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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Sex, Love, & Money

My previous blog touched upon relationship of Henri Lefebvre’s writing on the everydayness and the Hong Kong Kar Wai Wong film, Fallen Angels. While Fallen Angels subtly mocked the everyday drudgery by following the life of a contract killer, director Kar Wai Wong challenged the notion and interpretation of Lefebvre’s everydayness, but in a typically subtle way. The French film, Weekend, on the other hand, challenges Lefebvre’s everydayness to the extreme, and perhaps the only way, in order to critique the point that previously noneveryday activities must be taken to the extreme in order to maintain their noneveryday status. No longer does violence, sex, and money stir the mental activities of the general public. The public views these acts on the evening news on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, resulting in a level of desensitization. The film seeks to overcome this desensitized notion by showing the pseudo-noneveryday activities that Lefebvre labeled as counteracting the everydayness, such as violence, sex, and money. Not only are these activities carried out to the extreme by the films characters, but are shown over and over again, often in different forms and in great detail.

Sex.

The film follows the lives of a couple, and in an early scene, the woman sits upon a desk in her underwear, chronicling and detailing to her lover a sexual encounter she had with a woman and her husband. Without ever showing a visual manifestation of her story, the woman describes, in detail how and when the man and woman touched her and how it made her feel. However, not once during her telling did she give the slightest hint that there was any emotional connection involved. She told the tale in such a lifeless, matter-of-fact manner that the viewer could interpret it as something that might happen all the time for the character.

Money.

The main plot throughout the entire film is how the couple is attempting to lay claim to the large inheritance of her parents. They are eagerly awaiting their death, even going to the length of poisoning her father’s food every Saturday in order to speed up his demise. The couple displays a cutthroat attitude in their quest to get their hands on this fortune, eventually leading to the brutal stabbing of the mother when the couple discovers that they aren’t going to get an equal share after the father dies. Even this is treated in a nonchalant way. Which leads to the largest purveyor of the noneverydayness in the film.

Violence.

There is one telling sequence in the film that takes place on a country road, where the constant sounds of yelling and car-horns can be heard while the couple attempts to navigate through a traffic jam of overturned cars and angry people mobbing their convertible as they pass by. The striking aspect of this long, continual camera shot is that none of the people who are bearing witness to the overturned cars and dead bodies strewn alongside of the road take notice, or seem to care. There are children throwing toy balls around and adults playing board games on the road. This critical depiction of the way that the majority of society views violence today is fairly accurate. They see it all around them whenever they surf the Internet, watch television and films, or read the newspaper. Perhaps the singular factor that makes all of the violence in the sequence outlandish is the fact that it is in the countryside, not the city. Urban areas are notorious havens for crime and homicide, which begs the question, why show all of this violence in a non-urban setting? Maybe it is to shed light on the fact that murder does not have to be in the city for it to be overlooked. Or perhaps it is because the countryside is not tainted like the countryside. If the rural-scape is tainted, what is left?

After viewing this film, there begins to be a blurring of what we consider the everydayness and the same applies to the noneverydayness. It is also something that can largely be applicable to urban life, which is the focus of the writing Aesthetic + Urbanism. Robert A.M. Stern declares in his piece “urbanism is about human life.” I agree completely with Mr. Stern’s statement, that urbanism should focus on “what the good city is” and “what is the good life that we as architects should advocate.” I think this type of attitude should be brought to the forefront in a society where violence occurs an unimaginable scale everyday and yet the public is still numb to it. Perhaps this is where architects can lend a helping hand and provide a vision to help create a reality where acts like those in the Weekend are truly considered acts of the noneverydayness, which is definitely not what they are now.

-Christopher Glenn

 

Filed under: aesthetics + urbanism, Desensitize, everydayness, fallen angels, Henri Lefebvre, Hong Kong, Kar Wai Wong, sex love and money, Uncategorized, violence, weekend

Wash-Rinse-Repeat

“Wash-Rinse-Repeat.”  The all too familiar instructions we follow every morning while washing our hair in the shower.  A cycle that has become so monotonous, so ingrained in our everyday routine, that we accept it as such without question.   We have all felt this repetitiveness of the everyday, and struggled to find reason and purpose behind it…  I can think of no better example than high school.  Each day programmed exactly to the same schedule, down to the minute, so cut and dry as to package this sameness into red and blue blocks.  What a relief it was to graduate from that structure, to transition into the freedom of university, where we choose our own agenda.  But even now, even far way from home and from USC, from where every sense of our everyday is derived, the days are beginning to echo the same “repetitive gestures of work and consumption”.

I would have thought that a semester abroad would have facilitated entirely unique experiences every day.  This was the case for the first two months of touring.  Each day a new building to visit, each night a new restaurant to taste, each week a new hotel and a new city to explore.  Now that we have established our “base” in Shanghai however, this excitement is somewhat fading.  Yet we have only scratched the surface of what Shanghai has to offer, and there is still freshness to the city, still so much to discover.  So why then do we find ourselves falling into the familiar grooves of the everyday, eating at the same restaurants, watching the same shows on our computers, and even going to the same studio and class to work on the same project.  Partly because it is all interesting and beneficial, and it is only natural to repeat enjoyable and useful experiences.  But as Henri Lefebvre points out in his article The Everyday and Everydayness, “the everyday is repetitive and veiled by obsession and fear.”  Obsession to complete our assignments, to get a good grade, to compete with our classmates.  Fear of trying a strange new restaurant, of falling behind with work, of having a bad review.  Perhaps these emotions influence our propensity towards the everyday, if only subconsciously.

What I find interesting is that Lefebvre’s assertion also applies to the design process.  Particularly as students, we are constantly browsing through precedents of famous projects, and borrowing elements to inform our own designs.  What has worked and what has not.  “The concept of the everyday illuminates the past.”  We are sometimes obsessed with replication, designing something that will function like that which came before it, for fear that it will not operate successfully.  Does this produce an everyday architecture, an everyday urbanism, a designer’s “wash-rinse-repeat” cycle?  I would argue yes.  Perhaps this is one angle from which to measure the success of a project.  When it is unfamiliar in space and experience, form and function, and it jolts you from your normal conceptions of what it should be, you are amidst great architecture.  “The spectacle of the distinctly noneveryday” is what sets it above and beyond the rest.

Alex

Filed under: About, Architecture, everyday, everydayness, Henri Lefebvre, Urbanism

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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