URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Homes Away From Home

What is “home?” When one thinks about the qualities that such a concept embodies, phrases exuding feelings of comfort, safety, and routine tend to arise. However, the idea of a home extends much further than the traditional adaptation of a walled fortress where one carries out his/her common routines. In Henri Lefebvre’s excerpt titled The Everyday and the Everydayness, Lefebvre poses a statement arguing towards the constant repetition of practices exhibited on a daily basis. He asserts that there are two types of repetition, a cyclical cycle and a linear cycle. The cyclical represents the commonplace natural activities that we as human beings experience every day. Functional opposites such as activity and rest as well as hunger and satisfaction both apply. The latter of the two cycles described by Lefebvre is represented by the linearity of the former cycle over a certain period of time. The constant repetition of the everyday cycles essentially comes to define the so called “rational” process of the linear. These two phenomena are tangential to the idea of home.

According to Lefebvre’s definition of cycles, it’s clear that every human being has individually experienced this notion. Personally, since I had left the confines of my northern California home in Saratoga, my own definition of “home” had already been blurred. Having stayed in Los Angeles for such an extended period of time, I had gradually begun to adapt to the southern California lifestyle and carried out my daily routines according to its stereotypes of glistening beaches, year-round sunshine, and, of course, traffic congestion.

While it is the banality of the everyday cycles that I had experienced during my time spent in Saratoga or USC which has allowed me to actually call either one “home,” the irony of the repetitiveness of the everyday is that everything changes. Put simply, one undeniably eats, sleeps, and breathes; but one can choose to eat a different meal, sleep in a different bed, and breathe a different quality of air. In Lefebvre’s excerpt, he makes a reference to this type of fluctuation by assigning it as programmed change. The variable characteristics of a common day is its grand quality which allows us as humans to realize the repetitive cycle of daily rituals we tend to inadvertently fall into. And in my case, it was the decision to implement the variation of studying abroad which had allowed me to realize how hackneyed my everyday life in California had become.

Hong Kong City Line

Contrary to the type of programmed change that Lefebvre has posed, other factors can also influence one’s mindset of what home could be. For instance, when first touching down in Hong Kong, the immediate surrounding environment seemed, without a doubt, very foreign. The food was different, the dominant ethnicity was different, the language was different, and most of all, the city fabric and density were absolutely mind-blowing. I thought things couldn’t get any more unfamiliar, until the Pearl River Delta portion of the trip had come along. From the ancient remote villages to the bizarre culinary options to the imitation of fashion items, southeastern China had truly given me my most outlandish experience yet. Returning back to Hong Kong after nearly three weeks in the Pearl River Delta, a large sigh of relief had somewhat fallen over me. I had realized that there was actually a good amount of people that spoke English, the cultural make up of the city was actually quite diverse, and most of all, the food was surprisingly more international than I had previously thought. In essence, for a surrounding environment to allow one to feel a sense of comfort and belonging, all it takes, in my case, is a more unusual one.

Kaiping Village: Guang Dong, China

Following Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan were the least bit alien to me. South Korea was exceedingly modernized and everything that I had fancied could be found. Taiwan, moreover, was my parents’ birthplace, and I had visited the country probably a dozen or so times. Furthermore, during these stays, a charette was also imposed at each, which allowed the USC students to work in conjunction with the local universities. By collaborating with the students whom were native to the place of study, we, as foreigners, were exposed to the area with their knowledgeable guidance. In turn, the process of settling into the two countries was quite immediate.

This constant settling in and moving out lifestyle has now led me to Shanghai, China, where the stay is approximately seven weeks. Undoubtedly, a near two month stay in one place will allow anyone to begin to blindly fall into his/her commonplace routines. From studio, to the gym, to the coffee shop down the street, everything is within such a comfortable reach that it’s almost impossible not to just become part of the everyday. Yet, it will be the subtle decisions of change that will allow me to slip out the cycles of the mundane.

_Christopher

Filed under: everyday and everydayness, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Reality

Tourist Wonders or Architecture Blunders?

