URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Symbiosis Between Information Technology and Cultural Interactions

“While advances like the telephone and automobile clearly had wide-ranging impacts on the twentieth-century city, the recent wave of information technology promises to prove many more”- Scott Page and Brian Phillips, Urban Interfaces Designing the In-Between

Technology has become so vital in our lives that it facilitates almost everything around us. It allows us to gather information and increase our awareness of different programs as the distribution of communication, interaction and information is constantly morphing on a day-to-day basis. It now holds a greater presence within our lives more than ever.

As cities are shifting towards technology based, the physical city and its inhabitants are relying on the developing network of communication infrastructures. Cities including Tokyo and Seoul have fully immersed into this concept. Tokyo’s transit stations, in particular Shibuya Station, are catering to its population density, entertainment, and commercial intensity. The city has tapped into digital technology resulting in its commercial centrality to reflect human patterns and culture. Seoul has immersed itself into a completely wireless city- regardless of the location within the city, one is guaranteed to have access to a wi-fi network above ground and below ground (ie. metro subways). The web presence is substantial, unlike any other city I have visited. Upon landing into the ICN Airport, I was immediately connected to the internet via iPhone. I had no network data yet the internet allowed me to stay connected- I was “in the network” and I was connected up until my departure one week later.

Information is constantly being created and distributed. Heavily influenced by “the perspectives of media, speed, and personal perception”, the representation of our world impacts the way in which we design (61). The evolution of technology affects the way we conceptualize design. With vertical and horizontal connections, the vertical builds upwards as the horizontal allows information technology to spread among the landscape through infrastructure.

Connections are formed between networks of the urban fabric or physical beings such as social networks. Formed communities via the web have created spatial constraints as they manipulate the manner in which the user desires to be apart of something. The downfall is that physical impacts are decreased which then blurs the distinction between virtual and physical space as location-awareness diminishes. The virtual interface focuses on the particular needs of the individual catering to personal environments. We are influenced by the physical form that acts as a vehicle for “modulating streams of images (62)”. Projected images such as advertisements or entertainment media instill in the user a desire to match what they see. Advertisements for reconstructive surgery were plastered all over Seoul. A city known for its surge in aesthetic surgery clinics, there is a need to perfect the physical form. The persuasive ads to achieve a ‘specific look’ send underlying messages of pressure to cave into the generic. As the city conforms based on economic exchange, this need for personalization overrides the importance of the collective users. The quantity versus the individual places the individual under the generic, simply a number within the population.

The need to regenerate the technological based society means that the system will collapse, it does not have the ability to personalize. It all reverts back to the idea that money is a driver for culture. There is a desire to discover new advanced technology as this has a direct correlation to power. The more information given and known keeps the distribution of communication going tapping into the culture that feeds into this phenomenon.

11/26/2013 Paula M Narvaez

Filed under: Architecture, Culture, Japan, Korea, Tokyo, Urbanism, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Made in China”

“Made in China”

Urban Hive & Guangzhou Opera House

The juxtaposition of the images of the Urban Hive commercial tower by In-Cheurl Kim and the Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid would most likely draw untrained eyes initially toward the latter. The playful form of the opera house is a radical accomplishment of structure and space that is framed to compositional perfection. But what is impossible to notice from the beautifully lit and digitally enhanced images online is the quality of its detail and construction. Blatantly smeared paint on the glass rail panels and large unsmoothed spots of plaster left over by the hands of rushed and unskilled labor show clearly how China has been constructing its architecture. Meanwhile, the Urban Hive tower, can be read as repetitive or even “boring” at the superficial level with its uniformly porous exterior; however, this seemingly less interesting form is actually an extroverted structural skin constructed in a way that the Chinese would not be able accomplish at the speed at which it is developing. It is a 230 foot tall concrete skin that is almost entirely cast in place. Kim is highly respected among Korean architects for taking this route instead of using pre-cast modules which would have obviously been the more economical, time-efficient, easily adjustable method for such a repetitive skin pattern.

