URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The People Pavilion

I realized that the world expo was about more than just visiting pavilions when I decided to buy a cone of Turkish ice cream on our first day at the venue.

The character serving ice cream was a very animated individual, effortlessly earning the attention of curious bystanders. In fact, the crowd gathered around his booth was so large that in order to even see him you had to find a gap from which to peek. Having made my way to the end of the line, I noticed that the people gathered there were not in fact buying ice cream from this man. Instead, they were excitedly huddled around him and his customers as if waiting for something to happen.

Eh, whatever. I handed the woman standing next to him the twenty renminbi for my cone.

He scooped a generous blob of the sweet treat onto a crunchy cone and handed it to me.

Well, kind of…

Walking away from the booth with cone in hand, I knew I would never forget this ice cream cone and felt the need to share this experience with the rest of the group. After meeting up with everyone else, I told them how great the ice cream was and encouraged them to get a cone for themselves.

Luckily for me, Mr. Liang was down for some dessert. So, I led the group back to the ice cream booth and signaled to the Turkish server that Andrew would like to buy a cone. He winked at me, and this is what followed:

upload in progress… link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4dhLvIyTpU

Looking back at the expo, it seems that the pavilions that were constructed served merely as containers for the most important exhibit: people. The people pavilion, most commonly identified as the obstacle to overcome in an attempt to reach the other pavilions, was by far the largest and most impacting.

Everywhere you looked, there were people.

People taking pictures.

…waiting in line.

…eating in small groups.

…eating in large groups.

…watching shows.

…watching people.

…watching people watching people.

…watching people watching people watching people.

Being the pavilion you experience as you attempt to reach the other attractions, it’s hard to imagine going through the expo without it. Moving through the undeniable “mass” of people filling the space between the pavilions, sometimes very dense and sometimes sparse, felt like moving through a bowl of Jell-O: carving out a path that closes up behind you as soon as you pass through, as if you hadn’t been there at all.

At the other extreme, there were those people pavilions composed of single individuals, much like the one in which Andrew plays protagonist. More than a few of the members of our group were often pulled aside from the group in order to be photographed, almost like celebrities. The more entertaining aspect of these moments is that once a person mustered up the courage to take the first photo, a mob of onlookers felt the need to pose with the same person, not wanting to be left behind.

The whole event in itself became a spectacle for the rest of us standing nearby. Even more so after realizing someone was looking at us, looking at them, looking at us, looking at…

You get the picture.

– alfredo

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Filed under: pavilion, people, Shanghai, Uncategorized, World Expo

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, ,

Where’d all the good people go?

Shenzhen, the new economic prodigy China has been waiting and tirelessly working towards achieving. It’s a city filled with capitalist dreams with an unbelievably fast-pace economy that’s leading the country into a first-world state. Dreams of breaking ground in financial success has led to an entrepreneurial sprawl of corporate powerhouses touching base here with towering skyscraper offices lining the entire cityscape. The push for urbanization has set the stone rolling for land developers and contractors to go on a field day, building like there’s no tomorrow. With a hotel here, and an apartment complex there, the turn-around of Shenzhen’s urban landscape is overnight. But within all the excitement building this city, there’s one most particular and de-valued element absent that is perhaps most essential in making Shenzhen, or any city for that matter, vibrant: the people.

Our ventures through Shenzhen these past few days have made evident a phenomenon that is uniquely it’s own here, unseen in all the previous cities we have visited so far. Shenzhen is quite literally a “ghost” city; there’s a complete lack of social interface on the urban-streetscape level. This, in turn, heavily undermines and distorts any notion of urban centers throughout the city. Shenzhen seems to have employed the “build it, and they will come” urban strategy of densification as a catalyst, rather than densification as a necessity (i.e. Tokyo, Seoul). Plazas, shopping centers, parks, etc. end up as empty, superficial edifices that bring nothing to the community. A prime example is the city center, located at the heart of the Futian district. It’s comprised of both private and public programs; private being the city/central government complex (aka “the Hat) and public being the people’s square coupled with a localized park/garden. First, the plaza remains useless as a gathering/activity space when no one utilizes it. It’s only heavily utilized when performances are held there. Second, the garden is inherently flawed in that it is nearly inaccessible and difficult to navigate through, consequently the space remains unused most of the day. It took us a few wrong turns before we actually figured out where exactly we were oriented within the park, only to find ourselves lost within an unending maze. And the fact that no one was actually in the park to ask for directions made the process ever more confusing.

In “The Mass Ornament”, Kracauer mentions the impetus behind capitalism as an economic system that “does not encompass human beings”. In fact, the operative function of producing is more important that the human being. The mass ornament, as a functional collective, has no play in the formation of the socio-economic state. The rapid proliferation of Shenzhen building developments could only have been possible through a massive labor force, a force supplied through immigrant workers that migrated to Shenzhen out of desperation. Like any other resource, labor is nurtured to produce the maximum gain with the least amount of cost. With a constant influx of poor immigrants, it’s an endless resource construction companies have exploited towards the benefit of urban development. As a result, the city grows in economic power and price of living continues to rise, pushing out the poor migrants from staying, only to be replaced by many others just like them; a cyclical pattern. The key point is to remember is that these workers are constantly filtering in and out of the city, never permanent. Thus, this large constituency of workers is often non-participants in the everyday urban scene. With rising costs in housing and the economy, it’s no wonder that these poor migrants cannot afford to stay long in Shenzhen, only to leave their legacy behind manifested in the cold concrete, steel, and glass towers built by their hands.

_Jonathan

Filed under: Architecture, Capitalism, China, Futian, labor force, mass ornament, Migrant, people, Shenzhen, socio-economics, 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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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