USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

A City Without Tension

After visiting Japan, I was jolted into a completely different society again.  We made our way to Korea where the streets plentiful trash cans and beggars.  Instead of feeling guilty for bumping into someone on the subway, it was perfectly normal to do so and not even have to say sorry.  People were chattering with each other even though they were strangers and also wanted to interact with us foreigners. Just walking around in the hotel in South Korea, it felt like Los Angeles, but replaced with an Asian population.  The loss of security found in Japan was immediately lost when I stepped foot into South Korea.   The South Korean culture has much compassion for each other, which gave them a sense of community that the Japanese people find only when shopping.  However, after visiting Paju Book City, the vibrancy of these people and prolonged excitement of the city disappeared.

Paju was established by publishing companies and other support services of the bookmaking process.  Because literature holds the power of intellectual development, Paju started to have an elitist take.  It became this utopia where every building was perfect in its own individual manner.  Upon arrival, I stared in awe trying to comprehend where I was.  Growing up in Los Angeles, I was accustomed to seeing “ugly” buildings.  Everywhere I looked, each building was designed and executed using a simple diagram.

Panning out from the individual buildings, I started to look at the area as a whole.  There was too much uniformity of being unique, which made it all the more ordinary.  On paper, it seemed that having a wholly designed area would be great!  But actually walking and experiencing the reality of Paju completely changed my perception.  If there were only a few well designed buildings, I would be able to appreciate each one as I came across it.  Obviously each building had its own individual expression, but as a collective, the imperfection disappeared.  Now that each building has its own individual identity, does a cluster of unique buildings still give each building the same individuality?

Why did Paju leave me desensitized while Tokyo and Seoul always kept me engaged?  First of all, the city was inaccessible by the subway other than transferring part of the way there from one.  Also, I had to take a bus to reach it.  Lacking infrastructure diminishes a great amount of people flow to the city, which is why it felt so empty.  However, if it was the intention of the publishers to keep Paju isolated from Seoul, they seemed to have gotten the right effect, but as a consequence eliminated the humanistic qualities found in a REAL city.  It is the sense of a city’s humanistic qualities that can be critiqued and improved on the most.  Yet, because of the lack of this and buildings are well designed, there is barely any dialogue or narrative between human and “city”.

Urbanistically, the only ties within each neighboring building was a weak and unsubstantial patch of garden or landscape. The buildings did not respond to each other and if they did, the city would have had an additional level of cohesiveness that could be appreciated.  However, if the city eliminated the garden to construct a new building, the already weak link would be gone and completely sever the dialogue between buildings.  In Tokyo, I was always actively engaged because the Shiodome buildings had a unifying dialogue through multiple levels.  On the third floor, there was the sky bridge that placed me above the cars and had appropriate access points back to the ground level.  At the same time, there was also the ground and subterranean levels that did the same.  This high level of engagement is what always kept me on my toes and why walking through Paju was so desensitizing.  Paju was missing the multiple layers of human engagement and only used the ground plane to “connect” all its buildings.  Paju’s greatest asset of being a designed city became its greatest flaw by not being fully designed.

Cities like Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong all have infrastructure as their main system to bring people into different parts of the city.  Having a fully designed development like Paju is not the only ingredient to have a “utopian” city.  Paju only has only superficial elements to call itself a “city.”  They have avenues, streets, offices, factories, shopping, and other needs that a REAL city has, but lacks the REAL designed aspects of a city.  A REAL city has systems, efficiency, and programs to help facilitate the urban construct of people occupying a city.  The introductory segment of Made in Tokyo the following chart:

The chart shows a series of possibilities with off and on switches.  There are 3 main criteria that compose the “Environmental Unit”: category, use, and structure.  When describing architecture, morality becomes a fourth option.  The Environmental Unit describes an instance of strange coherency between programs that are seemingly unrelated.  Paju would be described with all switches on, making it a “Magnificent Building.”  However, cities like Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong all have at least one off switch in the “Environmental Unit” criteria.  They can be what Made In Tokyo described as “Da-me architecture (no-good architecture)…they seem to be better than anything designed by architects.”  The buildings in developed cities have a clash of unrelated programs within the same confinement, but it is this tension that describes the actual city than the city itself.  The multiple layers of subway, retail, hotel, and restaurant within a buildings corresponds with a variety of social purposes.  The building becomes this mixing pot of activity that captivates an foreigner’s attention like myself.  However, Paju lacks the tensions and layering of buildings, making as boring and as similar to single-family suburban homes.

