USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Tokyo // A Metropolis that Others Strive to Be

After experiencing most of my college education at USC in Los Angeles, AAU study abroad has given me a breath of fresh air even if it has only been 4 days into the trip. The months of waiting has finally culminated to the start of an amazing journey. Our first destination is Tokyo, a city where public transportation and pedestrian circulation eliminates the use of a car.

The differences between the Los Angeles and Tokyo were tremendously obvious right when I stepped foot into the hotel. Instead of a ground floor lobby space typically seen in Los Angeles, there was a large space that acted as interstitial lobby distributing users to their respective areas within the tower. After 24+ of traveling, all I wanted to do was get to my room and sleep. Why was it so complicated to not have a lobby on the first floor to greet us weary travelers? My American thinking was obviously not appropriate to view Japan. After a good night’s rest, I set out to SEE the city and the complicated layering systems that made it function seamlessly.

Because the sprawl of Tokyo is limited, many buildings have to rise vertically in order to have the most efficient use of space. The tower has multiple tenants including our lobby that starts at the 25th floor. In Los Angeles, a 25th floor lobby would be unacceptable, yet the hotels here work regardless of its vertical location in the building. Underneath the ground floor, a retail space and subway access relieves a significant amount of pedestrian congestion. The subway is located at the lowest level, and as people proceed upwards, they are surrounded by retail space. Thus the businesses are able to thrive even below the ground plane. The relationships among the layered programs all work in harmony, creating a sophisticated and “hybrid” condition. Offices, hotels, restaurants, residences, and other amenities can exist all in one building, making it extremely convenient for the occupants to the point that they don’t even have to step foot outside!

By wandering a few meters past the hotel underground, I was able to catch a glimpse of Japan’s sophisticated program and circulation system. I compared it to Los Angeles, a place I am most familiar with, and Tokyo made it look like an infant city. I have to drive to every destination I decide to go to because of the city’s XY axis of development. How could someone who grew up in Los Angeles go against it? Well, it feels GREAT to not have to fill up on gas or have responsibility taking care of a car. I don’t have to find parking, stress about driving, or spend time looking for it in a parking garage. Also, if Los Angeles had a more developed and streamline public transportation system, I could SEE the city from a pedestrian perspective rather than a car’s. The drastic change in pace really affected the detail of my observation. For example, in Tokyo, I was able to look at the detail of construction by walking on the pedestrian sky bridge, but in a car, I would never be able to experience anything close to that level of detail. I finally get to use my senses to hear, smell, taste, feel, and SEE the many layers that comprise of the city.

Even though this is only the beginning of the trip, my analysis and experiences have altered drastically. It is not another semester inside a classroom, listening to lectures and doing studio work. My objective is to understand the “architecture” of the city and see the effectiveness of different strategies and consider the possibility of a better one. It’s my first topic studio and I feel extremely grateful to visit all these sites to both broaden my architectural education and enhance the kinesthetic learning experience.


Filed under: America, Architecture, comparison to Los Angeles, Hybrid Building, Japan, Public Transportation, Tokyo, Urbanism


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.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
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
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