The Summer Palace replica in the Pearl River Delta getting a fresh coat of paint

From knock-off purses, to fake Apple stores, to replicas of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and the Summer Palace, China has it all.  Although tourists like myself may hunt for a good fake designer purse or pair of sunglasses, when it comes to experiencing the sights and history of a place, there is no acceptable substitute for the authentic.  Many tourists will tolerate or even seek out a few must-see gimmicks, yet these showy displays occupy a secondary status to experiencing the truly cultural experiences present in a particular locale.  Indeed, it is the placement of these showy displays and other mass appeal spectacles within the cultural and historical context of a locale that provides greater meaning to them.  For example, while I enjoyed the gaudiness of the Hong Kong light show, the value that I pulled from this experience did not come from my shallow enjoyment of strobe lights moving in sync to an annoyingly catchy tune, but rather from my understanding of this experience as a part of the larger historically and culturally rich fabric of Hong Kong.  At the heart of the rich culture that I experienced during my exploration of Hong Kong is the everyday lives of the people who work and reside here, rather than from extravagant tourist attractions that make a spectacle of history.  Yet, during my first foray into the Pearl River Delta region of China, I found that, unlike Hong Kong, the commoditization of culture as spectacle often obscured any connection with the authentic history I was in search of.  From my experience, I concluded that, in many ways, China is similar to the fake designed bags that permeate the country.  From a distance, one is impressed by its apparent authenticity, but on closer inspection, the mediocre detailing gives it away as a real-fake.

The speed at which China is advancing, razing old structures, and constructing new infrastructure is astounding.  This rapid proliferation of new infrastructure within the expanding Chinese metropolises is motivated by the desire to manufacture spectacle.  China appears intent on creating the illusion of wealth and prominence because it is confident that this image will spur further investment in and growth of their economy.

For the most part the display of designer buildings is impressive as long as you maintain a sensible viewing distance from the structure or remove your glasses so as to remain ignorant of the clumsy construction details.  However, my real complaint regarding the value that the Chinese place on the spectacle of the new is how this value assessment has negatively impacted the preservation, understanding, and appreciation of the role of history in their society.  This dilemma is particularly evident in the response to the mass devastation that occurred during the Cultural Revolution.  With many of China’s historic landmarks either damaged or destroyed, the Chinese were faced with the challenge of how to repair the rift in its history left by what was lost.  Unfortunately, the same technique and value judgment that is placed on the new infrastructure is applied to the restoration of the old.  Therefore, the same poor detailing that is evident in the seam of a curved glass railing of Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House is also visible in the questionable mitered brick corner of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Childhood home.

Detailing Blunder in Zaha Hadid's Guangzhou Opera House

Mitered brick corner in replica of Dr. Sun Yat-sen's childhood home

Apart from the prevalence of painfully amateur architectural details, the critical problem in the restoration of these historic sights is that these efforts appear to be more focused on redesigning or improving these landmarks so that they are more in line with the value that the Chinese place on the new rather than reconstructing them in a way appropriate to the design and age of the original.  For example, while visiting the former site of the historic Panyu Pao Mo garden in the suburb of Guangzhou, I was unpleasantly surprised by the flashing LED light eyes of the life-sized dragon that confronted me.

Needless to say, after two straight weeks full of this kind of spectacle I began to become frustrated and mildly disgusted by what I regarded as a flagrant mockery of China’s rich cultural history.  It was at this point that a comment made by another caused me to question whether my skeptical view was fair.  I realized that I was judging the Chinese’s representation of their history without regard to the impact that the damage to and destruction of many important relics and landmarks of their history during the cultural revolution had on their current attempts to design and construct new buildings and repair damaged landmarks.  As Guy Debord discusses in his work, “Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere,” the function of the spectacle is “to bury history in culture.”  So for the Chinese, the spectacle of culture is used to conceal a lack of  physical relics of their history following the Cultural Revolution.  So, while their efforts at restoration may seem pitiful to the critical eye of a western architecture student, one must look at their efforts with a certain degree of leniency and compassion since their actions are merely attempts to repair the unfathomable loss of history that they experienced and to try to recreate something for which little or no records exist.  Therefore, what right do I have to judge their efforts?

