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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

“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

The Bar: My Classroom

After fourteen hours of flying from LAX to Hong Kong I was so relieved to finally settle into the Cosmo Hotel and just relax. Yet, the second I was handed my room key Andrew said, “Meet downstairs in ten minutes at the bar”. A bit confused, I grabbed my bags, threw them into my temporary home, and went back downstairs to see what Andrew had in store for us. Opening the massive iron door, I saw a projector cued up and a power point presentation, and I knew this wouldn’t be a leisurely welcome drink. As Andrew proceeded to give his lecture, he mentioned mixing multiple programs in one space giving the example as this bar as our classroom.

Then the real lesson began. Walking around Hong Kong I could really see the combined programs Andrew talked about: the subway station as a shopping center, the street as a restaurant, and the lobby of the Bank of Shanghai as a pedestrian road and public gathering space. It made sense that by not limiting program, the city becomes a more lively and urban place.

These extra programs latch onto the major program and feed off of the energy and foot traffic this main program has to offer. An example is the underground shopping that is parasitic to the pedestrian traffic in the subway paths. I experienced this relationship in Hong Kong, Korea, and Taipei; all three times this type of dual programming really contributed to the urbanism of these underground walkways. Combining uses of one space combines users as well. It allows for targeted or untargeted interaction with the public and public realm. By using this type of infrastructure as programs, the density of a city is dispersed to the Z Axis as well and this generates a dense section through the urban fabric.

Making a cut allows you to see the connection of the public realm and how important the intersection of program is for this interaction to occur. The retail and public interaction inside the underground walkways compels the public to retract into the infrastructure while engaging in the collective. This space is now not only a place to access point A from point B; it is a restaurant, a market, a pharmacy, a place to access the internet, a mall, and an optometrist all in one space. Now the juxtaposition of program becomes a sequential narrative for the users, and begins to bring the street-life down into the Z axis. By extending the street, the city becomes more vertically interactive and a much more 3D place. This new urban avenue connects the layers of a city and communicates a temporal sequence that is unique to each person. Creating and weaving new relationships with the city everyday, the user now constructs his or her own perception of life in each urban environment. Good or bad, this relationship is unique and no one else can experience this exact progression through time and space. Inevitably the city and the user unite.

Look at this video to understand the urbanistic layers that mixed programming creates in Hong Kong:

 

Semone Agasina

Filed under: Program, Uncategorized

Not Welcome in the NYC

There is a reason that Mr. Gehry always seems to get run out of town whenever he builds in the Big Apple. 8 Spruce Street, the latest work by American Architect and USC alum Frank Gehry, is touted as a skyline success and labeled a turning point in the ‘transition from the modern to the digital age.’ Nicolai Ouroussoff’s ‘Downtown Skyscraper for the Digital Age’ Architecture Review article in the February 09, 2011 edition of the New York Times Art & Design section makes the particularly audacious claim that the building is the ‘finest skyscraper to rise in New York City since Eero Saarinen’s CBS building’ and even more boldly claims that the building marks the birth of the digital era as Philip Johnson’s AT&T building did at the dawn of modernism.

Unfortunately, I believe the project falls short of those boastful claims.

Mr. Ouroussoff needs to reanalyze the building as apart of the dense urban environment of New York City. I fear that the Times writer is still constantly obsessed with the makeup of a particular building rather than its operation and performance within the urban construct. There is so much said in the article praising Mr. Gehry for contrasting beautifully with the terrible commercial drones that poison its context. There needs to be more discussion on how the architect missed a genuinely precious opportunity to pay homage to Tschumi and inject some cross-programming magic into this rather mundane Manhattan high-rise. Mr. Ouroussoff mentions a minimum of three user groups and programs that will occupy the building: residential, educational, and medical. Herein lies a fantastic mix of different users groups under one building skin and yet no program is altered to coerce the three to interact.

Unfortunately, the access points and circulation paths never come together so that at some juncture the user groups could mix. There is a precedent for a similar strategy that SOM utilized with their Tokyo Midtown Project by creating a collection of various programs and organizing them so various user groups could interact and utilize the space to its full potential. For those of you not familiar with the project, SOM organized, in one particular tower, a variety of different programs-from offices, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a hospital, post office, and a kindergarten-in order to achieve an efficient flow from the bottom of the building to the top. What can also be appreciated are the unique interactions that occur from different program users at interaction points. This aspect was completely lost in the Spruce Street project.  The author continues on to say that this “is architecture that convey[s] the infinite variety of urban life.” Urban life is about the interactions of an assortment of peoples, places, ways of life, beliefs, etc. There is very little urban life in the Spruce Street building. It is simply another skyscraper on the Manhattan skyline that does not seem interested in entertaining an intelligent urban strategy.