Cast-in-place concrete

And yet it is possible for the building to be constructed with such a high level of quality because the nation has matured over time enough in its development to come to the conclusion that quality has some kind of desired significance. Regardless of its benefits in the long-term strategy of growth and development, the nation seems to have recognized the significance of producing quality at the cost of reducing quantity in building construction.

This kind of quality in building construction in Korean cities is apparent throughout the city at the urban level. Regardless of the kind and degree of vibrancy at the pedestrian level compared to Chinese cities, streets in Korean cities are significantly cleaner and greener even though some are much older than those of many Chinese cities. It is not simply a difference in the amount and density of shoes that have stepped on a given square meter of land, but rather everything from the quality of the layout of pavers to the absence of trash and drops of saliva. These clean streets are decorated with sufficient and well-maintained greenery that make all its wide boulevards psychologically wider by giving it visual breathing room.

Ultimately, this pursuit of quality seems to come from the country’s age. Korea is at an age that is still young enough to be expanding and developing at a rapid pace like many Chinese cities, but has, at the same time, enough years of experience and trials under its belt to pursue and understand the importance of a quality life and society. This maturity culminates beautifully in the recently renewed and revitalized Cheonggyecheon River at the heart of Downtown Seoul.

Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, Korea

It is a stream decorated with stones and gentle green that flows through a contrasting sectional frame of skyscraping steel and concrete. Its specific direction of “Design” and decoration can be argued but it is unquestionably a widely used public space for the community that is even used during business hours because of its strategic location in between a long stretch of commercial high-rises. A city that is willing to spend a hefty 386 billion Korean dollars to implement such urban spaces simply for free and unmitigated public enjoyment (and not commercial gain), is a city that has matured enough to afford the money, time and political will to do so.

But after three years of careful constructing the Urban Hive, the equivalent Chinese counterparts would have designed and constructed dozens more. Is the quality of smooth plaster and even paint worth the sacrifice of building dozens more projects generating money, advancing infrastructure and widening the availability of demanded program? Spending just two months in China has lead me to a kind of calculated tolerance towards this idea of quantity over quality in growth. While the westerner might see “quality” in a single program within the boundaries of a single building, perhaps the Chinese find “quality” in the sheer density and availability of an incredibly wide plethora of programs all spread out, but accessible by intelligent infrastructure.

Intersection with seven multi-story indoor malls, restaurants, and three subway lines

While we look down at the singular quality of products that are “Made in China,” we fail to realize the sheer quantity and widespread availability of goods they produce and provide worldwide. In fact, China has managed to accomplish this feat in a mere few decades of rapid development. We can only begin to imagine where the country will be in the decades to come.

– Daniel

Filed under: building, China, construction, Facade, Infrastructure, Korea, Program, Uncategorized

Raised by Digital Wolves

For the past three years I have watched my niece Emily grow from the point where she was conceived in the hospital until now. And simply watching her development has been one of the most extraordinary phenomenons I have ever seen. Although I’m only less than 2 decades older I can see a huge gap in the way that we were raised. Just last year when Emily was only 2 years old, I found out that she could count in 5 different dialects: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Cantonese, and Hungarian. Although it’s true it was our family has taught her Cantonese, English, and Hungarian, none of us could’ve possibly have taught her any Spanish or Mandarin. It came to me that the very thing that taught her was the very device that she held on so dearly: the iPhone. This wasn’t  happening to just Emily but to all those that were her age where  kids less than 5 years old could already count, read, and write before even signing up for elementary school. IPads and DS lites were suddenly in the hands of every child and our generation started to see the power and influence of technology.

