URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

2 V L

 

Before I left for Asia, I thought finding my Starbuck’s double, tall, vanilla latte would become a difficult task; on the contrary it has now become an everyday ritual. Even with the language differences, the Baristas know the Starbucks lingo and, after I ramble off my order, they smile back and say, “Will that be all”. Some of the food items are unique to the Starbuck’s region, but all in all it’s just like any other Starbucks back at home. This comfortable atmosphere and exchange simplifies the ordering process, which creates a enjoyable experience.

I started to analyze this relationship I had with the coffee house. Why is it that I continually choose something that is completely western, while I am in Asia for the experience? The surface answer is that it’s easy; I know when I walk into a Starbucks that I will walk out with something that I am satisfied with. I understand what I am ordering, and I am able to convey what I am looking for to the other party.

I brought up this idea in a critique, which talked about the ideas of globalization and branding. The idea that I could have nearly identical exchanges in both the United States and Hong Kong started to sicken me. How could Hong Kong, a city with so much character and uniqueness, have a Starbucks on every corner? I felt that Hong Kong was loosing touch with its identity, and caving into the corporate America model. Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks

But is it? A great analogy was brought up during my critique about the idea of appearance, and the distance in which the object is viewed from. For example from far away a surface may look smooth, but as you start to move closer, and actually have the ability to touch the surface, you can realize that the surface is actually a rough texture. This notion of how far you zoom in and analyze the material really provides a greater depth to the problem. The same can hold true for Starbucks. When I first analyzed the situation I took it for its surface value. Walking into the coffee house, I identified with its logos, colors, smells, and tall, grande, viente way of life. At the surface it was Starbucks. On the other hand though this is the phenomenon. Half way across the world Starbucks has the ability to create identical experiences. When I started to look at this as a positive trait, as opposed to a negative, I realized that this is truly spectacular. I am ordering my double, tall, vanilla latte in Hong Kong. In every way this is a Hong Kong coffee house, a place where its residents and tourists come to relax, socialize, and brew up ideas.  Two completely different cultures can truly experience and appreciate the same/ but different Starbucks coffee house.

Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks mentality is not the end of culture, rather it is a bringing together of cultures. It creates a common tie between America and Hong Kong in which, two completely different cultures could actually sit and talk over the same cup of coffee. As mentioned before this is truly a phenomenon that comes down to Starbuck’s ability to not only make coffee, but to create an atmosphere that appeals to very different people. After stepping back, and zooming into the situation I realized that the concept of globalization might start to blur boundaries among different countries and cities, but at the same time create truly unique connections. Although Starbucks is a corporate America brand, many people in the east have accepted the Starbucks brand as their own. Urban cities are not necessarily about one culture; rather they are about many different cultures coming together. The urban environment plays as the backdrop to many different programs, and it is through different filters that we can start to realize how these different programs play out. You could have two identical programs with two different backdrops, and these backdrops could completely change a person’s experience and interaction with the program. It is this unpredictable factor that makes urbanism a complex riddle that may not have an answer, but when the ingredients mix together just right, you get that perfect double, tall, vanilla latte.

Ross Renjilian

 

Filed under: America, Branding, Double, Globalization, Hong, kong, L, Latte, Renjilian, Ross, Starbucks, Tall, Urbanism, V, Vanilla, ,

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, ,

Kenneth Frampton’s Urbanism Lecture Conclusion at Hong Kong University

We had the privilege to see Kenneth Frampton at Hong Kong University, and the following is his main points about urbanism and the megaform. Frampton critiqued, analyzed, and demonstrated many different forms of megastructures located within larger city plans, and what their role will be in the future of urban development. These last ten points help summarize the ideas covered throughout the lecture, and give an understanding of the challenges for urban designers and architects.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: Architecture, China, cities, development, Frampton, Hong, Kenneth, kong, mega structure, megaform, points, Renjilian, Ross, ten, University, Urbanism, ,

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.

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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