URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

New and Old

Urbanism looks at new possibilities for the built environment, by adding different ingredients to the community that allow the area to become richer, and better suited for its occupants. This approachis typically looked at from a blank slate, but as we continueto build, at one point there will be nowhere else to go. This will force us to go in and reevaluate what has already been built, and re-imagine the possibilities of what once was.

China’s balance of new and old has really given China a very eclectic built environment. In the bund area skyscrapers of modern steel and glass, tower over the historic fabric of the different concessions that line the Huangpu River. This contrast of what has been preserved, compared to what has been newly imagined and conceived creates this beautiful tension that China is facing today. China is a country with immense amount of culture and tradition, especially Shanghai. Time has been one of the most beautiful artists, and Shanghai’s multitude of layers has been its creation. In many ways Shanghai’s built environment is a visual timeline of Shanghais history and architectural influences.

This is the current situation, but as China continues to push forward on their economic binge, the past may no longer be as significant. History may not be able to produce the $$$ that is in developers eyes. The government in China is still the owner of the land, but has started a new leasing strategy that allows selected developers to lease the land for about 70 years. The government requires the piece of land to perform within three years of the lease, which pressures developers to build, and build quickly. Performance typically comes in the form of $$$, and the easiest way to make $$$ is by leasing out as many spaces feasibly possible. With this approach older fabric has been “carpet bombed”, and redeveloped as monotonous housing towers, shopping malls, and commercial centers. This new trend has already started to create an over saturation in the market, and as the government leases out more land, the fabric starts to become a homogenous high-density jungle.

The interesting part of this over saturation is that it has diminished the supply of the older low-density fabric. This constant balancing act between the old and the new, has created a higher demand for older fabric, which has interestingly allowed the older fabric to be “preserved”. This fabric though is not necessarily preserved in the traditional European sense, many times it has been left alone, for the owners of the lease have realized the value of its history, and have inflated the value too high for developers to see any benefit. The over inflated price has created a stagnant condition for the fabric, which has allowed it to deteriorate over time. This old courtyard typology has also been segmented up into many different spaces, to lease out low-income units. The irony of the situation, really creates this very beautiful, but conflicting condition of preservation.

This event starts to question the importance of preservation within a city. Looking at historic European cities, we see the extreme side of preservation. This mentality of keeping the old has allowed the cities to become figuratively frozen in place, as time continues onward. This condition has stunted cities growth, and ability to modernize and reinterpret urbanization.  Aldo Rossi questions what is the real benefit and understanding of the existing tangible. In Architecture and the City he comments, “In an urban artifact, certain original values and functions remain, others are totally altered; about some stylistic aspects of the form we are certain, others are less obvious. We contemplate the values that remain— I am also referring to spiritual values—and try to ascertain whether they have some connection with the building’s materiality, and whether they constitute the only empirical facts that pertain to the problem. At this point, we might discuss what our idea of the building is, our most general memory of it as a product of the collective, and what relationship it affords us with this collective.”  Shanghai is a perfect precedent for this confliction. On one side of the argument, Chinese mentality questions what is the true value of the building as an object itself? There is more importance in the location, rather than in the object. The various European influences, demonstrates the importance of the building’s materiality and face, which gives a certain character to the various concessions.

In my opinion there is value in both, and a balancing act has to be played. To preserve the city in its current state, is denying its opportunity to become something even greater. On the other hand history provides a sense of identity and culture. Shanghai’s current balance has allowed the city to become an eclectic combination of old and new, giving it a truly unique diversity that is stripped from many cities. Its ability to be modern, and still posses traits of its past, is a unique balance that cannot come from instant cities. While Shanghai continues to push forward, it would be a real shame for Shanghai to loose its older fabric and redevelop more of the same, for the beauty is in the layers.