– DEM

Filed under: Architectural Spectacle, Authenticity, China, Culture, everyday, Fabric, history, Hong Kong

Rubbing Shoulders with an LA Princess

As a thorough bred Angeleno, I have been conditioned to believe that making unintentional physical contact with a stranger is a serious offense if apologies are not exchanged. If I am walking along the luxuriously wide streets of Los Angeles, it is relatively easy to visually determine a path of travel that lets me avoid rubbing shoulders with passerby. Maintaining one’s distance is an unspoken but unanimously accepted code of conduct. Any occasional intrusion of a stranger’s path or brief touch may be forgiven by a “pardon me,” but on the whole, one can usually walk several city blocks and remain sterile in LA. I took these rules as commonplace, but I quickly learned in Hong Kong that maintaining one’s personal space is far from a universal practice. For the first days during my stay in Hong Kong, I muttered “sorry” and “excuse me” whenever I brushed arms or shoulders with fellow pedestrians (which, incidentally, happened quite frequently), but I was usually met with confused or blank expressions. I considered a language barrier to be part of the issue, but the sheer lack of effort made by the locals to return any apology made me think differently.

Within a population-dense city, physical contact is naturally bound to occur frequently. In that sense, the elimination of apology in the case of contact seems logical and highly convenient in a place especially like Hong Kong. If avoiding contact is the etiquette for walking the sidewalks of LA, than a mutual understanding that space is limited seems to be the established attitude for Hong Kong natives. Touch is inevitable and an ephemeral aspect of the city, and resultantly, it is an acceptable social condition.

The loose mentality that Hong Kong people hold toward keeping personal space can also be felt within the architecture of the city. The streets that present opportunities for contact between strangers visually reveal this attitude. The entrances of the small shops of the older Hong Kong fabric meet and readily blend into sidewalks. The demarcation between neighboring vendors is informal and often vague. Passerby can feel the cold air of AC units blowing into the street, and merchandise is displayed within an arm’s length away. The stacking of brightly lit shop signs and advertisements looks just as chaotic as people moving in the street. It is a spectacle to behold.

Being such a visually inclined person, feeling the difference between LA and Hong Kong was bizarre. The physical disconnect that I grew up with in LA undoubtedly estranged me, and Hong Kong felt a world’s away. Having someone always next to you was an unshakably haunting thought, but I also realized how equally problematic the LA alternative was. These two conditions are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but their effects on man are surprisingly the same. Desensitization takes place. In The Metropolis and Mental Life, Georg Simmel describes the phenomenon as follows: “the nerves find in the refusal to react to their stimulation the last possibility of accommodating to the contents and forms of metropolitan life” (415). Man tolerates his surroundings and environmental conditions to live another day. A few awkward touches here and there, but life goes on.

♥Julia K.

Filed under: Hong Kong, Interaction, Los Angeles, Sensory

Urban Schizophrenia

The condition of schizophrenia is a state of delusions that can be challenging to understand. It is a terrifying battle that takes you through an existence that is “deranged, empty, and devoid of all anchors to reality”. In several cases, schizophrenics often have separate personas or ‘controllers’ whom entice them to abandon their realities and enter a place that causes severe emotion and a loss to what we perceive to be real. It would then become hard to decipher thoughts and eventually the everyday consciousness would be lost and taken over. In a similar way we as inhabitants act as schizophrenics in how we perceive reality within the realm of the metropolis where we are no longer aware but desensitized by the very factors that make up the city.

In Simmel’s Metropolis and the Mental Life, he clearly defines two key components that act as the basic construct of the city: the man and the external forces. As man it is essential to understand that we adapt to environments in forms of habits, convictions, and impulses that clearly “take a regular and habitual course and show regular and habitual contrast” (Simmel 410) From this Simmel suggests that the metropolis manipulates man’s formulated nature and conditions it with the “sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions”. This in turn slowly alters our psyches and distorts what we perceive to be real and uninterrupted in order to fuel a successful city growth. “With each crossing of the street, with the temporary and multiplicity of the economic, occupational, and social life, the city sets up the sensory foundations of a psychic life.” (Simmel 410) The forces in our daily routines are so constant and matter-of-fact that we have lost our sense of judgment in distinguishing what is real and untouched. Thereby numbing our actuality to make the metropolis’ reality our own reality and the metropolis’ struggle our own struggle. These external forces in the city play the parallel role to controllers in the schizophrenic world. The external forces or ‘urban controllers’ if you will, condition and entice man to constantly struggle in defining and achieving his individual role. And like the schizophrenics and their alternative personas, the urban controller and the man eventually become one.

