URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Duality of the City

The phenomenon of city growth illustrates much more than the physical manifestation of the physical urban environment. It is both the physical and the metaphysical that encompass the complexity of urban architecture and the individual experience of the everyday life. In essence, we can say that the city, as a metropolis, exists and functions with dualistic tendencies; it is material and immaterial, public and private, past and present. Most Chinese cities, especially, Beijing, have had a long cultural history leading up to the end of the 20th century. However, the recent jump from the city in response to global modernization has created an uneven displacement of old city versus new city fabric. As a consequence of this vast expansion of new cultural production, the modern Chinese city is continuously operating within a zone intersecting the real, surreal, and the extinct city. In Xiaoshuai Wang’s film Beijing Bicycle, the characteristic urban qualities of the city and urban everyday are portrayed and focused through the discourse of old versus new. Wang’s visualization through thematic means conveys the disparage between the quintessential image of Beijing against the backdrop of the city’s transformation into a contemporary metropolis.

The film is mainly focused on the built form, the manifestation of the development and change of Beijing’s fabric from old, panoramic hutongs, to tall, vertical skyscraper cities. I am reminded of a telling scene, where Wang depicts the modernization of Beijing through a series of sequences showing the congestion of car traffic. Yet within this gridlock, we see the seamless flow of bicycles, old and young alike, weave through traffic in-sync creating a wonderful image of order amidst chaos. Wang’s fast-paced thematic vision encompasses the physical spaces in an intimate fashion, revealing the microcosm of the crowded, dirty, and narrow alleys of the hutong districts. These images are all portrayals of Wang’s image of the urban everyday life; crisscrossing alleyways, compactness are in fact the reality of the everyday to most rural immigrants. Wang’s focus is not on the modernization of Beijing, although he does pay respect to it, but rather a depiction into the disappearing fabric of old Beijing; the result of urbanization and metropolitan living. The cinematic experience of Beijing Bicycle presents a focus on a city that has been shaped by many different portrayals that have often hidden or eradicated the true urban. The thematic context presents a rather disjunctive view of Beijing as polemical, sprawled, and diverse; it is an illustration of the Beijing’s change from historical to modernity/commercial. And yet within the chaos and confusion, the city is the setting and container in which people’s lives take place. The story of a country boy who tries to make it in the big city is intertwined with a schoolboy struggling to gain the attention and recognition he desperately desires. The result is a wonderful narrative of two lives meeting and changing each other. All in all, the image of the city is never repetitive nor homogenous, never merely a single portrayal, but a combination of many images and experiences. Through Beijing Bicycle, Wang hopes to convey the sentiment that perhaps the city transcends just the material, but becomes more representative about the experiential and metaphysical.

_Jonathan

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Filed under: Architecture, Beijing, beijing bicycle, China, cinema, Duality, film, history, hutong, Modernization, physical, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Xiaoshuai Wang

Lambo Effect

After visiting 798 creative industry in Beijing, there was one sculpture that caught my eye. The sculpture was a model of an old school Lamborghini, Finally art that speaks my language. Instead of the model being covered in Lambo yellow, it was patterned with a multitude of bright colors. As I stepped closer I realized that it was not actually paint, rather it was plastered in Lottery Tickets.

The sculpture, by “Ghost of A Dream”, is a reflection of wealth promised by the lottery. Each object in the exhibit represents a familiar, western symbol of wealth that people can easily associate with. Creating these objects out of scratched lottery tickets represents individual’s monetary hopes being followed by their frustrating loss. This philosophy is backed by Western’s obsession with the pursuit of happiness through materialistic goods. Displaying this piece in China, a country that is fascinated with western way of life, reflects a universal frenzy for consumption.

The drive for consumption is created by the free market, and the ideas of  creating a government driven by corporations and consumerism. This model created industrial revolutions, which sky rocketed America’s economy, power, and influence through modernization and development. As a country, America started to understand that it cannot consume forever, and currently the economy is faltering due to over consumption and free market faults.

China currently is going through a very similar growth model that America has previously been through. The political model of communism is starting to take on more of a free market approach in China, and the “American Dream” model is starting to become much more prevalent in the east. This rapid development and modernization in China has already started to create a free market, in which many western values are being used as precedent. In order for China to grow as a country they are going to also have to consume.

What is starting to create tension with the idea of consumption is that resources are already starting to dwindle. Wars have been fought over oil control, and the amount of pollution that has been pumped into the environment is starting to make areas inhospitable. When we start to compare numbers, America is a country of 310 million people compared to China’s roughly 1.4 billion people, the idea of scale starts to come into play. America is starting to realize that the “American Dream” model is not necessarily a practical mindset for a world where resources are limited. America’s dependence on the car has started to create congestion and a market dependent on the price of oil. Oil is only one of numerous resources that are starting to vanish, and in the future different resources will become higher in demand.

We can only predict the impact of western values possessed by the east, and in many ways we can only hope that China learns from America’s faults as opposed to mimicking them. With the argument that America had its chance to develop, and now it is China’s turn, we already see the immaturity of the situation, and this is the part that starts to get serious. China’s search for quantitative and economic power has really been the driver for this western, free market ideology. As cities in China start to get covered in smog, this is not necessarily viewed as a problem rather as progress. Factories begin to pump out more and more products, and the instant result is that China becomes more powerful and modernized. This mentality ultimately creates the effect of 1.4 billion people searching for their yellow Lamborghini, and we can only hope they will be hybrid.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: 798, AAU, America, American, Art, China, Creative, development, Dream, Free, Industry, Lamborghini, Market, Modernization, Politics, Renjilian, Ross, Urbanism, , ,

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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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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