I was sent the food zone that all passengers could visit.  There was no man to check my ticket because the turnstile had registered it.  The service aspect was completely removed and everyone was in their own self contained bubble within the confines of their seats.

I dare not to say that I did not have a journey to Hangzhou, but rather it made me reflect on my rides on the Shinkansen.  Within the contained vessel of the bullet train cabin, I was able to get two different experiences.  It was the Japanese perfection of the job at hand versus the loud talking, spitting [not on the floor thankfully], and space hogging people.

Even looking at the city morphology pass by when travelling from the city center to the outskirts back to the city center, I noticed the differences with Shanghai and Japan’s urban condition.  Because of the limited amount of land in Japan, most of the density is centered within the city and as you move toward the outsikts, there are few dispersed patches of civilization.  Shanghai’s sprawl was apparent from the cabin as I saw a continuous fabric of clustered developments that eventually transitioned into fields of farmland.

Riding in the high speed rail in two different countries made this trip come full circle in multiple scales.  Zoomed in, I can make observations of the collective.  By zooming out just a little bit, I can see the urban strategies of sprawl and densification.  Zooming out and looking at Japan and China, I can conclude that each country is at different levels of development.  While Japan is connecting the already extablished and propogating cities, China is using high speed rail to link cities that are still growing.  This fascination and excitement for both China and Japan have variations sets of factors giving each other the tension and an opportunity for me to spot these differences.

Joyce

Filed under: China, everyday, Hangzhou, high speed rail, Japan, News, Shinkansen, Tokyo, Transportation,

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, , ,

Synthetic Urbanism & Non-Place

The rapid proliferation of mega-structures becomes part of a packaged synthetic urbanism.  The urban cannot exist instantaneously.  Hans Ibelings’ Supermodernism affirms that “a new architecture now seems to be emerging, an architecture for which such postmodernist notions as place, context and identity have largely lost their meaning…To refer to this architecture, a new ‘ism’ is introduced here: supermodernism…it manifests itself chiefly in the way people deal with place and space nowadays.”  Additionally, Aesthetics + Urbanism asserts that architecture is becoming more and more consumer oriented.

According to Supermodernism, “the world is increasingly made up of non-places which are particularly common in the sphere of mobility and consumption.  Airports, hotels, supermarkets, shopping malls, motorway stops…are all places where people occasionally spend varying lengths of time, but the functions of these spaces is quite different from, say, the village square which is the social centre of a community.”  If “place is defined as an area that has acquired meaning as a result of human activities,” then if this place in fact is a non-place, it only supports a temporal population.

The attempt to create a notion of place is dependent on whether this place becomes a place or a non-place.  Does this place or non-place exist as a true urban addition to a city?  Does it interact with its users?  Or does it simply nurture a fabricated environment and become just another synthetic node?

For example, OMA’s CCTV building may serve as more of a spectacle than any other practical function.  Architecture as spectacle is more concerned with being popular than actually being populated.  Without a user, the object building cannot be a place.  Although places become inherently and synthetically urban when populated, the quality of this population must be assessed.

Airports may become the ultimate synthetic mega-structure, with no true population.  People come to the destination with a purpose, but do not stay for any meaningful amount of time.  Temporal destinations are not significantly utilized, and can hardly become part of a true urban environment.

Not only do spectacle buildings have a transient population, but as Supermodernism puts it, “this phenomenon whereby scarcely anything is tied to a particular place any more has long been an economic axiom but is now being seen as a fait accompli in architecture as well.  The same building, with a few site-specific adjustments, can stand anywhere.”  What does it mean if a structure is not innate to its location?  Can it become part of the urban?  The spectacle of CCTV may work in China solely because of the type of architecture being done here.  Object buildings are constructed quickly, even before they are fully programmed.  Although intrinsic to the environment’s spectacular qualities, at the same time it is not fully intrinsic to the site upon which it sits.

The man-made modifications to the urban environment in films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner promote a different class of synthetic urbanism.  By altering the natural urban order, and putting the wealthy living directly above the workers and lower class of the cities represented in the films, this type of urban environment is no longer made up of non-places because these housing blocks are perpetual destinations.

An attempt at urbanism which lacks a lasting population becomes synthetic—it cannot function on a true urban level.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, China, place, Urbanism, ,

The City: through the lens of transport

stroll.walk.run.hike.bike.boat.ferry.taxi.bus.subway.train.highspeedrail.fly.

fly.bus.walk.stroll.subway.run.subway.walk.walk.walk.subway.

bus.subway.walk.taxi.

walk.subway.stroll.

walk.