About two weeks ago as I flew into Hong Kong, I felt that I understood the city very well. I knew every bar, every subway line, and every good restaurant because beginning a few years ago I worked in the city for a few summers. Every morning I would go from my apartment to the office and every night I would leave the office for my apartment. Moving from place to place within Hong Kong became a daily routine and eventually I molded my habits and routines to the point to where I could travel swiftly across the streets, up the escalators, and through the foot bridges. Then as weeks pass I eventually discovered places to eat, things to eat, places to meet people, and places to shop. It is not until now do I realize that as I came to Hong Kong all those years ago that my mind was actively adapting to its environment by absorbing the streets, the advertisements, the people, the culture, etc. My daily choices and impulses came from the many external forces that is Hong Kong. I, in this case, was the schizophrenic and the urban controller was very much apparent. For instance if I picked up a particular brand of water bottle it would be because of the simple glance of a poster somewhere on my way to work through an air conditioned mall that I wanted to pass go through because the weather was so hot. Just by this simple, quick, yet unconscious decision I actively participated in the economic life of Hong Kong by fueling that particular business which fuels that particular habitant’s life. My needs, just as it is in the United States are the same as it is here in Asia. And the city, knowing well my internal nature has implemented forces into the city to subconsciously convince me to participate in city life. All these forces take over and eventually the urban controller and I became one.

In a recent public online diary entry, Janet Jordan, a 27 year old schizophrenic, has had severe hallucinations through the last 25 years of her life. She states in her entry that the controller in her head has taken over for so long that she does not remember the point when the controller wasn’t there. Fortunately her hallucinations would fall in and out thereby giving her a reality to anchor to. It was not until she acknowledged this reality could she feel she had a problem and begin to take hold of it. In the same way if we begin to take hold of these two components and understand the relationship between the man and urban controller, as Simmel calls us to, we can begin to experiment and begin an entirely new phenomenon much like the experimental city of Shenzhen. However in my observation I consider Shenzhen to be a fake reality because of its reaction to the extreme rate of urban control. At the ‘untouched reality’ Shenzhen is still a lower class village while the ‘controlled reality’ sees Shenzhen as a rapidly growing city, dense of glass skyscrapers, and with the highest GDP in China. In this case Shenzhen plays both the man and the controller because Shenzhen is trying to condition itself to catch up to their wild and experimental standards. I believe that the natural slow altering of the man’s psyche has not quite caught up with the pace that the urban controller is trying to condition the city to be. The city is expanding at such a rapid speed that there is a very big gap between habits and actuality and thus course the urban controller and the man are not one.

In the comparison between Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the case of urban schizophrenia, the relationships are so different and interesting that it calls into question which one will work better. Will the urban controller that has a steady pace or a rapid pace work out better? Will the rabbit or the turtle win? We can only allow the disease to play out in order to fully study and understand the condition of the mental vs. the metropolis.

//Anita//

Filed under: Architecture, Hong Kong, mental disease, Metropolis, schizophrenia, Social Development, Urban Village, Urbanism, Urbanism Is About Human Life

The City: through the lens of transport

stroll.walk.run.hike.bike.boat.ferry.taxi.bus.subway.train.highspeedrail.fly.

fly.bus.walk.stroll.subway.run.subway.walk.walk.walk.subway.

bus.subway.walk.taxi.

walk.subway.stroll.

walk.

 

~Samantha

Filed under: airplane, Architecture, boat, China, ferry, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Public Transportation, streets, Subway, Tokyo, train, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Video, walking

The Sleeping Giant

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with terrible resolve.”

-General Isoroku Yamamoto after the bombing of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941.