One of the hottest topics nowadays is the effects of technology on the developing world. We have noticed people to be extremely involved in the cyber world to the point where we have entire cities rely on using smart phone as means to purchase, travel, and conduct conversations. Technology has been so influential to our lives that we can, at any time of the day, exchange and interact with people from all parts of the world simply by sitting in front of a desk or sitting in a taxi. Even now while I’m traveling I am able to see the site, know its history, experience it by video, and understand every inch of floor plan moments before I arrive at the site. The extent of the information that is available to us as well as the sense of or time and space has completely been released and rearranged by the introduction of technology. Then as architects, as those who are crafters of space and time, we can only imagine what this means to the future of urbanism.

In the 19th century we witnessed the dramatic rise in the debates of new cities in the future of the built environment and its influence to the new urban vocabulary. Urban planning was no longer about the traditional sense of space and time because it has redefined our capabilities by placing us in a world that is timeless and placeless. We are now living in a generation where everything is hybrid and instant. We require high speed broad bands, ‘on the dot’ high speed rails, and one click financial transactions. The narrative of the 21st century suddenly changed and we took it all for the better and for the worse. The good part was that technology led to new materials, new ways to solve major urban problems, and new ways of architectural expression but it also created an enormous problem of making the public space less public.

The Boulevard, as understood by the Parisians was a wide street that encircled the center of the city. This was a place of high quality landscape, wide lanes, and was considered one of the principal features of the city where everyone gathered and socialized. But now we begin to see the traditional spaces of gathering slowly depopulating because with the rise of the digital age, it makes us “depend less and less on being in a specific place and a specific time “(Negroponte 35) And now “the bandwidth has replaced the boulevard” (Lerup).

Although this is partially true, I believe that architects and planners have begun to see the change and have used technology as a medium to the new urban developments. Digital living has simply ‘added another layer’ to our urban life where public areas now are able to not only interact with people around them but simultaneously interact with people around the world. Weeks ago while AAU was in Seoul, my classmates and I were walking down one of the main boulevards with the rest of the group when suddenly we lost them. With no means of communication we found one of many “media poles” down the boulevard and we were able to email a picture with a message to our instructor. The media poles were only one of the many artifacts that made Seoul such an icon as a digital city. The streets are full of digital signage, subways are fully interactive, and museums are mostly interactive as well. We have come to see in the 21st century the introduction to the ‘smart street’ and ‘virtual communities’.

Another benefit of the digital age is that we are witnessing a language of extreme compression and hybridization where not only are our devices getting smaller but the programs are experiencing hybridization as well. In Taiwan, one of the major places to gather in Taipei is a bookstore called Eslite. Eslite  is a super node of program that integrates not only a wide selection but books but is also a place for retail, food and beverage, and possibly anything the heart can desire. It has become such an amazing place of gathering that people literally spend their weekends at the bookstore. Another super node is the IFC in Hong Kong where people can live, shop, eat, go to the doctor, do their laundry and go to the airport all in one building. As Leffbvre says it “abandoning humanism allows us to enter super humanism” (Leffbvre 10)

So for those who have seen this rise of the digital forces and have called it a death to our generation do not realize it is the very thing raised us. We are no longer raised in the traditional sense but like Emily, we are raised by technology and are the resultant of a great transformation in the way of life.  So whether we are architects or urbanists, we should come to see that now there is a new way to think about the narrative and that technology should not restrain our designs but rather enable it to achieve better and higher goals.

Anita

Filed under: Architecture, Digital age, Korea, Seoul, Social Development, south korea, technology, Urbansim

Absurdity, Sex, and Architecture

Our judgment of what is good or what is acceptable is widely based on what we see in the day to day as well as our own boundaries of what is exciting or simply ridiculous.  There is a degree of absurdity that makes something really interesting and exciting- that little rub of inconsistency and obscurity.   It is that little inconsistency of mystery or absurdity that sparks our interest as critics of the everyday.  In this sense, architecture is like sex.  Both seek to push boundaries in able to reach new heights of understanding.  This is portrayed and evaluated in parallel formats as we’ve seen by Rem Koolhaas, Sophia Coppola, Paulo Coelho and Godard’s own analysis.

