URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Peace and Quiet

Finally some peace and quiet! As I sit in my house in suburbia writing this essay, there are no horns blaring out the window, no maids yelling/ strangling each other in the hallway, and no listening to 17 other classmates bickering what to do for lunch. Like I said earlier, its nice to have some peace and quiet. I can make my own choices, without having to justify my every move to my peers. Instead of hiking to the train station, passing hawkers interrogating me “bagus, watch, hello?”, I can now get into my car, isolate myself from the world, and freely sing at the top of my lungs. After one crazy semester this is just what I needed, to literally clear my head of all the surrounding stimuli, and allow my mind to settle and digest everything that I have just encountered.

The truth is though; this shock of jumping into an environment that is desolate of exterior stimuli is kind of eerie. After being submerged and becoming a part of the urban fabric, I truly think this submersion will be one of the greatest experiences I had on my study abroad expedition. It’s easy to justify locations as being the highlights of your experience for example The Great Wall, or The World Expo, but in my opinion they are just blips on the larger picture of what we experienced over in Asia. For the first time in my life, I saw a sprawled density, a density that even when we were out in the boonies at our hotel, there was still a very active street life, with bystanders waiting at intersections, locals buying produce from the back of a truck, and shops lining streets that are not necessarily major thoroughfares. It is this lack of urban that creates isolation in suburbia, and I am starting to see how this is in many ways has been detrimental towards my development along with how our country has developed.

By creating nodes that become objects in the field, as opposed to a fabric, it creates an inward focus. Every time I leave my house I have to justify to myself where I am going and what I am looking to accomplish, whether this is going to drop off my laundry, catch up with a friend, or pick up dinner, every time I venture outside of my home it becomes a task. By always having an objective, it limits the spontaneous encounters that happen by chance, and hinders curiosity of what will be in the next alleyway or what new products will be in the windows as one passes by.

One element of the urban environment that is really interesting is its ability to create obscure conditions of program overlaps. For example having a grocery store, next to a grade school, backed by a subway station that the kids take home, enjoying their recently purchased snacks after school. By allowing these conditions to overlap onto one another different narratives and experiences start to play out, and become elements of the everyday. On the contrary creating nodes that are islands surrounded by a sea of pavement, strips the fabric of any potential of layering, restricting the diversity of the narratives that can take place.

Is there still hope? I think this is a question that everyone in our group is starting to ponder. Has America become so desensitized and lost in our ways that we have left behind the potential to create curiosity, ambition and tension with the built environment? Even Urban environments like Los Angeles, have become numb of experience, and have been characterized as a city for the automobile. We have stripped the layers out of the fabric and have replaced the fabric with isolated objects. In my opinion it’s easy to throw up our hands, and say America is done for, with our addiction to oil and economic depression. I don’t want to be that person that gives up hope, and walk away from the situation. Having the ability to take from my experiences abroad, and start finding ways to apply them back in our homeland, will hopefully start to create a better urban understanding. Taking on projects that push its impact on the urban environment, and understand no matter how large or small a project is, it has the ability to become something greater. Just like throwing rocks in a pond, no matter how small or how large the rock is it has the ability to have a greater rippling affect, than just the size of itself. This is not the end; rather it is just the beginning of a long journey ahead.

 

Ross Renjilian

 

Filed under: Architecture, Asia, Car, Density, High, Nodes, Renjilian, Ross, stimuli, Suburbia, 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, , ,

Fragmentation

“The changes in housing and in the land on which houses leave their imprint become signs of this daily life. One need only look at the layers of the city that archaeologists show us; they appear as a primordial and eternal fabric of life, an immutable pattern. Anyone who remembers European cities after bombings of the last war retains an image of disemboweled houses where, amid the rubble, fragments of familiar places remained standing, with their colors of faded wallpaper, laundry hanging suspended in the air, barking dogs— the untidy intimacy of places. And always we could see the house of our childhood, strangely aged, present in the flux of the city.” Aldo Rossi    The Architecture of the City

A million little pieces make up the whole, we have the ability to put these pieces together, and the ability to take them apart. Understanding a building by only its materials is to understand a puzzle by its individual pieces. Each brick, each tile, and each shred of fabric, was once part of a larger whole. There is a sick beauty to these images that picks apart not just a home, but hundreds of peoples homes, leaving walls and memories in shambles. The parts that make a whole, are just parts, but sometimes the parts are just as interesting.