The Harvard-educated Yamamoto, quoted above, accurately predicted the insurmountable awakening of the United States industrial machine as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II and forever altered the international power structure of the 20th century. For the rest of the century, the United States would be the benchmark by which the rest of the world measured itself, in regards to economics, politics, infrastructure, and industrial might. That was then. This is now. At the dawn of the 21st century, the sleeping giant that was awakened by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor is asleep once again, sedated by complacency on the world stage. While the rising stars of China and India work steadfastly day and night to reach the plateau currently occupied by the red, white, and blue, the Lone Superpower nation squabbles within its ranks, letting the partisan politics of its Republic keep its eye within itself, not on the world around it.

The encapsulation of the nations current predicament can be seen in the topic of high-speed rail development. At present, China, amongst other top economies in the Asia, have, are developing various high-speed rail systems in order to lay a solid infrastructural foundation that is needed for their growing countries. This is not an Asian phenomenon though. Western Europe famously has one of the most thorough and efficient rail-networks in the world. Once one is in a European country, they have unlimited access to the rest of the continent by train, instead of by plane. It is cheaper and more efficient to move by train.

The U.S., however, has seen little logic or appeal for this infrastructure layer of high-speed rail. Why take a high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco when one of the many airlines can offer a relatively low price?

O, let me count the ways.

For examples-sake, let’s imagine that you are flying out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for a business meeting in San Francisco. There’s no problem, the flight is only about an hour long, much faster than using any high-speed rail that would take about two hours and forty minutes (according to California High-Speed Rail Authority Development). But wait, there is that transit time just to get to LAX and then security, and knowing that there is guaranteed to be traffic in route, so you have to give yourself at least two hours just to get to the airport. So, in all, we are talking about three hours just to get to San Francisco International Airport, where you will then have to arrange for another travel means of getting to your business meeting inside the city, and not twenty minutes south of the city where the airport is. Then again, if you took the high-speed rail, not only could you have gotten to the Bay Area more quickly, but also then transferred to the efficient Bay Area Rapid Transit train system that would have brought you even closer to your destination. Not only is the high-speed rail connecting the major urban nodes of San Francisco to Los Angeles, but it is also connecting the two cities micro-transit systems.

::Poking the sleeping giant::

O.K., American Public, you are still not impressed with the fact that you would save more time and possibly money by taking the high-speed rail. A high-speed rail development would also boost the economic growth along the entire rail network. We are in a recession are we not? Imagine being able two live in central California and be able to work in either the San Francisco or Los Angeles area, without paying the often-outrageous living and property costs. It might take you an hour to get to work, but what’s the difference between spending an hour on the train and an hour stuck in traffic on the 405 Freeway. We have already seen the economic impact of Japan’s bullet train. According to the Shanghai Daily, the Shinkansen, connecting Tokyo and Osaka (two of Japan’s largest cities) has “rejuvenated rural towns that would otherwise be too distant from major cities.” Not only are “living costs lower [in the in-between areas], but residents can commute to either city while the city’s own business will be developed.” This practice has also been put into use in China, where a high-speed rail planned between Shanghai and Hangzhou will, according to article in the Shanghai Daily, “eventually integrate the cities and force Hangzhou businesses to become more competitive.”

This is known as the Dumbell Effect. You’ve seen it already, America, every time you go to your local malls. Have you not noticed how your Nordstrom’s, and your Macys chains anchor the ends of the mall, with smaller retailers in between? The larger retailers act as the points that draw you, the shopper, through the mall from one end to the other, with the in-between smaller retailers benefiting from this movement. Imagine that on more macro-scale, such as California.

::Poking the sleeping giant::

Are we starting to get the picture?

“No,” replies the airline industry, “the high-speed rail would kill our already fragile industry. We couldn’t take that competition.” Competition. Capitalism. Is that not what this country thrived on for so many decades? Competition not only with the rest of the world, but within ourselves, has made our country better as a whole. We live in an era of globalization, where not only are the world’s economies connecting with one another through trade and technology, but everything is shared, most of all information. We are living in an era of supermodernism, where our cities are growing similarly and facing the same problems as well. The sprawl of Los Angeles and the issues it is facing are some of the same ones that Beijing and Madrid are facing as well. There is bumper-to-bumper traffic on the streets alongside Tiananmen Square just as there is gridlock on the streets alongside Pershing Square.

