URBAN GORILLA

Icon

USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

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

Public Room for Public Purpose

Public spaces are created for people to use, especially in high-density environments where everyone does not own a plot of land. Some public spaces become these beautiful landscapes or these patches of greenery in the urban environment that provide relief from the surrounding concrete jungle. Although these spaces are deemed as public spaces their true purpose takes on the role of beautification and imagery. On the other hand there are public spaces that are programmed and in response become utilized. By programming the public space it allows the space to become more of an outdoor room allowing occupants to interact within the space.

It is through the concept of interaction where a person starts to become one with its given environment. When spaces are truly interactive it exploits the individual’s ability to hear, see, taste, smell, and touch the surrounding physical world. Truly successful public spaces play with your senses. They surround you with beautiful imagery and vibrant scenery, allowing you too feel the abundance of textures scattered around. Successful public spaces also allow you to smell the bread from the bakery down the street, and the salt water from the ocean. Hearing the chatter of a nearby conversation, or kids laughing and screaming in a park in the distance. It is through these sensual combinations that give unique character and life to public spaces, and without these characteristics the space is just a space. Public space is only truly successful when people can interact not only with other people, but also with the space itself.

The Madrid exhibition, at The World Exposition, really started to connect the dots for me on what really makes successful public spaces in the urban environment. Madrid has an interesting urban typology, which creates these voids within the fabric that act as urban rooms, and are reinforced by the surrounding environment’s posche. These voids throughout the urban fabric were photographed in the exhibition, and they were full of people and activities. Although I could only experience this from photographs, they still created beautiful montages of what Madrid could look like on any given day. By analyzing the photos further I started highlighting ideas that really made the pictures vibrant. Going layer by layer I started listing the architecture, the open sky, the natural landscapes, the amounts of people, the food, and the products. I started to question what really makes this space any different from city streets lined with trees, shops, and restaurants? Then I realized that there was no glass. Of course there was glass in the windows, but in the public container there was no glass that separated the people sitting at café tables eating beautiful plates of pasta and pizza, from the people in the plaza. Fragrant flowers were not in the stores, but rather being sold out on the sidewalk for people to smell, see, and touch. Nature was also being experienced with its outdoor environment and complimentary season. The public space that was captured gave the understanding of interaction and really played with the sensual emotions. The public space model of the open parks sometimes is just not enough to trigger the complex balance of program and emotions. City streets lined with stores behind glass walls become spectacles from the outside, and once inside strip away the public environment. I have started to call this idea the creep factor. The creep factor deals with the idea of allowing programs to not only be contained in their allotted space, but to also take advantage of the public domain, by finding their way to expand out of their physical container. It is when these experiences are transported from inside to outside that allow these public rooms to spark vibrancy within the space.

This is going to be a very important consideration for China, which needs to seek extreme density in order to contain its growing population. With the Shanghai Expo promoting the idea of “better city better life” China is really trying hard to create a more sustainable and livable urban environment. One method that they began to tackle was the idea of creating ample amount of green spaces, including a plan to line the entire river’s edge with a green belt. Although these ideas are very noble, green spaces will not necessarily provide a better living environment. If China wants to be seen as one of the “greenest” cities then they should keep planting, but on the other hand if China is looking at creating a more vibrant city, my argument would be to look toward Madrid. By creating spaces that allow people to interact with their surroundings will create a better life for its occupants, which in return will create a better city, a people’s city.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: 2010, AAU, Architecture, China, Creep, Exposition, Factor, Interaction, Madrid, people, Public, Renjilian, Rooms, Ross, Shangahi, space, Uncategorized, Urbanism, World, ,

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

IMG_5302

IMG_5270

IMG_5230

More Photos

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