 

Ross Renjilian

Urban Village demolition in Shenzhen, China


Filed under: Aldo, Architecture, building, China, Defragmentation, pieces, Renjilian, Ross, Rossi, Shenzhen, Uncategorized, Urban, Urbanism, Village, ,

New and Old

Urbanism looks at new possibilities for the built environment, by adding different ingredients to the community that allow the area to become richer, and better suited for its occupants. This approachis typically looked at from a blank slate, but as we continueto build, at one point there will be nowhere else to go. This will force us to go in and reevaluate what has already been built, and re-imagine the possibilities of what once was.

China’s balance of new and old has really given China a very eclectic built environment. In the bund area skyscrapers of modern steel and glass, tower over the historic fabric of the different concessions that line the Huangpu River. This contrast of what has been preserved, compared to what has been newly imagined and conceived creates this beautiful tension that China is facing today. China is a country with immense amount of culture and tradition, especially Shanghai. Time has been one of the most beautiful artists, and Shanghai’s multitude of layers has been its creation. In many ways Shanghai’s built environment is a visual timeline of Shanghais history and architectural influences.

This is the current situation, but as China continues to push forward on their economic binge, the past may no longer be as significant. History may not be able to produce the $$$ that is in developers eyes. The government in China is still the owner of the land, but has started a new leasing strategy that allows selected developers to lease the land for about 70 years. The government requires the piece of land to perform within three years of the lease, which pressures developers to build, and build quickly. Performance typically comes in the form of $$$, and the easiest way to make $$$ is by leasing out as many spaces feasibly possible. With this approach older fabric has been “carpet bombed”, and redeveloped as monotonous housing towers, shopping malls, and commercial centers. This new trend has already started to create an over saturation in the market, and as the government leases out more land, the fabric starts to become a homogenous high-density jungle.

The interesting part of this over saturation is that it has diminished the supply of the older low-density fabric. This constant balancing act between the old and the new, has created a higher demand for older fabric, which has interestingly allowed the older fabric to be “preserved”. This fabric though is not necessarily preserved in the traditional European sense, many times it has been left alone, for the owners of the lease have realized the value of its history, and have inflated the value too high for developers to see any benefit. The over inflated price has created a stagnant condition for the fabric, which has allowed it to deteriorate over time. This old courtyard typology has also been segmented up into many different spaces, to lease out low-income units. The irony of the situation, really creates this very beautiful, but conflicting condition of preservation.

This event starts to question the importance of preservation within a city. Looking at historic European cities, we see the extreme side of preservation. This mentality of keeping the old has allowed the cities to become figuratively frozen in place, as time continues onward. This condition has stunted cities growth, and ability to modernize and reinterpret urbanization.  Aldo Rossi questions what is the real benefit and understanding of the existing tangible. In Architecture and the City he comments, “In an urban artifact, certain original values and functions remain, others are totally altered; about some stylistic aspects of the form we are certain, others are less obvious. We contemplate the values that remain— I am also referring to spiritual values—and try to ascertain whether they have some connection with the building’s materiality, and whether they constitute the only empirical facts that pertain to the problem. At this point, we might discuss what our idea of the building is, our most general memory of it as a product of the collective, and what relationship it affords us with this collective.”  Shanghai is a perfect precedent for this confliction. On one side of the argument, Chinese mentality questions what is the true value of the building as an object itself? There is more importance in the location, rather than in the object. The various European influences, demonstrates the importance of the building’s materiality and face, which gives a certain character to the various concessions.

In my opinion there is value in both, and a balancing act has to be played. To preserve the city in its current state, is denying its opportunity to become something even greater. On the other hand history provides a sense of identity and culture. Shanghai’s current balance has allowed the city to become an eclectic combination of old and new, giving it a truly unique diversity that is stripped from many cities. Its ability to be modern, and still posses traits of its past, is a unique balance that cannot come from instant cities. While Shanghai continues to push forward, it would be a real shame for Shanghai to loose its older fabric and redevelop more of the same, for the beauty is in the layers.

Ross Renjilian

 

Filed under: Aldo, Architecture, bombing, carpet, character, China, development, Fabric, Identity, new, old, preservation, Renjilian, Ross, Rossi, Shanghai, Urbanism, , ,

Flexible Urbanism

The alarm rings, I start my day with a shower, followed by a walk to the metro station. Afterwards I pick up my latte from the local Starbucks, a sandwich from the shop down the street, and I sit down and start my work for the day. After settling down in Shanghai, I have started to come into a more structured lifestyle. After exploring the city for a couple of weeks, I have found things I like and don’t like, and places where I feel at ease. What is interesting is that even in a foreign country I have been able to find comfort with a schedule.  By following my schedule, I have found my own unique locations, and nodes within a city.