::Punching the sleeping giant::

“O, China is a developing country. Of course they are going to have those types of problems.”

Then what is our excuse for having those problems? We are the Long Superpower! Even worse, what is our reason for doing little or nothing about it? Partisan, partisan, partisan. Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green Party, Tea Party: everyone wants to do it their way, or no way at all.

Randai O’Toole writes in his USA TODAY article “We can’t afford the luxury of high-speed rail,” about how the enormous cost of implementing a high-speed rail system is too high and not worth the cost. He writes how the $500 billion cost of President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail proposal is comparable to the $450 billion paid to the Interstate Highway System, “which provides more than 4,000 miles of passenger travel for every American, miles that Americans were not traveling before the system was built. Mr. O’Toole, when was the Interstate Highway system put in place? If my memory serves me correctly, it was after World War II. You’re going to sit there and write that an infrastructural system over half a century old is still serving our country adequately, even in a new century? Please tell that to millions of Los Angeles citizens who spend hundreds of hour in gridlock every year. And no, adding another lane to the 605 freeway is not going to alleviate traffic congestion enough so there is not traffic grid-lock seven days a week.

::Kicking the giant::

Mr. O’Toole goes on to make the claim the high-speed rail would only serve the urban elite.

“Since most high-speed rail stations will be in downtowns, the main users will be downtown workers such as lawyers, bankers, and government officials. Yet less than 8% of American jobs are in central city downtowns, meaning all Americans will subsidize trains used by only a small urban elite.”

So, Mr. O’Tool, are you saying that only the urban elite of New York utilizes the cities subway and commuter rail transit systems? Or how about how the upper class is the main user group on the Los Angeles metro lines everyday during rush hour? Recheck the demographics of public transportation user groups and you will find that fair majority of its users are of the lower and middle class.

“High-speed trains in Europe and Asia may be a boon to American tourists, but they haven’t proved transformational in those regions either. France and Japan have the world’s most extensive high-speed rail networks, yet their average residents ride the high-speed trains less than 400 miles a year.”

“Haven’t transformed those regions either.” Is Japan, along with the United States, one of the top economies in the world? Have you been to Tokyo, Mr. O’Toole? Perhaps one of the reasons that the average resident rides the high-speed train less than 400 miles a year is because the geographic area of Japan is only 145, 925 square miles with a population of 127 million people (that’s 873 people per square mile), compared that to the United States, with an area of 9.8 million square miles with a population of 310 million (83 people per square mile). It is also perhaps that more often than not, the average Japanese person’s home and work is often in close vicinity because of the country’s small area. And if they do not live in close proximity to their work, Japan’s metro and commuter transit system is one of the most widely used and efficient means by which to travel. In the United States, where the average American might work in the city but live in the suburbs, the conceptual framework for the argument changes.

As for high-speed rail not transforming regions, look at the high-speed rail being put into place between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, two Chinese cities with populations of fifteen and seven million respectively. An hour drive separates the two cities, but will soon be connected by a high-speed rail that will move users from one city to the other in 14 minutes. 14 minutes. It is estimated that the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Metropolis will be amongst the largest metropolises in the world, containing a population of over 20 million people. America’s largest city is New York City, a mere eight million. How’s that for transforming a region, Mr. O’Toole?

::Dropped piano on the sleeping giant::

Come on, America, you can’t afford not to wake up.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: American mall, BART, Bay Area, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Beijing, California, Dumbell Effect, economic growth, Economics, Globalization, high speed rail, Hong Kong, Infrastructure, Interstate Highway System, japan, Los Angeles, lower class, middle class, Osaka, partisan, Pearl Harbor, Politics, President Barrack Obama, randai o'toole, rural, san francisco, Shenzhen, Shinkansen, sleeping giant, supermodernism, Tokyo, traffic, Uncategorized, upper class, urban areas, usa today, World War II, Yamamoto,

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

HSBC?

Sunday, typically known as the day of rest in most western societies, has been taken to a whole other level in Hong Kong. Since Sunday is the only day that Filipino migrant workers have off they take to public spaces to reconnect with their community. In most cities the conventional idea of public space is plazas, parks, squares, etc but in Hong Kong it has now become corridors within infrastructure and most fascinating the under belly of Norman Foster’s Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.