Rem Koolhaas writes of this relationship in SMLXL.  He sites Japanese porn as this instance where it is more exciting to have the most essentials parts hidden from view.  In many Japanese pornographies the essentials are blurred out and left a mystery, revealing nothing but pixilation.  Rem relates his pixilation to miniature Mondrian paintings of flesh colored squares and dark lines.   These vague lines and color blocks reveal nothing and everything  because the excitement of what could be there is so much more promising than see the actual genitalia.  In this case it is the relationship of the unseen and the seen that relates to good architecture.  It is not the absurdity of the new and different but the allure of what could be there.  An architectural example of this is Mario Botta’s part of the Leeum Museum.   The exterior begs of mystery, giving no hint of what is inside.  The brick is pixilated unto itself, departing from what we expect it to be.  Upon entering you are shuttled to the top and forced to circulate in a downward spiral.    The cylindrical stairs are punctuated with framed views to reveal what lies ahead of you, but only as a glimpse.  When traversing each floor the circular plan furthers this selectivity.  One is never allowed to see the museum exhibit as a whole, there is no grand hallway lined with celadon blue ceramics.   Instead each piece is revealed to you in its own time, each turn you walk around allowing a new experience.   There is a constant sense of being teased by unknowing of what is around the up coming turn and never being allowed to see the whole.

In this way good architecture can vastly be related to Sophia Coppolla’s Lost in Translation.  The sexual relationship (or truly lack there of) between the film’s main characters is reflected in how the city is framed.    The sexual and visual tension between these characters is overtly apparent.  There is obvious attraction between these characters, shared feelings, but nothing is ever done about it.  They lie in bed next to each other, speaking so very intimately, but nothing physical ever happens between them.  This is reflected in how Tokyo is filmed.  In a sense, Tokyo becomes a visual embodiment of their sexual relationship.  When they positively interact we see the Tokyo Skyline from some high up floor- out of reach, beautiful and alluring in all the glory the Tokyo skyline can possess.  It is only when their relationship becomes tumultuous that we are allowed to see the city in any other way.  When there is no longer a tease or allure in those character’s relationship the city is no longer distant and alluring- it’s sonorous and crowded.  When they go out to lunch in the prime of their disgruntled state the bowels of Tokyo are shown- the street life, cars, taxis, honking, ect.

Finally, there is the attraction of the absurd.  This is an attraction we can’t help but simultaneous dislike and enjoy.  The absurd identifies with the book by Paulo Coelho Eleven Minutes.   The main character briefly gets drawn into the world of sadomasochist sex because of the clarity is brings her.  Physical pain helped to take her to the limits of what is her conceived reality.  However the absurdity involved is that each experience creates a new outlying boundary, therefore each following experience forces further exploration to get that previous high.  Each experience then becomes more absurd and desensitizing, creating greater distance from the original meaning.  A further example of this is in Godard’s Week End, a film so absurd it is literally a car crash in which you can’t help but stare.   Despite the obvious spectacle of absurdity throughout the film, the film opens by talking about a woman’s fetishized threesome.  She describes each act in her sexual encounter involving improbable positions, cracking an egg with her buttocks and cumming in a dish of milk.  Essentially these types of absurd sexual experience relates back to the absurdity of architecture.   They are removed from the everyday life, and have one far beyond that rub interesting inconsistency, so very far from its origin, that it is a bad thing.  Such architectural sites include Paju in South Korea or The Ring in Shenzhen.  Paju falls into absurdity due to the excessiveness of design.  Each building holds true in singular form but together, a town where everything is individually designed without consideration of its surroundings, becomes absurd.  It is too much and too far from its origin.   This is also true for The Ring but in a different way.  It’s the scale and perfect symmetry that makes it so absurd.  Its simply too large for anyone to walk casually, programmed or not.  Yet for some reason there is something rather enticing about both of these pieces of architecture.  For Paju, there is an allure that can’t really be explained except to say it is visually stunning.  That these publishers and stores care to define themselves by using architecture on this type of design scale is impressive.  Each building creates an identity and draw for itself.  The Ring stands to be even more impressive to me.  In a country like China, where the Great Wall can be seen from outer space, how does something as large and cumbersome as this massive ring as a centralization tool seem out of place?  It is by all means fantastical, yet still has a function that could only be fulfilled in a country such as China; in city like Shenzhen where everything is so new everyone is always looking for that next boundary to top.  But what could possibly be that next fix?