 

~Samantha

Filed under: airplane, Architecture, boat, China, ferry, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Public Transportation, streets, Subway, Tokyo, train, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Video, walking

Fragmentation

“The changes in housing and in the land on which houses leave their imprint become signs of this daily life. One need only look at the layers of the city that archaeologists show us; they appear as a primordial and eternal fabric of life, an immutable pattern. Anyone who remembers European cities after bombings of the last war retains an image of disemboweled houses where, amid the rubble, fragments of familiar places remained standing, with their colors of faded wallpaper, laundry hanging suspended in the air, barking dogs— the untidy intimacy of places. And always we could see the house of our childhood, strangely aged, present in the flux of the city.” Aldo Rossi    The Architecture of the City

A million little pieces make up the whole, we have the ability to put these pieces together, and the ability to take them apart. Understanding a building by only its materials is to understand a puzzle by its individual pieces. Each brick, each tile, and each shred of fabric, was once part of a larger whole. There is a sick beauty to these images that picks apart not just a home, but hundreds of peoples homes, leaving walls and memories in shambles. The parts that make a whole, are just parts, but sometimes the parts are just as interesting.

 

Ross Renjilian

Urban Village demolition in Shenzhen, China


Filed under: Aldo, Architecture, building, China, Defragmentation, pieces, Renjilian, Ross, Rossi, Shenzhen, Uncategorized, Urban, Urbanism, Village, ,

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

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

 

My experience in Shanghai has been a humbling experience of sorts. I’ll be the first to admit that before the trip, I had negative pre-conceptions of China as still being largely third world, despite the endless news reports of its quick economic development. If you asked me what my expectations of China were prior to leaving on this trip exactly three and a half months ago, I’d quite simply say:

“Well, it’s probably going to be smelly, dirty, and gloomy”.

Now, while I would say most of that is generally still true, I cannot doubt the fact that I am genuinely appalled and afraid of where China is and fast becoming in the global community. A plethora of high-speed rail developments, no shortage of planned economic zones, heavily invested by leading international businesses, epicenter of global events, and did I mention the growing population of 1.4 billion?

If that’s not enough to strike fear in your adversaries, then I don’t know what will.

But it’s not just China. Our initial drive through Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong provided a small (personally, I wish we spent MUCH more time there) glimpse into true “urbanism” as we call it. Layered densities both horizontal and vertical, hybridity of programmatic elements, successfully integration of infrastructural systems; all these are characteristics of what we saw, felt, experienced. In short, we experienced an everydayness that was foreign to us, and yet at the same time intriguing and exciting because, quite simply, it worked.

But what does that all mean for us now, especially post-trip while we’re safely back within the completely different world of America? If anything, this trip has opened my eyes to the deficiencies that plague a stagnant America that is utterly stuck in its tracks. Of course, we do enjoy many freedoms unparalleled in most countries, but America is far from its glory days. If the 20th century was about America, then the 21st century is increasingly becoming about China.  Friedman’s “From WikiChina” article, albeit humorous, provides an insightful look into perhaps how the world is continuing to view us. Friedman states, “ The Americans have replaced working to exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself ‘exceptional’, only others can bestow that adjective upon you”. Ouch, but so true. I mean, what’s so exceptional about American infrastructure? We have 10 lane freeway expansion projects in LA that stretches for miles, but the only exceptional thing about that is perhaps the iconic smog generated from all the car traffic. We can’t even agree to pass a bill to install a network of high speed rail transit systems that will even go over 90 miles per hour. The realization of such an infrastructural revolution within America is a lesson that can be taken from Asia, where high speed is a necessity of most people’s transportation. Like cities such as Los Angeles, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to move from point A to point B without taking hours in traffic congestion. Also, the mobility of the individual becomes increased tremendously, allowing a greater opportunity for distributed intra-national economic growth. But no, industries that include airlines have lobbied hard against it in an effort to erase the competition; this along with many other political/economic factors have ubiquitously hindered any real change in our infrastructure.

Friedman is right when he says, “…the Americans are polarized over all the wrong things”. We are often so entrenched in our ideological beliefs that we live in a black and white world. This is that, this is not and cannot be that. Lefebvre touches upon this “situation” as he calls it: “ A modern object clearly states what it is, its role and its place.” Americans often view society and place in the same manner: a mall is just a mall; a train station is where people get on and off a train, etc. But there’s so much more to that, the possibilities of experience and juxtaposition of program and space are endless and intriguing if only we operated in the grey area. Tokyo Midtown was not just an office building complex, it was a subway station, mall, hotel, private residences, outdoor park all interweaved and layered to create a different kind of urban environment that was continuously engaging the public at different levels. We saw, in Hong Kong, the IFC mall turned into an airport terminus with an express rail line that directly linked the airport to the subterranean level. The airport then became more than itself, it was a transportation hub and also a lifestyle center, complete with cultural amenities, retail shops, restaurants, cafes, etc; the phenomenon of “infratecture”.

