URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Voyeurs or walkers?

Too often do we associate our designs to be used by the users at a specific manner. Designed space is used by a variety of users. Hence, the way humans interact with space is different for everyone. This applies to cities as well. Not only do we have to investigate the basic forms and structures and macro view of the cityscape, but also the culture and social aspect of the city. Hence, to fully understand a city, we have to observe the city from a geometrical and anthropological perspective.

De Certeau explores the two types of cities, the geometrical and anthropological. As a voyeur overlooking the city from a bird’s eye view, he only understands the overall physicality of the city. Being so detached from the city, it is impossible to understand the city. Certeau comments that “this panorama-city is a ‘theoretical’ simulacrum whose condition of possibility is an oblivion and a misunderstanding of practices.” Contrastingly, the anthropological city allows him to truly understand these practices, analyzing the city while walking in the city and engaging with the people. The relationship between the person, the space, and the surrounding crowd provides a bigger picture of how city acts upon users and how users act upon space.

Before arriving to Shanghai, I have always observed the city geometrically. Based on iconic photographs and maps of Shanghai, I know that the city is divided into two sides, PuDong and PuXi. Like any other “tourists”, I am amazed by the skyscrapers on the Central Business District (CBD) and by the skyline. However, purely remembering the iconic image of Shanghai’s skyline does not fully explain true mechanisms of the city – the economic, social, political, and physical aspect of Shanghai.

More importantly, immersing myself to Shanghai for the past two weeks gave myself an anthropological perspective of the city. A visit to the bund on China’s public holiday was a perfect opportunity to emerge myself into the local culture. It was a Friday night and a Chinese public holiday. I was finally part of the crowd of the locals walking and pushing along NanJing East Road to reach to the Bund. The experience was more than just enjoying the skyline of the Bund. It was more about viewing the crowd at the Bund than the skyline. While finally standing on the boardwalk of the bund after a twenty-minute struggle walking from the subway station, I was still having trouble enjoying the scenery. People were yelling to each other. A woman lost her son in the crowd. Hence, frantically pushing the crowd and calling her son’s name and talking to the phone at the same time. A man was trying to help his son to get the best view of the bund among the crowd hence pushing us and moving the crowd to get the best position on the boardwalk. Even policemen were part of the crowd, constantly blowing their whistle and waving their arms to hopefully construct order. Blowing whistles, honking cars, screaming kids, shouting policemen, and loudly talking people. Noise level at the bund had definitely risen to its highest capability.

It was then that I started to realize the real culture of this city. Glamorous buildings and skyscrapers are only iconic images for the world that Shanghai is going to be the most developed city. But to fully understand how Chinese locals utilize the city, it is important to observe their activities. Observations at the bund show that Chinese locals like to be loud and crowded. If the crowd of Chinese locals were to be replaced with Japanese locals who are known for having high discipline, the atmosphere at the bund would be different. Rather than people pushing around, spitting without hesitation, singing, or blowing the whistle, people would be quietly strolling along the boardwalk, sitting at the benches enjoying the night view, or casually sipping their beer with friends. Hence, different people with different cultural background manipulate the atmosphere of the city.

This further brings to the question of whether Shanghai’s rapid economic development of the city fits coherently with its social and cultural development. It is obvious that Shanghai has improved and developed drastically for the past ten years. The CBD proves Shanghai’s capability to achieve high economic standards by creating more building to generate money, and inviting western companies to facilitate globalization. However, it is also evident that Shanghai still needs improvement on its social and cultural development. Situations such as locals spitting at public casually, or fighting and pushing to get into the subway, or even cutting the line to pay at the “Uniqlo” store, clearly shows the lack of education for the majority of Chinese locals.

In conclusion, Shanghai shows its glamorous side geometrically. The built structures, such as skyscrapers at the CBD district and all western companies, show that Shanghai has well achieved economically. However as the city is seen from an anthropological perspective, the lack of education is shown. A better balance between the economic development and the social and cultural development would mould the city even better geometrically and anthropologically.