The sheer volume of people occupying the under belly is astounding, the amount of activities endless. The customary blanket has become card board boxes, making the concrete jungle into a brown landscape. The only reminder of the previous hardscape is a sliver of space for circulation. Within this landscape you see the everyday happening; conversations between family and friends, eating, reading, sleeping, preaching, etc. This sensory overload becoming so intense you began to welcome the sound of honking horns as a relief.

This phenomenon sparks the question: what do events like these pose to the architect and the creation of public space? First off we should start with what is “public” which has been posed many times throughout this trip. As students, we tend to equate of public space as open aired squares, parks with trees, plazas with cafés. But when you begin to see mass public interaction under one of the most private and high-powered institutions in Hong Kong your preconceptions of public space become skewed.

In Aesthetics + Urbanism the articles touch on “what can architects offer to the city?” The opening paragraph stating; “The design of avant-garde works of architecture, influenced by science fiction and digital and aerospace technologies, strains ever toward the future. At the same time, the popular idea of the beautiful city is based on nineteenth-century or even medieval stereotypes. How do we explain this contradiction in aesthetics?” As cities have begun to grow rapidly, especially in China, this question has been pushed to the forefront.

The western model of public space is largely focused on plazas, parks etc. This mentality easily accepted with the abundance of land. Yet as China’s population increases dramatically and space becomes limited the notion of public space needs to reevaluated. This is not saying all parks should be scrapped in order to make room for developments but it begs the question can public spaces begin to encroach upon infrastructure? Even more, do we begin to look at built form not just as an envelope where only privatized program takes place but can this envelope begin to open and fold and allow for public interaction within?

b5 2 c6: Public Space by Wolf Prix discusses the creation of public space through architecture. Using the example of his UFA Cinema Center he begins to discuss how through organization of program, space, and envelope Coop Himmelb(l)au was able create a project that did not focus on “the building as an object” but rather “the idea of an urban transistor-an architecture that is capable of amplifying the urban spaces adjoining.” Contrary to Prix you have Robert A.M. Stern whose title Urbanism is about Human Life seems to contradict Prix’s process. Using the example of South Bronx he talks about how “streets have been recaptured for people, buildings have been erected in which people can live with reasonable dignity,” ending the paragraph with “maybe every site does not call for an architectural art project.” Stressing, “We need to think more about how people live.”

Both Prix and Stern have merit in their thinking. Though what seem to be contrasting ideas, they are not mutually exclusive. As architects we need to look at the built environment and the problems set before us. You cannot discuss the creation of public space through architecture without first evaluating the context. At the same time that does not mean that every piece of architecture that has form is an object. The best architecture is one that takes these two issues and finds a way to mold them to not only create “unexpected encounters occurring on street corners and sidewalks” but also within the building itself.

– Precious

Filed under: Architecture, China, Hong Kong, HSBC, Urbanism

Walk the Walk

Infrastructure is essential to the operation of a city.  Without it, people would not be able to easily access urban nodes throughout the city fabric, causing development and density to suffer from a lack of activation.  So powerful is this element in the forming of metropolises, that it becomes one of the defining characteristics of the city’s identity.  Hong Kong is identified by its elevated walkways.  These causeways are so efficient at moving people between different city nodes because it removes cars, roads, crosswalks and other complications that slow pedestrians down at the street level.  They are also successful because of their connection to these nodes, and the major urban programs they service such as shopping centers and transportation hubs.

It is interesting to see this same strategy utilized at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, only at the scale of a micro-city.  The expo is situated across a large area bordering the Huangpu River on both sides.  Spanning the entire distance of the elongated site is an elevated walkway, serving as the main artery for people movement between different zones of the expo.  Like Hong Kong, this walkway is equally successful at achieving a lubricated system of movement through a larger fabric.  It bypasses the congested masses and long queues of expo-goers at the ground level, and also serves as an access-way to move between critical expo nodes such as food courts, subway stops, shopping malls and several major pavilions.