Ross Renjilian

 

Filed under: Aldo, Architecture, bombing, carpet, character, China, development, Fabric, Identity, new, old, preservation, Renjilian, Ross, Rossi, Shanghai, Urbanism, , ,

Not Just Packaging

The following video compiles a series of video clips taken at the Shanghai World Expo 2010. At the World Expo, countries are promoted through their pavilion design. Exterior elevations and appearance are very important, and These wrappers become the primary way for branding. Focusing on the exterior makes sense since a majority of people will only see this wrapper, due to obscene lines (some take up to 4-5 hours to get through). On the inside, each country creates its own narrative to display their  culture and identity. The Expo’s theme, “Better City, Better Life”  is clearly present in a majority of the pavilions demonstrating their “green” lifestyle. By using different forms of media, each pavilion was able to create unique environments to display their ambitions, lifestyles, and ideas for the future. This small compilation of pavilion narratives samples some different takes on countries presentations. I hope my time waiting in line provides you with some insight towards the Shanghai World Expo 2010.
Ross Renjilian

The music used was recorded in different exhibits accordingly as follows
Australia, Austria, Portugal

Filed under: 2010, Architecture, Australia, Austria, Branding, China, Denmark, Expo, Identity, Netherlands, Norway, Pavilions, Portugal, Shanghai, Spain, Video, World, Wrapper, ,

Around the world in 80…minutes?

A few days ago, a few of us visited Windows of the World, a Shenzhen amusement park that contains 130 scaled reproductions of some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. Walking around the park was one of the most bizarre and ironic experiences I’ve had. In one view-frame would be superimposed in layers: New York Manhattan Island, the Easter Egg Islands, the Volcano’s of Hawaii, an Aztec Temple, the statue O Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, and the backdrop of Shenzhen high-rises. Five minutes’ walk later I would be greeted with the Egyptian pyramids at one-third scale next to the Eiffel Tower and the park monorail. The more and more I was bombarded with these peculiar and completely laughable scenes, the more the issue of authenticity versus falsity begged to be considered. In Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin states that “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” By this argument, these scaled replicas – reproductions of the original ‘art’ or the historic relics themselves –  are not ‘real’ because they lack the very context and history that conditioned the original building artifact.

Windows of the World brings to mind a similar urban phenomenon more familiar to Westerners: Las Vegas. Albeit at a larger scale, Las Vegas also contains a small scale Eiffel Tower (The Venetian), roman palaces (Caesar’s Palace), the New York skyline (New York-New York), and the Egyptian pyramids (Luxor).Like Windows of the World, It contains physical imitations of the original, but unlike Windows of the World, I would argue it is entirely more ‘real’ because it doesn’t profess to replicate but rather references the original. One visits Las Vegas as a form of escapism, whereas one visits Windows of the World to see replicas. This is also an issue of identity.  Vegas exists as its own entity, contains its own unique character. Does  Windows of the World have a similar persona even though the objects that make it up lack a “presence in time and space”?

Perhaps it is the very absence of contextual presence that in itself gives ‘identity’ to Windows of the World. As our group entered the park, the main sign outside the amusement park stated in bright letters “Welcome to our World”. At first I found the sign to be completely comical and ironic: how is a representation of the artifacts of all the other countries of the earth in any way unique to ‘their’ world. But the more I thought of it, the more I realized that the very fact that this replicated collection of other worlds coexist in these few physical acres becomes in fact a new ‘world’. In Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin further points out that “an ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol.” Benjamin is stating that the same physical object when situated in different contexts take on different significances based on the environment that imposes those meanings on the object. The same can be said for Windows of the World. These historical artifacts no longer carry any of their original spatial or temporal contexts but rather have taken on completely new ones, meanings that have been imposed on them by their current environment, that of Shenzhen. Windows of the World and the replicas within have embraced a completely new identity, uniquely as a representation of Shenzhen – just as the Luxor, Caesar’s, and The Venetian have come to be known collectively as Las Vegas.

~ Evan Shieh

Filed under: America, Architecture, Authenticity, China, Identity, Imposed Meaning, Las Vegas, Reality, Replication, Shenzhen, Walter Benjamin, Windows of the World

Catch Me If You Can

“Ten… Nine… Eight… Seven… Six… Five… Four… Three… Two… One… Ready or not, here I come!”

I’ve been on the hunt for about a week now.

The games of “hide and seek” to which I am accustomed usually lead to some form of physical discovery, whether it is of a place or of someone’s hidden location. Since we arrived in Shenzhen, I have been on a relentless search for something intangible: the identity of this city.

