URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Face Value

For the past 5 days we have been walking the streets of Tokyo, which has provided an experience of the city that is truly unique. By the end of the day my feet are sore, even though I wore my bulky, cushioned walking shoes. My shoulders are aching from the “fashionable” backpack suspended below. My shirt is drenched in perspiration, and for the past couple days the temperature has been well over 90. Let’s just say by the end of our long, exhausting, hot day it was not a pretty sight to be seen.

Feeling disgusted with how I feel and look, I glance around at the people who do this every day in Tokyo. I laugh to myself at how out of place I look amongst them, questioning what I decided to wear out today. The men are in suites with pristine, pressed white shirts. The women are walking around in a pair of heels that makes me ponder why my feet are sore. Everyone looks like they walked out of a page in a magazine in which, I am not a part of (leaving me with the “Where’s Waldo” phenomenon).

Through this quick glance, as I am hunched over gasping for air, I realized that Japan is a culture that cares very much about their public image. Looking presentable is not even a question.

This is very apparent when seeing the streets of Tokyo, for one thing Tokyo does not lack is shopping. Each window display lit up and glistening with the newest, trendy merchandise. Every building with it’s own name brand, and it’s own shiny façade. The store in Tokyo is much more than just a place that sells merchandise; rather it’s an identity that looks at face value to convey their message. Tokyo is well known for its slew of designer stores such as Prada, Dior, and Tod’s to just name a few. These stores don’t only look toward fashion, but rather architecture to help set them apart. Innovation and appearance are everything to these brands, and in such a competitive market this mentality leads to some pretty spectacular compositions. The stores mentioned above all have pretty intricate and structural skins, most notable being the Prada building (Herzog & De Meuron) for its diamond shape exoskeleton. The exoskeleton is used as an all in one building envelope that uses the diamond openings for interesting display windows and view ports.

As we walked through these stores in our drenched clothing, cluttered gear, and shoes that don’t quite speak Prada, we were stalked around the sales floor, and very surprisingly not asked to leave, but clearly not welcomed with open arms either. I guess we were not helping with their image, and I would agree.

Personally I really enjoy the competition of image for it’s contributions to the design world. I feel some times the idea of image is lost, by only focusing on numbers (numbers being profits, items sold, & other quantifiable data). George Simmel argues that numbers are what control people, and it is through these numbers that quantitative decisions are typically chosen over qualitative ones. The concept of money is what has made society the collective organism that it is today, which leaves no place for the individual amongst the collective. I am not going to discredit Simmel for his claims, but I am going to offer a counter argument. Numbers may govern business, and every economy is controlled by business, but at the end of the day it is still only numbers. numbers are not as innovative as image, and image although seems shallow at the surface, it’s effects go much deeper than what meets the eye. In Tokyo it is this image that governs the way people present themselves, and drives the design industry to push farther. Individuality is found in the details, although Japan operates as a collective, the pride that the Japanese take in their design and craftsmanship, create the image of individuality that drives innovation, imagination, and a little perspiration.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, De Meuron, Dior, Facade, Face, Fashion, Herzog, Identity, Image, Japan, Prada, Renjilian, Ross, Tod's, Tokyo, Urbanism, Value, , ,

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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