Could Paju then be considered a real city?  Based on the evaluation that it lacks the substantial components of a city, it is at most a “real-fake” city that prides itself on having only unique architecture and the superficial elements that comprise of a city.  Paju can eventually transform from a “real-fake” city into a REAL city only if it sheds its singular building monument-like attitude and adopt a more urbanistic approach where these buildings still have their own image, but when all of them are added as a whole, makes Paju something more.


Filed under: Collective, Culture, Desensitize, dialogue, Fake-Real, Japan, Korea, narrative, Paju, Psyche, tension, Utopia

Ryoanji // A Sensory Provocation

Poetry // Written Sensations

The perfect moment.

Inner peace, a reflection of oneself.

Willow, gravel, stone, moss,

All in harmony.

Smell of the wood, squeak of the floor

Every blink, a slightly different image.

Wind blowing, leaves shuffling amongst the trees.

Sun casting shadows on every pebble

Calm euphoria overtaking souls.

Audio // The Journey to Ryoanji



Filed under: Japan, Journey, Psyche, Self Reflection, Sensory, Uncategorized

Identity in Pride and Artistry

After spending more than a week in Japan, there are stark differences in the American and Japanese motivations of work. In America, people want to be efficient and get the job done as quickly as possible. However, in Japan, the people are fueled by pride. People are proud of their work and thus become extremely attentive to detail and the process of doing things.

The Japanese have ritualized their jobs, and have perfected it to the point that it is ingrained into their subconscious. A simple worker refilling the soda machines has a systematic way of putting the drinks into it and fluidly collapsing the empty boxes into another box. Something so trivial becomes an art to watch. Everything movement seems calculated and just perfect. In Japan, people strive for this perfection and have pride in their line of work.

Their attention to detail, pride, and patience to reach perfection is very honorable and made me evaluate my way of living. Good or bad, I have started to adopt the Japanese mentality where everything is in their rightful place, and proceed doing things in calm and smooth procession. However, at the same time, I feel like I’m becoming a drone programmed to do these things. Organizing my shoes in a neat row, folding my clothes and placing them into my duffle bag. To an American, it is considered obsessive-compulsive neatness, but to the Japanese, it is the idea of perfection and self presentation. Is it really beneficial to be part of the collective? After living my life given the opportunity to be an individual, how am I going to react, once I start to lose my freedom and identity?

This is when the notion of self-identity comes into question. In America, we are taught that we have freedom and rights, and thus allowing us to have an identity of our own and a sense of self-righteousness. However, because we have no “rules” that we abide to, there is a lack of unity, respect, and pride in what we do. In Japan, everyone has a set destination or goal they have to achieve. They proceed with such care and articulation that nothing goes unaccounted for. But as a consequence, they are in an emotionless trance, with brief moments when they glance at their phones. Even then, they are still in a trance, just in another form. Their only form of self expression is through the things they buy, not by personality.

There are stark differences between Americans and Japanese even doing simple everyday activities. Take an American company, Starbucks, for example. At Starbucks in the states, baristas shovel out drinks to waiting customers. The countertops are a mess, and the taste of the drinks is inconsistent. However, at a Starbucks in Japan is impeccable. The tabletops and countertops are clean and wiped down after every use. The baristas give you your drink or pasty with a bow in an appreciative manner. The trash is separated into plastic and paper cups, combustible and non-combustible items, and “other” items that did not fall under that category. Everyone follows suit and has a responsibility to keep their city clean. The people are proud to be Japanese, but at the same time, the people are the country’s treasure.

The American culture lacks this level of respect for others and pride themselves in such trivial things, and thus creates a selfish, microcosmic image. I am sometimes ashamed of this, but there are other Japanese people who LOVE the American way of life, the freedom we have to express ourselves. I am still indecisive which was of living is best, but certainly the mediator of the head and the hands is the heart.


Filed under: America, Architecture, Japan, Psyche


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