Filed under: City, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Flexible Urbanism

The alarm rings, I start my day with a shower, followed by a walk to the metro station. Afterwards I pick up my latte from the local Starbucks, a sandwich from the shop down the street, and I sit down and start my work for the day. After settling down in Shanghai, I have started to come into a more structured lifestyle. After exploring the city for a couple of weeks, I have found things I like and don’t like, and places where I feel at ease. What is interesting is that even in a foreign country I have been able to find comfort with a schedule.  By following my schedule, I have found my own unique locations, and nodes within a city.

Finding these nodes provide great comfort and belonging especially in Shanghai, one of the largest cities in the world. Nodes are what allow the mega metropolis to become smaller, not necessarily talking in a physical sense, but rather in a mental sense. These nodes provide reoccurrences that start to become habitual. Reoccurrences like pushing my way into the subway train, recognizing menu items, and coffee house baristas memorizing my drink order (even in Shanghai, I know I have a problem). Similar characters start to show up in my daily narrative, like the girl who always sits in the corner, or the guy with the brief case who passes me on the street. By starting to create my own routine, my narrative starts to be played out within the city, I have started to realize other’s habitual patterns as well.

Habitual patterns start to become constant inputs. By tracking the quantitative data such as the number of people on the subway, and comparing this information with a timeline, the complexity of the urban fabric can really start to be picked apart layer by layer. As technology gets stronger, our ability to analyze habitual patterns becomes more sophisticated. With better understanding of movement and patterns, a city that can react and respond to our various inputs, doesn’t sound to ridiculous. For example, looking at street traffic, typically there is the same number of lanes on both sides of the highway, but many times both sides are not fully utilized at the same time. Rush Hour typically creates heavier traffic congestion going into the city in the morning hours, and leaving the city in the evening hours. A response to this could be flexible highway lanes that allow change in traffic flow direction at different hours.

This understanding of synchronized movement becomes an essential factor for understanding a cities urban fabric. The city is not only the physical built environment and occupation of people, but it also consists of moving through the spatial construct and moving through time itself. Currently urban design and the built environment has become a very rigid understanding of solid and void. This relationship has given character to many different cities, and has been the initial stages of defining our metropolises in order to deal with stasis and mobility. This idea is further analyzed in walking in the city, where the article starts to analyze how the built interacts with these patterns of human interaction, “Your path in a city is controlled by the cities order. Whether be through streets that are layered in an organizational grid, or even the negative spaces created by this grid pattern, in some way or another the urbanism organizes people”. With populations on the rise, in most major cities, and China in specific, we have to start to analyze how cities can be better organized, or more efficiently planned for people’s interaction with the built fabric.

Through past analysis of major urban morphology, one way that cities dealt with population increases was by building upward. New York and Chicago were the first cities to really start to explore the potentials of verticality with the skyscraper. These giant towers of stasis started to contain the expanding population, and found a way to combat sprawl with density. This has started to become one of the major problems with moving around the city, because we have vertically stacked the nodes within the city, but have constrained the means of moving from node to node. As these towers empty out at the end of the day, people flood the streets in a hurry to get to their next location, and as mentioned earlier everyone is always seeking location. Since the location has the ability to be rented, there is more emphasis on how the location is built rather than investing in the means of getting to that location.

In order for density to become a viable and sustainable model, the numbers have to be put into consideration, and the city has to become more flexible. The traditional model of the ground plane being the sole provider for transportation is simply just not going to be enough infrastructure to support the vertical density being sought out by rapidly developing countries. Cities need to advance their spatial understanding, and analyze how layering could really start to promote better fluid circulation. By habitual patterns analyzing and parametrically designing the built environment, the city will be able to respond and react to its occupants various inputs. With effort, the urban environment can start to not only become the container of people; rather it could take a more active role with the ever-increasing demands of its occupants. When the city starts to respond to its people the idea of a living city starts to come into play, and in my opinion will become the future of urbanism. We are not just talking about flying cars anymore, what we are talking about is a city that can morph and respond as a flexible solution to its users.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: Architecture, City, Flexible, Growth, Habitual, Infrastructure, patterns, population, Renjilian, Ross, Urbanism,

Micro City in a Macro Metropolis

Tokyo is a city of extreme density, which forces architects to not only consider the x and y plane for circulation, rather they are forced to realize the complexity of the circulation layers found within the city. This has led to atypical design moves that form a more adaptive building typology. The understanding of the base of the building, and I will use the term base for it is not as simple as the ground floor/ bottom, is predominantly given to the public to interact with the urban. By doing so the typological lobby of buildings have been replaced with multi-layered pedestrian streets and mini plazas that have successful businesses and life weaved throughout the spaces. These bases actively engage the many layers of Tokyo’s infrastructure including subways, street fronts, and above ground rail lines.

