USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

“Made in China”

“Made in China”

Urban Hive & Guangzhou Opera House

The juxtaposition of the images of the Urban Hive commercial tower by In-Cheurl Kim and the Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid would most likely draw untrained eyes initially toward the latter. The playful form of the opera house is a radical accomplishment of structure and space that is framed to compositional perfection. But what is impossible to notice from the beautifully lit and digitally enhanced images online is the quality of its detail and construction. Blatantly smeared paint on the glass rail panels and large unsmoothed spots of plaster left over by the hands of rushed and unskilled labor show clearly how China has been constructing its architecture. Meanwhile, the Urban Hive tower, can be read as repetitive or even “boring” at the superficial level with its uniformly porous exterior; however, this seemingly less interesting form is actually an extroverted structural skin constructed in a way that the Chinese would not be able accomplish at the speed at which it is developing. It is a 230 foot tall concrete skin that is almost entirely cast in place. Kim is highly respected among Korean architects for taking this route instead of using pre-cast modules which would have obviously been the more economical, time-efficient, easily adjustable method for such a repetitive skin pattern.

Cast-in-place concrete

And yet it is possible for the building to be constructed with such a high level of quality because the nation has matured over time enough in its development to come to the conclusion that quality has some kind of desired significance. Regardless of its benefits in the long-term strategy of growth and development, the nation seems to have recognized the significance of producing quality at the cost of reducing quantity in building construction.

This kind of quality in building construction in Korean cities is apparent throughout the city at the urban level. Regardless of the kind and degree of vibrancy at the pedestrian level compared to Chinese cities, streets in Korean cities are significantly cleaner and greener even though some are much older than those of many Chinese cities. It is not simply a difference in the amount and density of shoes that have stepped on a given square meter of land, but rather everything from the quality of the layout of pavers to the absence of trash and drops of saliva. These clean streets are decorated with sufficient and well-maintained greenery that make all its wide boulevards psychologically wider by giving it visual breathing room.

Ultimately, this pursuit of quality seems to come from the country’s age. Korea is at an age that is still young enough to be expanding and developing at a rapid pace like many Chinese cities, but has, at the same time, enough years of experience and trials under its belt to pursue and understand the importance of a quality life and society. This maturity culminates beautifully in the recently renewed and revitalized Cheonggyecheon River at the heart of Downtown Seoul.

Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, Korea

It is a stream decorated with stones and gentle green that flows through a contrasting sectional frame of skyscraping steel and concrete. Its specific direction of “Design” and decoration can be argued but it is unquestionably a widely used public space for the community that is even used during business hours because of its strategic location in between a long stretch of commercial high-rises. A city that is willing to spend a hefty 386 billion Korean dollars to implement such urban spaces simply for free and unmitigated public enjoyment (and not commercial gain), is a city that has matured enough to afford the money, time and political will to do so.

But after three years of careful constructing the Urban Hive, the equivalent Chinese counterparts would have designed and constructed dozens more. Is the quality of smooth plaster and even paint worth the sacrifice of building dozens more projects generating money, advancing infrastructure and widening the availability of demanded program? Spending just two months in China has lead me to a kind of calculated tolerance towards this idea of quantity over quality in growth. While the westerner might see “quality” in a single program within the boundaries of a single building, perhaps the Chinese find “quality” in the sheer density and availability of an incredibly wide plethora of programs all spread out, but accessible by intelligent infrastructure.

Intersection with seven multi-story indoor malls, restaurants, and three subway lines

While we look down at the singular quality of products that are “Made in China,” we fail to realize the sheer quantity and widespread availability of goods they produce and provide worldwide. In fact, China has managed to accomplish this feat in a mere few decades of rapid development. We can only begin to imagine where the country will be in the decades to come.

– Daniel

Filed under: building, China, construction, Facade, Infrastructure, Korea, Program, Uncategorized

China’s Building Standards

In the recent Jing’an District high rise fire, at least 53 people were confirmed dead, 70 injured, and many still missing.  This disaster will spark major reforms in building standards, fire safety, emergency responses, and building responsibilities in China.  Chinasmack.com has translated the Chinese NetEase article on this incident, including the comments posted, into English to gain insight on what the people of the PRC are saying.  This is not to say that the Chinese actions or the people’s responses are right or wrong, but rather it is evaluate China’s current standards and practices in the housing and construction industry from various points of view.

When the fire broke out, there were many people still living inside because the building was only undergoing repairs and renovations.  Firefighters and firetrucks rushed to the scene to put out the fire, but many of the firetrucks could not reach past the 10th floor.  It was not until hours later did another firetruck with the appropriate equipment come to put out the fire on higher floors.  One would think that with Shanghai’s megablocks of high rise towers, there would be more adequately equipped fire trucks that could reach those heights.

Who started the fire then?  Cheung Jiulong, head deputy of Shanghai police, stated that 8 individuals would be charged with the responsibility for the accident, and blamed the sparks from illegal welders as the cause of the fire even though the building wrapped in highly flammable nylon mesh.  Perhaps blaming others or hiring legitimate welders may have lightened the severity of the situation, if this incident had not occured, China would not have even acknowledged the large group of illegitimate construction workers that are constructing skycrapers and housing towers now.  If construction reform occurs, developers have uphold better building standards by hiring legal workers, but at higher costs.  Consequently, that will affect the cost of the complex, but the demand for housing will still be there.

The construction regulations have also been lax especially with housing towers because this high demand.  People living in the complex expect to have a maintained safety egress in emergency situations.  However in China, any unusable area can be used for further profit after the building is checked.  Developers allow tenants to use the fire stairs as additional storage space or even rent the space out as a room.  Because the fire stairs have taken on this additional program, developers have put their tenants’ lives at risk.
The building materials used in fireproofing is also another issue that the Chinese government has to address.  Developers are very likely to use the cheapest materials to quickly get the job done, and in incidents like the Jing’an fire, use unsuitable materials and inappropriate construction techniques that has cost many people their lives. The nylon fabric wrapping the high rise was a highly flammable material that fueled the inferno.  However, the buildings that are currently in construction still use it because these regulations have not undergone safety evaluations.

China’s reaction to the event by arresting the illegal welders is a minute issue compared to the larger problem of building safety and housing standards.  It is understandable that China is still developing, but it has nations like Japan, Korea, and the United States to use as precedents in construction techniques and safety standards.  However, it will be up to the Chinese government and other officials to reinforce the new changes in building and safety codes so that another incident like this will have a better outcome.


Article URL: [http://www.chinasmack.com/2010/pictures/shanghai-jin-an-district-jiaozhou-road-apartment-fire-photos.html]

Filed under: Architecture, building safety, China, construction, regulations, responsibility


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