URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

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

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

What is it all Worth?

Having spent almost two months in China by now, I have witnessed on a daily basis the remarkable extent to which this nation is growing.  Three times a week I ride the world’s most extensive subway system into the city center for studio.  By 2020 the system is projected to double in size.  Last month I attended the Shanghai Expo, which drew more people in five months than any other in history.  On one day in October, over one million people flooded its grounds.  In Beijing I visited the site of the 2008 Olympics where the Chinese government spent roughly 40 billion dollars, over twice the expenditure of any other Olympics in history.  And just last week I viewed Shanghai form the world’s highest observation deck atop a Pudong skyscraper.  Within a matter of two years it will be substantially eclipsed – by a building under construction across the street.

If it sounds as though I am belaboring my point, that is my intention.  Economists no longer debate whether the PRC will surpass the United States in economic might, but whether this will occur closer to 2030 or 2040.  Political thinkers no longer debate whether China is the next world superpower but whether, once fully developed, it will eclipse the United States in its military dominance and space exploration.  All of this is sure to guarantee the next few decades of global politics will be endlessly fascinating, and no doubt a bit scary for Americans content with the current world order.

But one question keeps coming back to me every time I consider China’s development: what is it all worth?  That hundreds of millions of people will rise from poverty level to the middle class is a victory for all of humanity, but will individual Chinese born into this newfound wealth be better off for it?  If precedent is any indication, the answer is not as simple as we may like to believe.

Citizens of developed countries across Europe and North America have access to the kind of wealth, education, healthcare, and opportunity that rural Chinese now seek for their children. Despite this, disenchantment with the human condition persists.  One in ten Americans suffers or has suffered from depression according to WebMD.  And Medical News Today reports that 40 million Americans deal with anxiety and stress on a daily basis.  Are the children of the Baby Boom generation, born into a Post-War era of phenomenal growth in the United States, any happier as adults than their parents who lived through the Great Depression?  By comparison will Chinese children of today, born into a country on the verge of developed status, find a great deal more fulfillment in their lives than those who came before them?  My suggestion is not that the answer to these questions is no, but that increases in wealth and technology elsewhere have often introduced as many problems as they have solved.

Matt Luery

 

Filed under: China, development, Growth

Better City, Better Life. For whom?

While “preparing for arrival” in Shanghai, My eye was drawn to rows and rows of massive housing blocks. These mega forms give the first glimpse of the rapid urban growth being experienced in China. As the plane landed, an amazing transit system was right there to get you from point A to point B, and even more impressive is the system has only been in place for five years. This rapid growth to modernize China has created this new Chinese mentality of perspective. Most of this large-scale development is put into play to demonstrate China’s quantitative power, and to show the western world that it will soon be a new power. With this modernization for power, I question will the people be remembered.

In Japan, the level of development has nearly reached the state of perfection, if perfection could be achieved, and Korea is not too far behind. Japan’s success has to do with its culture. There was no trash in the streets and a degree of personal space is amazingly achievable in a dense metropolis. Somehow the Japanese have developed a sense of collectivism that is wired within their way of thinking. This is not saying that the Japanese model is correct, but it begs the question of what type of cultural and urban development is brewing in China.

My first reaction to China was even with though it is developing physically there seems to a lack of social development. For instance, standing in the gardens of the Forbidden City, the last stop in what been an extraordinary procession of architecture I felt a sudden grip on my arm. A Chinese woman was pulling me out of our group. My automatic reaction was to step away yet she reached for me again. As I shook my head, saying no to the picture-taking I was becoming accustomed to I could not help but wonder how this breach of personal space was a norm in China. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and we are at the Shanghai World Expo. Here within the pavilions that are boasting modern advancement people are spitting, throwing trash, pushing people, and cutting in line. Something we were taught not to do from the age of three.

The difficult part here is to not get into what’s proper and improper, rather stepping back and understanding their culture. As a person who has grown up in the West, I assume my social standards to be the same for the rest of the world. On the contrary being in Japan, and feeling rude and out-of-place, I started to realize how robotic and unnaturally human Japan has become. China has the grit and grime that makes the city feel more real and humanizing.

The world Expo was a great example of this real human factor. Although the event is meant to celebrate the development of different countries, the main emphasis on the Expo was the new power of China. Many different countries designed beautiful pavilions and exhibitions, but there is another beauty beyond the architecture. I saw a society that has been closed off for the past 40+ years experiencing something new and exciting. Seeing and experiencing what every country has to offer. As much as that woman pulling me away irked me in retrospect I am beginning to understand the fascination.

The theme for the world expo is, “Better City, Better Life” yet one cannot forget a City is not just the built environment but a make up of people, economics, and politics that drive it. I think the challenge for China will be finding a balance between social concerns and economical and political dominance. As they continue to push for a modernization will social issues such as the huge gap between the affluent and the lower class, begin to stunt its growth? I think China will begin to create its own identity, whether it is towards the hyper-density and collectivism of Japan or the sprawled, individuality of the west.

– Precious

Filed under: Architecture, China, Growth, Japan, Psyche, Social Development, Urbanism, World Expo

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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