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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Mobility and The Automobile II

CHINA/ united states

China is currently undergoing rapid rates of development. As China becomes stronger as a nation, we are starting to see quantitative data that is truly jaw dropping. Throughout China, within the next twenty years, they are looking at creating 400 new airports to be built throughout the country, and the talk of airports only begins to touch the surface. With each of these airports, come complex connection systems including high-speed rails, local rails, subways, and intense highways connecting automobile and bus networks. All of these connections happening at a single node create the ability to connect these nodes creating a dense network of fluid transportation from city center to city center. This master plan is also being executed at an extraordinary speed, and if successful the ability for people to move from city to city will better promote larger distributions of people and commerce throughout China. With this robust network of public transportation, the role for automobiles in China starts to become almost insignificant. When you can get from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in approximately 14 minutes, why would you travel the hour it takes to get there by car?

The truth is though that the car is still a very important player in China, and this is mostly due to foreign influence and China’s new “capitalistic” business model. The car is still marketed as a luxury item. In china you see a higher distribution of luxury name brands on the road compared to other countries. These high-class automakers have launched their campaigns across China, and China has bought into their luxury model. In order to get a car in China, you not only have to buy the car, but you also have to buy the limited, distributed license plates. It is through this exclusivity that makes the car a luxury item within itself, through the basic principals of supply and demand. The role of the car in China is not necessarily driven based on transportation needs; rather it is based on image, wealth, and social standing.

These ideas of social standing through materialistic objects are demonstrated in the film “Beijing Bicycle”. The film focused on lower, middle, and upper classes of Beijing, and the tensions that exist amongst the three classes. The story’s true protagonist was actually a bicycle, which literally was passed back and forth through the different social classes. Guie’s character represented the lower class, where he was currently stuck. Guie was the first to obtain this shiny, new mountain bike that allowed him to experience and work for a middle class life. It was through this material object where he literally saw a better future for himself, in which other characters commented on how this Bike will truly raise him out of poverty. On the other hand, Jian represented the middle class in Beijing, and he also obtained the same bike for duration of the film. The bike was used as a way to blend in with his classmates. When the bike was out of Jian’s possession he immediately felt insignificant, and alienated himself from his peers. This contrast on the importance of a single bike to two completely different people and classes shows the power behind materialistic objects in China.

The end of “Beijing Bicycle” framed a street view, and the power of this image really summed up the complexity material objects have in China. The streetscape seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for Beijing. The difference was the filter that the film set up to view this scene. After watching the impact one bicycle had on two completely different people, demonstrated the power of material objects in Chinese culture. The streetscape then took the idea of the bike and applied it to the automobile. The street was busy with car traffic up and down the center of the streets, and pushed off to the side was another lane of strictly bicycle traffic. This image addressed the idea on how severe social issues are in China, and how obtaining material items for transportation has become one of the key players in determining social standing.

The automobile plays significant roles not only in America, but also in China. In America the idea of necessity plays a crucial part on why we have so much dependence on the automobile. In Contrast, China could technically function without cars, but the idea of luxury plays a larger role in why cars have become so widely accepted. When the car gets put up on a pedestal, as the glorified form of transportation there is no doubt that it will create the desire to obtain one. With China pumping out more and more licenses every day, soon supply will meet demand, and we will start to see the car becoming more obtainable to the Chinese people, very much how the car became more obtainable to the American People. With China’s extreme infatuation with the intrinsic properties of materialistic objects, I question how far off they are from becoming another form of a congested America? With their new market driven economy the idea of ego will take larger precedent than with the ideas of a functioning society. Will the automobile become the new bicycle? If this does become the situation, then China will greater influence a two-tiered society, in which the car will act as one of the greater obstacles for the lower and middle class to overcome.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, Automobile, Beijing, Bicycle, Car, China, Circulation, Congestion, Public, Renjilian, Ross, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urbanism, , , ,

Mobility and The Automobile

UNITED STATES/ china

The United States has been criticized for its lack of public transportation, and ability to move around urban centers. This is largely in part due to the automobile development being one of the primary sources for America’s economic and industrial strength. With American automobile manufacturers pumping out new makes and models, the automobile has become a fashion accessory to the average American household. Many times we are not talking about one car per household, rather one car per person, and now we can start to understand why America is having such congestion problems. The truth is though that America is fixated on the car. Even if robust public transportation systems were in play, my guess is that many Americans would still opt to travel by their beloved automobile.