At times I find myself tiptoeing as I approach a street vendor’s display table, hoping to ambush my protean prey as it rests among the counterfeit copies of Seasons 1 through 7 of Sex and the City. To no avail, I wander along the boulevards connecting the massive blocks made up of innumerable hotel and bank towers, hoping to find even a small hint in the middle of this Central Business District. All I see are wide, practically vacant pedestrian walkways.

Suddenly animated, I launch myself at a full sprint thinking I have finally caught a glimpse of that which I am looking for, only to realize that my crafty target has led me deep into a poorly lit maze. With no sense of direction, I walk down endless corridors lined with stand after stand of products that may or may not be what they appear to be. In this estuary for the real and the fantastical, with what point of reference am I to navigate through the conglomeration that is Luohu District?

As I examine one of the most recent maps of the city provided by the concierge, it occurs to me that perhaps the object of my fixation has fled to one of the urban villages. Upon arrival at the Northeast corner of the intersection between Fuhua Road and Caitian Road, I realize that what was once on the map no longer is. Looking down I see that I am standing on a mound of rubble, impatiently waiting to be reshaped and formed into another tower. It seems I am not alone in this pursuit, for even the mapmakers cannot keep up with this elusive shape-shifter.

Roaming the outskirts of the city at the West end, I am once again led astray. Thinking I have reached the end of the road, and wanting to see the edge condition, I follow the newly carved path until I become aware of the fact that it is quite literally spilling into the sea. Is this some sort of hoax? There simply is no limit.

By this point I half expect something to jump out at me and shout, “Here I am!” before quickly disappearing. But how exactly do you catch something when you don’t know what you’re looking for?

It seems to be that the more I look, the less I find.

For now, I think I will set up post next to the statue of Deng Xiaoping overlooking Shenzhen. I’m not quite sure where he is pointing, but maybe if I stay long enough I’ll see something.

alfredo

Filed under: China, Identity, Shenzhen, Uncategorized,

What is Shenzhen?

“What is Shenzhen?”  This was the question asked of us this morning before heading out for the day.  While many of us recognized various urban conditions and critiqued the city from an economic and political stance, we struggled to address a critical aspect that helps define any and all cities; its cultural identity.  After nearly a week in Shenzhen, it is fair to say that we have not experienced a fair amount of the city’s “culture”, which left us asking questions of our own.  In particular, what issues are influencing this apparent lack of cultural identity, and how has the development of Shenzhen fostered this condition?

The rate of development is one major factor to consider.  It takes as little as a couple years for new developments to move from the design phase to completion in Shenzhen, a rate nearly ten times faster than that of the United States in some cases.  Because of this rapid pace, existing developments are quickly becoming obsolete.   As we have seen, the political and economic powers at play waste no time in demolishing these older developments, some less than a decade mature, to make way for new financial high-rises, government institutions and residential towers.  Unfortunately, many of these developments that are being destroyed are rooted in the initial culture of the city, which is now only found in the small-pocket “urban villages” of Shenzhen.  These were born from farmers who converted their land into housing developments to profit from the influx of migrant workers once Shenzhen began to grow.  Unsurprisingly, the fabric of these urban villages is much more culturally vibrant than the Americanized city grid in which our design project and hotel is centered.  Consequently, it is becoming increasingly harder for Shenzhen to retain this original culture, and furthermore hold on to an identity, if it is continually being replaced by new development.

It is also important to consider the physical growth of the city and its affect on Shenzhen’s identity crisis.  In particular, we can examine the prevalence of land reclamation.  Each year, several miles of infill is added to Shenzhen’s coast, and developed at the rapid pace mentioned above.   However, if we consider the standard supply-and-demand model for rationalizing the need for new development, Shenzhen exemplifies the opposite.  Here, there is an excess of supply before there is demand.  Developments are green-lighted with the economic assumption that they will be occupied.  Because of this, the so-called “threshold of development” is ever pushing outwards onto newer and newer reclaimed land.  In its wake are left the fledgling developments that are only a year or two behind, most of which haven’t had the time to establish a cultural foundation, or strengthen a citywide identity.  Time then becomes a critical dimension from which to analyze this condition.  As Walter Benjamin states in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to the history which it has experienced.  Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter.”  Without time to establish the history of such a development in the face of reproducing new multiples, cultural authenticity cannot take hold, and therefore the fabric cannot retain a cultural identity.