The city on a macro-level is an ecology of different inhabitants who all live, work, and interact together on a daily basis. Why not create a microcosm of this in a multi-programmed skyscraper, challenging the traditional notions of what a skyscraper is and how it functions?  Philip Johnson’s AT&T building challenged the then-assumptions of what a skyscraper was, why not do the same in a different era? The fact that you could plug this building into any other context only makes the architectural and urbanistic situation worse.

Instead of a sound urban approach, the aesthetic features of the building have become the unnecessary focal point of discussion for this project. The age of the decorated shed is dead as well as Deconstructivism. Architecture can no longer be content with merely providing visual pornography for a public whose tastes have evolved considerably since the dawn of the printing press. The author does make the correct point that the new era of architecture shares an involvement with technology, but where is that seen or discussed on the building? All that is written about is how great the building looks on the skyline and how great the shifting surfaces ‘attack the kind of corporate standardization that is so evident in the buildings to the south and the conformity that it embodie[s].’ There is no contextual response other than the fact that maybe the reflections of the surrounding buildings could be seen on the buildings façade. So even if Mr. Gehry is carrying out an homage to a Mies van der Rohe project, he is still practicing an outdated form of architecture and urbanism.

As for the author, as a student of architecture, it disappoints me to read an article praising a piece of architecture lacking in the essential urbanistic ingredients that are not suggested, but required in the 21st century. You are writing about an outdated form of architecture that has run its course and is not helping the cause of discovering and embracing new forms of architecture that are more about the programmatic interactions of its users than the façade material details.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: 8 Spruce St., Architecture, architecture review, AT&T building, cross programming, Downtown Athletic Club, ecology, Frank Gehry, Manhattan, Mies van der Rohe, New York City, New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, Philip Johnson, Program, Rem Koolhaas, skyscraper, SOM, Tokyo Midtown, Uncategorized, Urbanism, ,

Revitalized by Programming

Buildings go through life cycles, a time period in which the use of the building no longer suites its original purpose. Some developers choose to knock down and start over, but others choose a different approach by reprogramming, and creating a new life out of something that flat lined. Here in China, we have seen a couple of precedents that reexamined the potential for old warehouses, by converting them into trendy creative industries.

Through gentrification, old warehouse districts have been converted into lofts, studios, galleries, cafes, shops, event spaces, and coffee houses. By tailoring these projects towards artists, collectors, and the public, these districts start to become thriving communities, allowing artists to live and work amongst their clients and other artists. These vibrant settings bring people from all over to appreciate artwork, and also to support the parasitic programs. Through successful gentrification, these creative industries become their own ecosystems that support art and the community.

We had the opportunity to visit a couple creative industries in China, The first one we visited was called OCT in Shenzhen, which was designed by Urbanus. Looking at an old warehouse district they were able to use the shells of the existing buildings, and retrofit them with gallery spaces, creative offices, lofts, and cafes. A steel and glass network of bridges, corridors, and storefronts, parasitically connect and feeds off of the existing fabric. This parasitic network grows through the different warehouses creating a communal public space that connects the multitude of retrofitted loft buildings. This contrast of new and old creates this distinctive texture that allows the two systems to be understood for their individual characteristics, and collectively as a way to create a unique public condition. The project is still under construction, but one could imagine these parasitic connections filled with people actively participating and being a part of the creative industry.

798 district in Beijing, created a creative industry by taking over an old artillery factory that was no longer used for manufacturing. 798’s quaint town atmosphere is created through its different street scales including: a major artery cutting through the district, side streets focusing on a smaller more intimate scale, and pedestrian friendly alleyways full of tiny shops, and art. The streets are lined with galleries marked by intricate entryways that carve into the old fabric, giving a fresh edge and identity to the individual warehouses. As you move from gallery to gallery you pass through a series of vaulted spaces and pristine white walls, contrasting the rough brick and aged wood. This district creates more of an attraction than a community, but the specificity allows the creative industry to be very unique, and engaging to the public. By taking out the sterile atmosphere and high admission fees, 798 creates a completely different setting for art that in my opinion, can become more appealing to a broader range of people. Art museums have their place, but this different setting gives art a new audience and appreciation.

The interesting design element behind these creative industries is the importance of program. These buildings were designed with the intentions of manufacturing, and ended up becoming vibrant creative industries. Instead of the buildings being torn down, the shells of the buildings were recycled and given a new life. The importance of program is not necessarily in the form of the space; rather it is in the strategy of program allocation, and finding a concept that creates stimulating environments. The ability to create culturally rich, and vibrant public spaces, out of something that was once intended for private mass production, demonstrates the importance of program strategy. As architects we may not have control of what happens to our projects when we finish the initial design stages, but if we envision interesting concepts, and strategic program strategies, we will hopefully see our ideas successfully carried on. If not the project may be reprogrammed to better fit its users, and sometimes that is just as exciting too.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: 798, Architecture, Art, Beijing, China, Culture, Districts, Gentrification, OCT, Parasitic, Program, Programming, Renjilian, Renovation, Revitalized, Ross, Shenzhen, Urbanism, Urbanus, , ,

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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