By stepping back and looking at the larger urban plan, one can start to understand this complex network of bases plugging into the city grid. Each of these bases creating connections in the x, y, and z plane. Series of connections are what allow Tokyo to successfully delaminate their ground plane, which requires the architecture to adapt to its surrounding context.

With all of the above-considered one can start to analyze the urban conditions as a woven fabric. The entire city is connected by built environment. This uniformity typically consists of many small objects being brought together by the series of connections. In most cities circulation is dictated by automobile circulation and these connections typically represent an organizational grid. The voids created with the street grid are divided into separate properties allowing for many smaller objects to occupy the single void. Another way of looking at urban manipulation is creating larger objects that embody smaller programs. This method in some ways looks at creating a micro city coexisting within the larger metropolis.

One example of this methodology is the midtown development in Tokyo. By acquiring multiple properties, SOM (Skidmore Owings & Merrill) was able to demo a larger area of land to replace with a micro city. This urban strategy looks at a hybrid program solution, which incorporates retail, business, residential, hospitality, food, art, and transportation in one complex. The diversity of the program required specific attention to adjacencies and circulation to public and private spaces. Midtown’s solution was to create a complex base plug-in that addresses the complex public domain, and allowing three individual towers to rise out of the base to better support private spaces.

The base system for Tokyo Midtown is focused around a public plaza, which is the predominant driving force for the organization of the different programs. The outdoor plaza provides easy pedestrian access to the major program components from the street level, while providing a core to organize the many pieces. Although the plaza is pulled away from the main street the diversity of programs feeding off of it provide enough foot traffic to keep the space lively throughout the day. Off of the plaza are several lobbies that feed to the towers. These lobbies create thresholds that restrict circulation into the more private spaces. In the Ritz Carlton the ground lobby is predominantly used for vertical circulation, which opens to grand lobby on the 45th floor. Other means of linking the different programs together is a series of underground halls that have been scaled to act as pedestrian streets below street level. These streets are primarily driven by subway transportation, and are lined with street vendor style food and general shops.

On one end of the project the galleria anchors two of the towers, and allows the public to engage with the complex in the z-axis. This sectional manipulation provides more hierarchy and exclusivity to the shops that occupy the space above, giving visitors a more intimate relationship by simply pulling the shops off of the “street level”.

Car transportation for the complex is underplayed, and more geared for the wealthier clientele. Side streets provide access to the complex and are predominantly used by the Ritz-Carlton and private residences. This environment follows through to the garage where it is broken up into several small lobbies for valet service for each program component.

The green space is wrapped around the other side of the complex creating public walkways. Setting it off to the side and creating few circulation connections from the main complex, allows the space to maintain a semi private feel creating an oasis in the larger urban context. Towards the back of the complex is an expansive green space that allows for larger events and crowds to enjoy the open sky.

Delaminating the circulation paths in combination with clustering different programmatic elements together helps create a series of diverse sectional environments. The complex has many qualities of a larger ecosystem, which mocks the urban lifestyle. Most of these conditions are represented in the base of the project, which acts as a larger base that plugs into Tokyo’s urban fabric. This different urban strategy so far has proven to be successful, and has been a model for other urban developments including LA Live in Los Angels and The City Center in Las Vegas. With the lack of transportation networks in The United States it will be interesting to see if the complexes maintain their popularity and vitality. In contrast, Midtown has the advantage of plugging into a larger system that has been prevalent in Tokyo for quite some time. The different developments share similar programmatic overlaps, but I would argue that Midtown’s success is largely in part of it’s well thought out arrangement of public spaces and it’s connections to it’s surrounding contexts. When a development successfully connects urban infrastructure and its surrounding context the single project becomes a piece of the collective metropolis.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, City, Fabric, Metropois, Micro, Midtown, Renjilian, Ross, SOM, Tokyo, Uncategorized, Urban, ,

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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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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