So is it better to seek that perfect mysterious moment or break out of the everyday?  Each architecture we’ve looked at through Asia and in truly in our lifetime seeks to accomplish at least one of these.  And so it is when we see these moments of inconsistency, mystery, or absurdity that makes that moment come to life and be more than simply the mundane.

//Lexie

Filed under: Architectural Absurdity, Architectural Spectacle, Architecture, China, Godard, Korea, Psyche, Rem Koolhaas, Uncategorized

The Autonomous Individual

“The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.”

The flight back to the states granted the time for reflection on what had just happened to me (and hopefully all of us) in the last four months.  A journey like the one we just partook in has the ability to completely change one’s life, usually for the better.  In my perspective, this experience has allowed me to gain a better perspective on myself, what I want to accomplish in my lifetime, and where I fit into the equation of the metropolis.

At the beginning of the program, the readings we were assigned spoke about ideas and concepts of cities that we probably could not relate to just yet.  I thought I understood what the readings were trying to convey back then, but now, looking back, I realize that there is no way I could have comprehended these readings as well as I have while simultaneously traveling throughout metropolises in Asia.  As I reopened Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” I read the first sentence (quoted above) and instantly had a stronger stance on the reading.  Prior to this trip, I would think that being an autonomous individual would be a positive characteristic, however, I quickly realized how preserving my autonomy while in a foreign culture would be extremely detrimental to my ability to gain a new perspective and ascertain an understanding of various cultures and cities for that matter.

Being abroad offers something that is so far out of reach from a classroom’s offerings.  Reading pieces like Simmel’s, Ibeling’s, and deCerteau in the comfort of my living room at school would not have had even the closest impact on me as they did while in Asia.  Reading these articles and excerpts and then being able to look out of my hotel window into the city, walk the city, and be immersed in the culture is something that is of the utmost value…something that could never take place inside of a classroom.  Architecture is a field that requires this kind of supplemental knowledge.  Gaining a better understanding and perspective of architecture requires one to become aware of how this discipline affects people internationally (whether people realize it or not) and how simply by crossing the border to a neighboring country, these affects can morph into something unrelated, each carrying their own distinct qualities.

So, as Simmel points out, one of the biggest problems today is that we as individuals take too much interest in our own independence and persona that we forget (or lack the general interest) to look at the bigger picture…society, culture, architecture, history, as an international organism, rather than merely through the eyes of our own culture. There is so much that people miss out on every single day because they do not search for it.  Knowledge is always surrounding us, it just has to be found.

_sunny.

Filed under: Architecture, China, Japan, Korea

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

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

 

My experience in Shanghai has been a humbling experience of sorts. I’ll be the first to admit that before the trip, I had negative pre-conceptions of China as still being largely third world, despite the endless news reports of its quick economic development. If you asked me what my expectations of China were prior to leaving on this trip exactly three and a half months ago, I’d quite simply say:

“Well, it’s probably going to be smelly, dirty, and gloomy”.

Now, while I would say most of that is generally still true, I cannot doubt the fact that I am genuinely appalled and afraid of where China is and fast becoming in the global community. A plethora of high-speed rail developments, no shortage of planned economic zones, heavily invested by leading international businesses, epicenter of global events, and did I mention the growing population of 1.4 billion?

If that’s not enough to strike fear in your adversaries, then I don’t know what will.