What’s left to consider is what will become of this walkway once the expo has expired.  Hong Kong’s walkways have been in place for some time, and as a result of the high rate of pedestrian traffic, new programs have began to attach themselves to these arteries, and use them as a host.  It is common to find small retail, food stands and convenience stores along the way, between the larger nodes that anchor the terminal points of the walkway.  Unfortunately in Shanghai’s case, the end of the expo means the end of many of the pavilions and other programs, which were only temporary installations.  If the site is revitalized post-expo however, it is probable that the area will be developed into high-rise housing structures, with mixed use at the ground levels.  If the walkway is left in tact, it will certainly be an integral part of the infrastructural network linking this new development with the urban node located at the waterfront, which encompasses our final design task.  Weather or not parasitic programs attach to this artery in a way similar to Hong Kong is dependent upon its linkage to the nodes which will arise out of redevelopment.  Of course, this will be a crucial element to grapple with during the next seven weeks.

Alex

Filed under: China, Hong Kong, Infrastructure, Shanghai, Urbanism, Walkway

The bitter mote…of a soul?

Ever since the first computers, there have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?

As an architect, you have the power to control everything. As an architect, you lack the power to control anything. That is the lesson I am discovering on this leg of our journey through Hong Kong and Shenzhen. We have visited countless architecture works by architects from Ando to Ito to Koolhaas to Foster and yet, no matter how star-studded and acclaimed these architects may be, I argue that not a single one can design a building where they control every surface and every interaction that occurs within its realm. We encountered an unexpected programmatic use on the ground floor of Norman Foster’s Hongkong and Shanghai Bank on a Sunday (if you visit, it has to be a Sunday!). There, blanketing the ground floor that powerful bank executives cross everyday during the week, are hundreds of Filipino women and children, sitting down, playing cards, and taking in the Sunday relaxation. You could look around the grounds for a sign designating the area Sunday Picnic Space but you would never find it. I am reminded of the old architect mantra “build it and they will come.” No offense to Lord Foster, I do not believe he anticipated the use of his ground floor for leisure rather than business. Instead, we witness a fascinating parasitic weekly occurrence. The building acts as a “host” to the people, who utilize the space for short periods of during the week and then leave. What makes this phenomenon more prodigious is that something of this nature is seldom seen back in the States. The main operating principle of a parasite is that it feeds off of its hosts but never harms it. The ground floor is never left with trash or waste when Sunday ends. How many times has a parking lot outside of a stadium been left spotless after a day of tailgating?

These types of conditions are more closely detailed in Junzo Kuroda’s Made in Tokyo: Guide Book. Kuroda’s guidebook chronicles various urban spatial situations throughout the city of Tokyo that are unique because of odd programmatic groupings. Kuroda labels these situations as Da-me architecture, or not the “architecture of architects.” He observes instances such as a highway department store, roller coaster building, and a graveyard tunnel that are a result of an organic city that breathes, consumes, and produces. As architects, we cannot ignore the fact that often times the city creates where architects or civil engineers do not. We must accept that the city evolves and morphs on its own.

The film quote above is by a scientist discussing the artificial intelligence of robots and the possibility of a machine having a soul. Why is it that when [programs] are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? I witnessed one instance of this along one stretch of street in Hong Kong. As we traveled on the tram, we passed dry-fruit stand after dry-fruit stand, all lined up next to each other. Then it would change to light store after light store. Groupings of similar program change as the fabric did. Is this by coincidence or the act of architect or engineer? Did the entire dry-fruit stand owner population get together and decide to post up their shops next to each other?

Rather, there is anintelligence at work. An intelligence that seeks to counter the “void phobia,” as Kuroda describes it, that the city of Tokyo combats by filling every available space, even the smallest amount of space that can be filled by a vending machine. This void phobia exists over streets in Hong Kong, with signs stretching over and past one another, fighting to gain leverage over the other. This intelligence is everywhere. You only have to look.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: code, cross programming, da-me architecture, ghosts in the machine, Hong Kong, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, intelligence, Junzo Kuroda, koolhaas, Made in Tokyo, mote of a soul, signage, sunday picnic, Tokyo, Uncategorized, unexpected protocol, Urban, void phobia,

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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