Sprawl has been a key contributor towards the automobile lifestyle. The American model of suburbia has been fully utilized, and has allowed our cities to reach out hundreds of miles from their epicenter. America has the land, which allows us to live in low-density situations. This creates the “American Dream” lifestyle with the two-story house outside of the city surrounded by a white picket fence, and a yard for the kids to play in. This dream has been adopted by millions of Americans, and has contributed to this object sprawl across America. The ability to connect these different objects becomes daunting. Even worse are sprawled cities like Los Angeles with higher populations being scattered over a large area, allowing no hierarchy across the landscape. In these conditions public transportation becomes extremely difficult to make efficient connections to move people amongst the fabric. Public transportation becomes fully utilized when its convenience is greater than the car. This is seen in cities like Boston, and New York where street congestion and parking conditions are nearly impossible. Public transportation also becomes a viable business model in environments with higher density. Higher density equals more people in given areas, which provides quicker turn over rates and shorter distances. Low sprawl environments don’t have enough people per given area allowing for public transportation to be inefficient.

Another reason for this automobile craze is the luxury factor. In America the auto industry is celebrated similar to high fashion. Promoting the idea that the car is a reflection of you, and a tool for measuring success. With so many makes and models, which fall into different value systems such as cost, performance, versatility, and aesthetics, the car has advanced from people mover to a work of art and design. America has literally put the car up on a pedestal, and has shown it not only to the United States as the best way to move, but has also sold this model to the world. The automobile in America has become the most respectable way to not only travel, but to travel in style and “convenience” to the individual.

The success of the automobile also comes from the means of obtaining one. In America having your very own car is as simple as 199 down, 199 a month for 48 months, and a tagged on 1.9 % interest rate. Although this terminology doesn’t sound simple, this strategy of borrowing has made the car easily obtainable. It is difficult for many families to put down $30,000 for a car, but when you spread that cost out over 48 months, the car itself becomes more realistic. The truth is that with our given lack of public transportation, it is nearly impossible to live outside of urban density without a car. This cause and effect relationship is based on the demand for cars, and the ability to get financing for them; the two systems feed off of each other. In retrospect  Oprah’s motto;  “EVERYBODY GETS A CAR” is almost the reality.

It is through these various factors that the “land of the automobile” has been born, and as a country we have strived and became comfortable with the presence of our companions. Houses have been fitted with a two or three car garage, and a long driveway connecting our objects to our overbuilt/ under built roadway infrastructure. City streets are split down the middle allowing people to only cross at intersections. As a country we have accepted to travel 10 miles in either 10 minutes, or 2 hours. Our dependence on the automobile has started to become a burden on our country. The dependence on oil in order to keep The United States functioning has created excruciating tension that makes us enslaved to oil prices. We have to rely on other countries for importing oil, for we cannot even come close to producing as much as we consume. The automobile has given Americans the opportunity to sprawl, and has created new terminology such as rush hour, which focuses on the absurd number of people traveling, within certain time constraints of the day, into and out of the downtown areas. Even with all of these problems, America still willingly depends on the automobile as their primary source of transportation, and many see no other model to be fit.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: America, Architecture, Automobile, Car, Congestion, Problems, Public, States, Suburbia, Transporation, United, Urbanism, , ,

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, ,

Clock Work

Up on the 27th floor of the hotel, I sit at night and stare out my window at the city below. I sit there intrigued and occupied by the dynamic landscape that is constantly in motion. The scene is filled with trains, cars, people, elevators, buildings, and flashing lights. The cityscape reminds me of a clock, so many moving pieces that are constantly in motion, every piece important and vital for the overall composition to work.

Everything is organized at a larger scale, and this organization is apparent with how smoothly everything seems to be operating. I first noticed the smoothness of Tokyo’s infrastructure at the subway station the following day. Typically subway stations display signs of aggression and franticness of people trying to get to where they need to go. We have created the term “rush hour” to describe the influx of people and pandemonium in our city’s infrastructure, and a typical sight would consist of people plowing down the stairs to catch the train before it leaves the station. Not in Tokyo, although the subway system bares thousands of people, these people are not displaying the typical signs mentioned above. Their tranquility is eerie and very unfamiliar.

I believe that this shows when good systems are in play, and work with one another efficiency is achieved. After all efficiency is typically the bench mark for performance, and infrastructure in Tokyo may not be perfect, but it is pretty close. It is not just the subway system though that creates this smooth dynamic movement, rather it is the layers of infrastructure and sectional quality of the ground plane that are frequently used through out the city. This sectional life style becomes routine for the people living in Japan. Elevated sky bridges bring pedestrian traffic off the street to allow for cars to maneuver on the ground plane. Many buildings contain underground connections that connect to subway terminals to allow for a complex network of transportation underneath the ground surface. Lobbies and elevators are dispersed throughout the buildings to create successful nodes for each of these various circulation paths.

It is through these layers of circulation that efficiency is achieved, and the urban environment overall becomes more user friendly. When people can get where they need to go, in a punctual manner, it makes one ponder why more cities are not delaminating their circulation paths. With all of these systems working together it creates this dynamic landscape that runs so smooth that one might compare the city’s effortlessness to run like clockwork.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, Infrastructure, JR, Public, Rail, Renjilian, Ross, Tokyo, Transportation, Uncategorized, 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