But it’s not just China. Our initial drive through Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong provided a small (personally, I wish we spent MUCH more time there) glimpse into true “urbanism” as we call it. Layered densities both horizontal and vertical, hybridity of programmatic elements, successfully integration of infrastructural systems; all these are characteristics of what we saw, felt, experienced. In short, we experienced an everydayness that was foreign to us, and yet at the same time intriguing and exciting because, quite simply, it worked.

But what does that all mean for us now, especially post-trip while we’re safely back within the completely different world of America? If anything, this trip has opened my eyes to the deficiencies that plague a stagnant America that is utterly stuck in its tracks. Of course, we do enjoy many freedoms unparalleled in most countries, but America is far from its glory days. If the 20th century was about America, then the 21st century is increasingly becoming about China.  Friedman’s “From WikiChina” article, albeit humorous, provides an insightful look into perhaps how the world is continuing to view us. Friedman states, “ The Americans have replaced working to exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself ‘exceptional’, only others can bestow that adjective upon you”. Ouch, but so true. I mean, what’s so exceptional about American infrastructure? We have 10 lane freeway expansion projects in LA that stretches for miles, but the only exceptional thing about that is perhaps the iconic smog generated from all the car traffic. We can’t even agree to pass a bill to install a network of high speed rail transit systems that will even go over 90 miles per hour. The realization of such an infrastructural revolution within America is a lesson that can be taken from Asia, where high speed is a necessity of most people’s transportation. Like cities such as Los Angeles, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to move from point A to point B without taking hours in traffic congestion. Also, the mobility of the individual becomes increased tremendously, allowing a greater opportunity for distributed intra-national economic growth. But no, industries that include airlines have lobbied hard against it in an effort to erase the competition; this along with many other political/economic factors have ubiquitously hindered any real change in our infrastructure.

Friedman is right when he says, “…the Americans are polarized over all the wrong things”. We are often so entrenched in our ideological beliefs that we live in a black and white world. This is that, this is not and cannot be that. Lefebvre touches upon this “situation” as he calls it: “ A modern object clearly states what it is, its role and its place.” Americans often view society and place in the same manner: a mall is just a mall; a train station is where people get on and off a train, etc. But there’s so much more to that, the possibilities of experience and juxtaposition of program and space are endless and intriguing if only we operated in the grey area. Tokyo Midtown was not just an office building complex, it was a subway station, mall, hotel, private residences, outdoor park all interweaved and layered to create a different kind of urban environment that was continuously engaging the public at different levels. We saw, in Hong Kong, the IFC mall turned into an airport terminus with an express rail line that directly linked the airport to the subterranean level. The airport then became more than itself, it was a transportation hub and also a lifestyle center, complete with cultural amenities, retail shops, restaurants, cafes, etc; the phenomenon of “infratecture”.

Lefebvre states: “Today we see a worldwide tendency to uniformity”. But beyond that, the tendency is also towards a sense of complacency. Complacency for how things are, how comfortable things can get. If given the same opportunity to see/experience the things I have in these last 15 weeks, there are people I know who would be unwilling, simply because their life back home is all too comfortable. Therein lies the greatest danger, and unfortunately America has become lost in its own complacency. If we do not stimulate ourselves with curiosity and intrigue, what good is replicating what has already been done before? How can we affect the world around us if all we know how to do and think is through mimicry? Asia, specifically China, is the new frontier, pioneering the world into the 21st century through technology, infrastructure, and most importantly urbanism. It’s about time America woke up from its dreams of what once was and realize we are losing the race in a world has long since moved on.