Ultimately, our original question of, “What is Shenzhen?” still remains unanswered.  Perhaps the cultural identity of this city is not as accessible as we have witnessed elsewhere.  Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong’s cultures were more easily identifiable, and physically prevalent within the fabric that we explored.  Maybe our observations of a city devoid of cultural identity are correct, and merely strengthen the argument that Shenzhen is too young to possess one, or too development driven to allow for one.  Or maybe we just aren’t looking hard enough.  Hopefully, we can shed more light on this answer with more investigation in the coming days.

Alex

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. New York, NY: Classic America, 2009. Print.

Filed under: About, China, Culture, Identity, Reclamation, Shenzhen, Urban Village

Shenzhen: “Instant City”

The concept of what is real and what is not is a constantly reoccurring topic of discussion amongst our group here in Shenzhen, China. Everyone has their own conception of what they consider to be real and what they consider to be not real. One argument is whether or not Shenzhen is the Chinese Las Vegas? Is Shenzhen an area in and of itself that does not depend on the nuances between it and other cities but creates an identity of its own, as Las Vegas exists? If it is, then you have to take into consideration that key word: identity. Every city has its own identity, its own fingerprint, its own DNA, its own unique makeup that makes it distinguishable from the other cities not only in its region and country, but also the rest of the world. At present, Shenzhen has no identity. Shenzhen is a city, and yes, it is a city in China. But by no means does that make it a Chinese city. The population is somewhere around 15 million, with 3 million of those people being unregistered workers, labeled as “ghosts” by the Chinese government, as though they do not exist. Of the 12 million citizens, a fair majority comes from other parts of China. One can walk the streets and rarely catch a glimpse of someone over the age of 55. This is an exceptionally young city (almost 30 years old) when you compare it to other Chinese cities steeped in history such as Shanghai or Hong Kong.

Additionally, the urban fabric of Shenzhen does not respond to local geographic conditions. In the early 1980’s, when Shenzhen was a small fishing village, the Chinese government ordered the Peoples Liberation Army to dynamite and clear the mountains where Shenzhen is currently located. Dynamiting natural landscape: the initial move demonstrating the idea that this city would begin at zero, with no ties to its geography or its past. The problem that has surfaced as a result of that approach is the creation of an artificial city. It is artificial in the sense that most elements of this city do not possess Chinese characteristics; not naturally Chinese, anyways. How can it not be naturally Chinese when it was built by Chinese workers and financed by Beijing? All one has to do is look at the work of architecture being erected as of late throughout the city to see the counterargument:

Stock Exchange & Crystal Island by Office of Metropolitan Architecture [Dutch firm] (Collaborated with Chinese firm Urbanus)

Headquarters of China Insurance Group by Coop Himmelb(l)au [Austrian firm]

Kingkey Finance Tower by Farrells [British firm]

Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport- Massimiliano Fuksas [Italian firm]

Seeing a pattern here?

This city is becoming an eclectic city, but an artificial one at that. Even the plant life here is artificial; the majority of the plants are imported from Hawaii. Could this be the genesis of a new breed of cities, cities that are not concerned with its context or previous history? Can this new kind of city be transported and transplanted as though it was a universal component in the metropolitan circuit board. Within the urban makeup you always have your ‘7-11’s’ or McDonalds, which represent programmatic pieces that are universal and can operate successfully wherever they go. They can be inserted into any urban makeup because they do not respond to the urban or social context in which they are placed; they are not context specific. What if we are able to have entire cities that are universal in that nature?