Lefebvre states: “Today we see a worldwide tendency to uniformity”. But beyond that, the tendency is also towards a sense of complacency. Complacency for how things are, how comfortable things can get. If given the same opportunity to see/experience the things I have in these last 15 weeks, there are people I know who would be unwilling, simply because their life back home is all too comfortable. Therein lies the greatest danger, and unfortunately America has become lost in its own complacency. If we do not stimulate ourselves with curiosity and intrigue, what good is replicating what has already been done before? How can we affect the world around us if all we know how to do and think is through mimicry? Asia, specifically China, is the new frontier, pioneering the world into the 21st century through technology, infrastructure, and most importantly urbanism. It’s about time America woke up from its dreams of what once was and realize we are losing the race in a world has long since moved on.

So when I return, upon being bombarded with “What did you see?” or “How was Asia?”, I’ll simply reply:

Wow, you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you…

_Jonathan

Friedman, Thomas, “From WikiChina” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/opinion/01friedman.html?src=twrhp

Filed under: America, China, Infrastructure, Japan, Korea, Lefebvre, Psyche, Urbanism

New and Old

Urbanism looks at new possibilities for the built environment, by adding different ingredients to the community that allow the area to become richer, and better suited for its occupants. This approachis typically looked at from a blank slate, but as we continueto build, at one point there will be nowhere else to go. This will force us to go in and reevaluate what has already been built, and re-imagine the possibilities of what once was.

China’s balance of new and old has really given China a very eclectic built environment. In the bund area skyscrapers of modern steel and glass, tower over the historic fabric of the different concessions that line the Huangpu River. This contrast of what has been preserved, compared to what has been newly imagined and conceived creates this beautiful tension that China is facing today. China is a country with immense amount of culture and tradition, especially Shanghai. Time has been one of the most beautiful artists, and Shanghai’s multitude of layers has been its creation. In many ways Shanghai’s built environment is a visual timeline of Shanghais history and architectural influences.

This is the current situation, but as China continues to push forward on their economic binge, the past may no longer be as significant. History may not be able to produce the $$$ that is in developers eyes. The government in China is still the owner of the land, but has started a new leasing strategy that allows selected developers to lease the land for about 70 years. The government requires the piece of land to perform within three years of the lease, which pressures developers to build, and build quickly. Performance typically comes in the form of $$$, and the easiest way to make $$$ is by leasing out as many spaces feasibly possible. With this approach older fabric has been “carpet bombed”, and redeveloped as monotonous housing towers, shopping malls, and commercial centers. This new trend has already started to create an over saturation in the market, and as the government leases out more land, the fabric starts to become a homogenous high-density jungle.

The interesting part of this over saturation is that it has diminished the supply of the older low-density fabric. This constant balancing act between the old and the new, has created a higher demand for older fabric, which has interestingly allowed the older fabric to be “preserved”. This fabric though is not necessarily preserved in the traditional European sense, many times it has been left alone, for the owners of the lease have realized the value of its history, and have inflated the value too high for developers to see any benefit. The over inflated price has created a stagnant condition for the fabric, which has allowed it to deteriorate over time. This old courtyard typology has also been segmented up into many different spaces, to lease out low-income units. The irony of the situation, really creates this very beautiful, but conflicting condition of preservation.

This event starts to question the importance of preservation within a city. Looking at historic European cities, we see the extreme side of preservation. This mentality of keeping the old has allowed the cities to become figuratively frozen in place, as time continues onward. This condition has stunted cities growth, and ability to modernize and reinterpret urbanization.  Aldo Rossi questions what is the real benefit and understanding of the existing tangible. In Architecture and the City he comments, “In an urban artifact, certain original values and functions remain, others are totally altered; about some stylistic aspects of the form we are certain, others are less obvious. We contemplate the values that remain— I am also referring to spiritual values—and try to ascertain whether they have some connection with the building’s materiality, and whether they constitute the only empirical facts that pertain to the problem. At this point, we might discuss what our idea of the building is, our most general memory of it as a product of the collective, and what relationship it affords us with this collective.”  Shanghai is a perfect precedent for this confliction. On one side of the argument, Chinese mentality questions what is the true value of the building as an object itself? There is more importance in the location, rather than in the object. The various European influences, demonstrates the importance of the building’s materiality and face, which gives a certain character to the various concessions.

In my opinion there is value in both, and a balancing act has to be played. To preserve the city in its current state, is denying its opportunity to become something even greater. On the other hand history provides a sense of identity and culture. Shanghai’s current balance has allowed the city to become an eclectic combination of old and new, giving it a truly unique diversity that is stripped from many cities. Its ability to be modern, and still posses traits of its past, is a unique balance that cannot come from instant cities. While Shanghai continues to push forward, it would be a real shame for Shanghai to loose its older fabric and redevelop more of the same, for the beauty is in the layers.

Ross Renjilian

 

Filed under: Aldo, Architecture, bombing, carpet, character, China, development, Fabric, Identity, new, old, preservation, Renjilian, Ross, Rossi, Shanghai, Urbanism, , ,

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.

CATEGORIES

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