So when I return, upon being bombarded with “What did you see?” or “How was Asia?”, I’ll simply reply:

Wow, you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you…

_Jonathan

Friedman, Thomas, “From WikiChina” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/opinion/01friedman.html?src=twrhp

Filed under: America, China, Infrastructure, Japan, Korea, Lefebvre, Psyche, Urbanism

Complexities of Landscape and Architecture

After recently vising three Suzhou Gardens [Master of the Nets, Humble Administrator Garden, and the Lingering Garden], I noticed that they all follow the same concept of multiple points of view focused towards a particular item of interest. Although their sizes varied, all three created a wonderful narrative using nature that is supplemented by architecture. The Japanese and Korean gardens did have built forms that were in the gardens, but spatially served different purposes. I would argue that the surrounding clusters of rooms and courtyards in the Chinese scholar gardens have a similar level of spatial complexity as the gardens themselves. Consequently, the built form and landscape can be appreciated either together or separately.

The Chinese gardens are manicured, but not to the extent of the Japanese gardens where everything is trained to be in a perfect position. Also,the scholar gardens have an item of focus, typically a lake, or a pavilion that can be seen from multiple angles. In contrast, Japanese gardens dictate particular paths and has one panoramic moment of reflection as the end of the garden blurs seamlessly into the natural backdrop behind it. Korean gardens are expansive forests of specific plantings and grow naturally, giving it an aura of unknown adventure. In contrast to both, Chinese gardens sequence these various frames and moments around the same object using winding paths, giving the garden a larger feel than it actually is.

I spent most of my visit in the landscape portion of the compound, and coneqeuently, needed more time to look at the courtyard spaces surrounding the gardens. Each cluster of rooms is connected through a labrynth of pathways that surround the perimeter of the garden. The courtyards have a smaller planting or rock sculpture so the inhabitants inside can focus the views outdoors. After a few minutes of wandering, I forgot that the garden was right beyond the wall, and appreciated these smaller and more isolated spaces. In comparison to the Suzhou gardens, the Japanese ones utilized the built form as a mediation between interior and exterior [together], while the Korean gardens used the physical architecture as a place to enjoy the garden [separate] to the point where the landscape engulfed the actual garden.

When proceeding from room to room in the scholar gardens, there is a constant compression and expansion of space. By reducing the ceiling height of the walkway that leads into the next courtyard, the release into the open space is accentuated. The same effect could not have been achieved if the spaces were all uniformly scaled. This contraction and expansion also contributes to a garden’s ingenious use and complex layering of space. Rather than using architecture to achieve the same effect, the Japanese and Korean gardens thickened the landscape around paths.

The Chinese, Korean, and Japanese gardens evoke various of emotions with the use of space, architecture and nature. Regardless of these different reactions, all Asian gardens effectively mediate the tensions of the city with their introverted nature. They remove and transplant you into a completely new world of fantasy, adventure, and reflection. In Japan, the sequencing of the garden started right from the street scape, gradually removing me from the business of the city surrounding it. Rather than use physical walls, the Japanese used the landscape and vegetation to mediate this built density surrounding it. In Korea and China, there were physical manifestations of separation from the city. The entrance gates are grand enough to offset the city’s proximity to the garden. I was immediately transported away from the city with one step past these gates, which is a different than the Japanese method, yet just as effective in mediating the city. These small instances of relief from the largeness and stress of the city, make their relaxing and reflective qualities even grander.

_Joyce

Filed under: Architecture, China, compression, expansion, Humble Administrator Garden, Japan, Korea, Landscape, Lingering Garden, Master of the Nets, separation, spatial complexity, together

The Seoul in Kahn

A building of stark difference from its surroundings arises into your viewing plane.  There seems to be no entrance, but upon further inspection you realize its hiding behind dense shrubs.  You cross through a threshold to the primary circulation space.  In this interstitial space the great outdoors lie just outside your view while the main body of the building rises on the opposite side.  Stairs are presented, leading you to a seemingly ambiguous destination.  As you travel upward, you reach a platform that allows you a reprieve to investigate this mysterious vertical space.  You can see down onto the underground level from these circulation platforms.  The subterranean patio in your view includes personal effects of the office worker it services.  Directly across from where you’re standing there is a small office space removed from the programmatic body of the building.  The large window of that office space allows you a glimpse of the happenings of the floors you are not yet a part of.  While walking to your destination, you drag your hand along the cool concrete walls that were so well formed.  Smooth perfect geometries, exacting edges, crafted ties.  The concrete and darkness make for a feel of safety, permanence, and a faint essence of the sea.  Light cuts perfectly through the space to illuminate just what you want to see as it is meant to be seen.