I am reminded of Peter Cook and Archigram’s piece, Instant City, which was written in the early 1970’s. The Instant City discussed the creation of not buildings, but “events” that are the result of high technology being infused into areas of low technology. This is comparable to the injection of economic investment and star-architect architecture that Shenzhen is currently experiencing. The writing describes how high tech airships would act as carriers for mass culture and would seemingly create a city instantaneously, as if there is a magic formula. In comparison to the cultural emanation of Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong, there seems to lack a cultural originality here in Shenzhen. Instead of ‘mom n’ pop’ shops there are ‘Kung-fu’ Chinese fast food enterprises. The city lacks any historical district that is suppose to give city a sense of belonging and history, which in turn resonates emotional warmth and nostalgia. Everything in this city is manufactured and so now the next problem to solve is how to manufacture a culture in a city that lacks one? Is that culture created artificially, like the limitless amount of knock-off Gucci bags? Or is it something created by the people and not dropped from an Instant City airship?

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: Archigram, artificial, China, context-specific, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Culture, Farrells, Identity, Instant City, investment, Las Vegas, manufacture, mass culture, Massimiliano Fuksas, OMA, real, Shenzhen, Uncategorized,

Identity Crises

7 million people live and work within Hong Kong. These 7 million people are squeezed into an area of 31 sq miles, which makes Hong Kong one of the world’s densest cities. In contrary to many other urban plans, Hong Kong has resisted urban sprawl. When cities have typically grown in the past, they tend to increase in size and area. The natural elements in Hong Kong including the mountains and the bay have been physical boundaries of the city, which have contained the city’s footprint. Therefore the only way Hong Kong can handle its population demands is by growing vertically.

In order to handle the large population, many systems and networks are in play for transportation, infrastructure, employment, and leisure. Since Hong Kong is operating on such an extreme scale, the focus is on quantity and not necessarily the individual. This is where the question of the individual’s importance to the metropolis becomes a crucial component towards the metropolis as a whole.

Cities run on numbers. Numbers are what drive industry, and industry drives growth. “The Culture Identity” states, “Industry is interested in human beings only as its customers and employees and has in fact reduced humanity as a whole, like each of its elements, to this exhaustive formula”. This drive for constantly posting numbers is truly what defines a city, which is enforced by the power of corporations in the urban environment. Each company plastering their name on top of every tower within the city demonstrates this hierarchy. This in return leaves little to no significance for the individual, moral rights, or culture.

This formula is exemplified even further during periods of intense growth. For example the industrial revolution in America, lead to economic booms to existent metropolises, and gave birth to new cities at exponential rates. Development was at an all time high, and everything in America became a business opportunity. We are seeing this same behavior in China currently. With industry reporting record numbers, and population at a staggering high, China has been exponentially growing numerically, and in return sacrificing individuality and culture.

It is in these times though that we see the human element stripped out of the urban environment. For the same reason that the economic growth of a city is strictly about numbers and not about the individual. Day in and day out, people follow the workweek system, and blend into the collective workforce, in which the urban organism is programmed to respond to these patterns.

Hong Kong has urbanistically responded to this system, through its building typologies. As The radical, vertical growth in Hong Kong has littered the urban plan with a series of pencil towers. These slender vertical towers are packed with residents and offices literally stacked one on top of the other. Every window representing a single cell of program designated to the individual. At the base of these towers are series of connections to relocate the individual to its next location either being their residence or office. This linear travel of point A to point B has isolated the individual from its urban context.

On the other hand though, there is a more complicated understanding of how the individual is tied into the city. In many cases the predominant driving force of the metropolis is money, but there are also many other elements within the city that belong to the individual. Simmel questions the role of the individual within the larger metropolis for, “It is the function of the metropolis to provide the arena for this struggle and its reconciliation. For the metropolis presents the peculiar conditions which are revealed to us as the opportunities and the stimuli for the development of both these ways of allocating roles to men”. For man to believe he is a completely free being within a city, is in my opinion a mistake, but I would have to argue that there are freedoms within a city in which man can rightfully claim. The individual comes out in the culture of the city, the charm that gives the city its character and personality. If every city ran strictly on numbers then every city would have the same aura, which I would argue is not the current case.

On the other hand if Industrialization keeps pushing forward, and we discredit the individual throughout the process, cities may become more uniform with one another and the corporate counterpart may strip the individuality from the city. Using Hong Kong as an example, the city’s street life is an important element that represents Hong Kong’s culture. We typically see groupings of street food, vendors, and traditional gift shops parasitically controlling the street territory. This element still exists throughout Hong Kong, but the A to B mentality has started to have serious affects on Street life in the area. Subways taking people off of the street has started to choke these smaller shops, which will deprive Hong Kong of its cultural identity.

