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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Duality of the City

The phenomenon of city growth illustrates much more than the physical manifestation of the physical urban environment. It is both the physical and the metaphysical that encompass the complexity of urban architecture and the individual experience of the everyday life. In essence, we can say that the city, as a metropolis, exists and functions with dualistic tendencies; it is material and immaterial, public and private, past and present. Most Chinese cities, especially, Beijing, have had a long cultural history leading up to the end of the 20th century. However, the recent jump from the city in response to global modernization has created an uneven displacement of old city versus new city fabric. As a consequence of this vast expansion of new cultural production, the modern Chinese city is continuously operating within a zone intersecting the real, surreal, and the extinct city. In Xiaoshuai Wang’s film Beijing Bicycle, the characteristic urban qualities of the city and urban everyday are portrayed and focused through the discourse of old versus new. Wang’s visualization through thematic means conveys the disparage between the quintessential image of Beijing against the backdrop of the city’s transformation into a contemporary metropolis.

The film is mainly focused on the built form, the manifestation of the development and change of Beijing’s fabric from old, panoramic hutongs, to tall, vertical skyscraper cities. I am reminded of a telling scene, where Wang depicts the modernization of Beijing through a series of sequences showing the congestion of car traffic. Yet within this gridlock, we see the seamless flow of bicycles, old and young alike, weave through traffic in-sync creating a wonderful image of order amidst chaos. Wang’s fast-paced thematic vision encompasses the physical spaces in an intimate fashion, revealing the microcosm of the crowded, dirty, and narrow alleys of the hutong districts. These images are all portrayals of Wang’s image of the urban everyday life; crisscrossing alleyways, compactness are in fact the reality of the everyday to most rural immigrants. Wang’s focus is not on the modernization of Beijing, although he does pay respect to it, but rather a depiction into the disappearing fabric of old Beijing; the result of urbanization and metropolitan living. The cinematic experience of Beijing Bicycle presents a focus on a city that has been shaped by many different portrayals that have often hidden or eradicated the true urban. The thematic context presents a rather disjunctive view of Beijing as polemical, sprawled, and diverse; it is an illustration of the Beijing’s change from historical to modernity/commercial. And yet within the chaos and confusion, the city is the setting and container in which people’s lives take place. The story of a country boy who tries to make it in the big city is intertwined with a schoolboy struggling to gain the attention and recognition he desperately desires. The result is a wonderful narrative of two lives meeting and changing each other. All in all, the image of the city is never repetitive nor homogenous, never merely a single portrayal, but a combination of many images and experiences. Through Beijing Bicycle, Wang hopes to convey the sentiment that perhaps the city transcends just the material, but becomes more representative about the experiential and metaphysical.

_Jonathan

Filed under: Architecture, Beijing, beijing bicycle, China, cinema, Duality, film, history, hutong, Modernization, physical, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Xiaoshuai Wang

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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