What am I describing?

In another instance, you find yourself walking through a manmade canyon.  This space is vast and weighty.  While walking through this densely ephemeral space, your reflection distorts as you past the varying angles of glass.  A view is slowly presented to you.  It is perfectly framed by the buildings that make this space.  Suddenly, upon seeing this view, you realize the connection this view has to the building surrounding you and why this view was chosen and that it could be no other view.

What am I describing?

Are these imaginary spaces?  Certainly not.  Those who have been to the Salk Institute by Louis Kahn can identify with these experiential descriptions.  Yet so could those who have been to The Lock Museum  and Ehwa University in Seoul.  The first description is crafted to simultaneously describe the entry sequence to one of the laboratory towers at the Salk Institute as well as the entry sequence to the Lock Museum in Seoul by Seung HyoSang.  The second description is meant to describe the primary community spaces at both the Salk Institute and Ehwa University’s Student Center by Dominique Perrault.

South Korea is an extremely unexpected place to suddenly appreciate Kahn’s vast impact on architecture.  I don’t think any architect can doubt that the prolific work of Louis Kahn has resonated through the architecture field and will continue to do so for years to come.

//Lexie

Filed under: Architecture, Korea

When Space Transcends the Urban Condition

Observation deck at the DMZ

Over 20 million people live and work in the metropolitan area of Seoul, South Korea.  The city’s dense network of subways, highways, and tall buildings extends as far as the horizon on either side of the Han River and in almost all directions.  Current growth patterns see Seoul’s original urban fabric of low-rise buildings being replaced en masse by Tokyo-style mega developments built over subway stations and shopping malls.  All of this vertical development is justified, made necessary even, by increasing land values in the central city where transit coverage and cultural amenities are most heavily concentrated.  Needless to say, excess space is in short supply.

China's flag rises above that of Hong Kong

A comparable situation exists in Hong Kong, one of China’s two Special Administrative Regions, and is even more pronounced due to severe limitation of buildable land.  This limitation is a consequence of both geography (the territory is comprised of mountainous islands) and policy (previous British colonial rule demarcated 75% of land as nature preserves).  The lack of available land is so extreme that it has now become economical for developers to artificially extend the boundaries of Hong Kong Island in order to build just a handful of buildings on reclaimed land.  Sometimes, as in the case of the convention center, the harbor is dredged for years to construct a single building.

Yet while these two cities deal with approximate economics of land use, they are linked in a more significant fashion by their complete reliance on empty land holding no development potential whatsoever: political buffer zones.  Whatever the magnitude of growth and increase in real estate values that has occurred in these cities over the last half century, no land holds more value to Seoul than Korea’s DMZ and to Hong Kong than its undeveloped border with mainland China.  Without these buffer zones, it is almost certain that neither city would exist in its present form.  This is because these two zones separate capitalistic, market driven societies that host international business from communist, state-run economies to the north.  To be sure, North Korea and mainland China hold widely different viewpoints on global politics and economics.  While Pyongyang remains highly isolated and stagnant, Shenzhen is growing explosively and increasingly fostering closer ties to its more famous neighbor to the south.  But the fact remains that native Hong Kongers seldom identify with the mainland and many young people are leery of 2046, when China’s ‘one country, two systems’ approach to governing Hong Kong comes to an end.

In visiting Seoul and Hong Kong then, I have witnessed for the first time politicization of space.  These are spaces shaped and defined not by designers or planners but by national security interests and economic preservation.  Like architecture however, their usefulness and purpose lies in the void, not the walls that shape it.

Matt Luery

Filed under: Capitalism, China, DMZ, Government, Hong Kong, Korea

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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