Personally I think this struggle is represented in Hong Kong’s urban fabric. There is a series of perspectives in which you can view Hong Kong. By starting on top and looking down over the sea of buildings the reading is very uniform and one collective being. Buildings start meshing into one another creating this over whelming collage of windows and structure. As you start to focus though, the details of the city start to reveal themselves. In some instances each unit of the building is carefully articulated, or the street life is vibrant in contrast to what towers above it. This overlaying of individuality on top of the urban fabric starts to demonstrate the role of the individual within the collective whole. From afar we look at Hong Kong as a single entity, but as we take a closer look identity of the city becomes more apparent. It is through these glimpses of individuality that I can argue that the individual is still very prevalent in the urban fabric, and although his role may be small, it still impacts the way people experience and stand out in the urban environment.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: Architecture, China, Culture, Density, Hong, Identity, Individual, Industry, kong, Life, Renjilian, Ross, Street, Urbanism, Urbansim, ,

collective attributes

“Do your attributes really belong to you?”

This is a question posed by Masahiko Sato’s “The Definition of Self” exhibit at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo.  The aim of the exhibit is to demonstrate that one’s physical attributes, such as fingerprint, iris, height, and weight make one easily identifiable within a society.  Without these characteristics, one would not exist.  Sato states that one will realize “your existence is not even worth paying attention to” through the exhibit.

This makes one question whether or not true individuality is a tangible objective.  Can an object truly be  a unique entity when the exact same components make up each “unique” object?  Are objects which are made up different combinations of the same matter identical or incongruous?  Attributes are aesthetically different, yet are intrinsically alike.  Each individual has a fingerprint.  The only difference between these fingerprints is the way in which the grooves appear.  Although an iris scan can identify an individual, the differences between one’s iris from another is miniscule.  Features which make one an individual are identifying characteristics, but do not necessarily set one apart from others because these attributes are universal.

Physical and social attributes are not one of the same.  John Clammer discusses  how individuals strive for a self-identity which is socially visible.  This sense of social individuality is displayed through material items such as clothing and accessories.    One has the ability to appear as an individual socially.  However, in Japan, most do not stray far from how it is socially acceptable to appear.  The streets of Tokyo are constantly littered with businessmen wearing identical dark suit pants and white collared shirts.  Taxi drivers effortlessly line themselves up into neatly organized grids while awaiting passengers.  These individuals appear to be part of a cult—moving through the city as one giant mass.

In Tokyo not only do individuals present themselves socially in similar manners, but they also move through spaces as if they are one collective whole.  The movement patterns are similar to a current, which follows a trajectory with no visible markers.  From above, people appear as ants, marching through set paths in their white button-downs.

These paths never cross, nor do the individuals following them ever run into one another.  There is some sort of order which is inherently part of each individual, allowing one to move with a group as fluidly and smoothly as possible.  Amidst the chaos of a Tokyo metro station, the overflowing amount of people know exactly where they are going, as well as the most efficient way to get there, without ever straying from this route.  People appear as cars on marked streets, walking in their lane and adhering to all traffic laws.

Without individuality and the ability to think for oneself, movement as a whole would not be possible.  Individuals must contemplate their movement.  However, do they deliberate over each move or are they just following the pack?  Is this a taught ability or an instinct?  Either way, Masahiko Sato’s argument prevails.  Although attributes differ slightly on a micro level, each individual is ultimately composed of the same attributes, just with a slightly different coding.  One’s existence becomes very small when all social elements are removed.

Individuals are essentially the same, the ability to think sets one apart from others.  While physical attributes are primarily the same for each individual, Tokyo exhibits the extreme where in addition to these physical attributes, social attributes are also very uniform.  Homogenous dress and collective movement display how a culture thinks and behaves.  Both molecularly and superficially, little is left to identify an individual.  The ability to change is all that is left to establish one as an individual.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, attributes, Collectivism, Identity, individuality, japan, self, Tokyo, Uncategorized, ,

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, , ,

ABOUT THE AAU PROGRAM

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.

CATEGORIES

PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP

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