USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Horizontal Stacking

Extreme proximity plays a major role in China’s culture.

Girls are seen walking hand in hand or with linked arms. People keep pushing their way into subway cars crushed between the subway door and the person behind them. Those few who are lucky enough to procure a seat on the subway sit shoulder to shoulder. In a queue of people, there is essentially no room between any two people.

Not only is this proximity apparent in personal space, but it also reflected by building proximities.

Buildings at times have less than a meter separating them from the adjacent structure. This small space becomes a shared public space for the occupants of the buildings. This space becomes multi-functional, laundry is hung here, meals take place here, and this is also where neighbors converse. The way the city is built encourages the absence of personal space apparent in its society.

Compared to Japan’s vertically stacked shop houses, which while are still apparent in China, are much less frequent, China is much more horizontally stacked.

While this notion of horizontal stacking is clearly seen in terms of building proximities, this stacking also exists within the buildings themselves. Layers upon layers are created within spaces. The further one ventures into a space, the more one discovers. For example, small alleyways branch of of most roads, filled with more shops and people. Past the display shelves in a DVD store, one finds a doorway leading to an enclosed room where the pirated DVDs are created. In the Xintiandi antique district, stalls full of knockoff antiques border the roads so tightly that the stores with real antiques inside behind are masked by their faux counterparts. Through the tiny storefronts belonging to street food vendors, one can see that they live behind their place of business. In Suzhou, there is an abundance of gentlemen’s “massage parlors,” featuring a woman sitting in the front window, with multiple bedrooms through a door in the back.

In Guy Debord’s Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere, he states that “a new division of tasks occurs within the specialized thought of the spectacular system in response to the new problems presented by the perfecting of this system itself: in the first place modern sociology undertakes a spectacular critique of the spectacle, studying separation with the sole aid of separation’s own conceptual and material tools.”

China has perfected its system in a way to most efficiently utilize space. In order to produce room for a surplus of inhabitants, China has created a super high density environment. In an attempt to perfect the system, one must figure out the problem of how to organize this severe density. The organizational syntax used begins to separate itself from what is in fact a comfortable and efficient environment for the users. Are China’s building proximities the reason for lagging cultural and social development? Essentially the entire community is used to this lack of space due to horizontal stacking. Although this may be seen as an adverse affect on the social development of the culture, one must adapt to the surroundings given to them.

An efficient layout of space is not necessarily congruous with space that a user may use efficiently.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, China, Culture, proximity, ,


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.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
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
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