Finding these nodes provide great comfort and belonging especially in Shanghai, one of the largest cities in the world. Nodes are what allow the mega metropolis to become smaller, not necessarily talking in a physical sense, but rather in a mental sense. These nodes provide reoccurrences that start to become habitual. Reoccurrences like pushing my way into the subway train, recognizing menu items, and coffee house baristas memorizing my drink order (even in Shanghai, I know I have a problem). Similar characters start to show up in my daily narrative, like the girl who always sits in the corner, or the guy with the brief case who passes me on the street. By starting to create my own routine, my narrative starts to be played out within the city, I have started to realize other’s habitual patterns as well.

Habitual patterns start to become constant inputs. By tracking the quantitative data such as the number of people on the subway, and comparing this information with a timeline, the complexity of the urban fabric can really start to be picked apart layer by layer. As technology gets stronger, our ability to analyze habitual patterns becomes more sophisticated. With better understanding of movement and patterns, a city that can react and respond to our various inputs, doesn’t sound to ridiculous. For example, looking at street traffic, typically there is the same number of lanes on both sides of the highway, but many times both sides are not fully utilized at the same time. Rush Hour typically creates heavier traffic congestion going into the city in the morning hours, and leaving the city in the evening hours. A response to this could be flexible highway lanes that allow change in traffic flow direction at different hours.

This understanding of synchronized movement becomes an essential factor for understanding a cities urban fabric. The city is not only the physical built environment and occupation of people, but it also consists of moving through the spatial construct and moving through time itself. Currently urban design and the built environment has become a very rigid understanding of solid and void. This relationship has given character to many different cities, and has been the initial stages of defining our metropolises in order to deal with stasis and mobility. This idea is further analyzed in walking in the city, where the article starts to analyze how the built interacts with these patterns of human interaction, “Your path in a city is controlled by the cities order. Whether be through streets that are layered in an organizational grid, or even the negative spaces created by this grid pattern, in some way or another the urbanism organizes people”. With populations on the rise, in most major cities, and China in specific, we have to start to analyze how cities can be better organized, or more efficiently planned for people’s interaction with the built fabric.

Through past analysis of major urban morphology, one way that cities dealt with population increases was by building upward. New York and Chicago were the first cities to really start to explore the potentials of verticality with the skyscraper. These giant towers of stasis started to contain the expanding population, and found a way to combat sprawl with density. This has started to become one of the major problems with moving around the city, because we have vertically stacked the nodes within the city, but have constrained the means of moving from node to node. As these towers empty out at the end of the day, people flood the streets in a hurry to get to their next location, and as mentioned earlier everyone is always seeking location. Since the location has the ability to be rented, there is more emphasis on how the location is built rather than investing in the means of getting to that location.

In order for density to become a viable and sustainable model, the numbers have to be put into consideration, and the city has to become more flexible. The traditional model of the ground plane being the sole provider for transportation is simply just not going to be enough infrastructure to support the vertical density being sought out by rapidly developing countries. Cities need to advance their spatial understanding, and analyze how layering could really start to promote better fluid circulation. By habitual patterns analyzing and parametrically designing the built environment, the city will be able to respond and react to its occupants various inputs. With effort, the urban environment can start to not only become the container of people; rather it could take a more active role with the ever-increasing demands of its occupants. When the city starts to respond to its people the idea of a living city starts to come into play, and in my opinion will become the future of urbanism. We are not just talking about flying cars anymore, what we are talking about is a city that can morph and respond as a flexible solution to its users.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: Architecture, City, Flexible, Growth, Habitual, Infrastructure, patterns, population, Renjilian, Ross, Urbanism,

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, , , ,

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, ,

Lambo Effect

After visiting 798 creative industry in Beijing, there was one sculpture that caught my eye. The sculpture was a model of an old school Lamborghini, Finally art that speaks my language. Instead of the model being covered in Lambo yellow, it was patterned with a multitude of bright colors. As I stepped closer I realized that it was not actually paint, rather it was plastered in Lottery Tickets.

The sculpture, by “Ghost of A Dream”, is a reflection of wealth promised by the lottery. Each object in the exhibit represents a familiar, western symbol of wealth that people can easily associate with. Creating these objects out of scratched lottery tickets represents individual’s monetary hopes being followed by their frustrating loss. This philosophy is backed by Western’s obsession with the pursuit of happiness through materialistic goods. Displaying this piece in China, a country that is fascinated with western way of life, reflects a universal frenzy for consumption.

The drive for consumption is created by the free market, and the ideas of  creating a government driven by corporations and consumerism. This model created industrial revolutions, which sky rocketed America’s economy, power, and influence through modernization and development. As a country, America started to understand that it cannot consume forever, and currently the economy is faltering due to over consumption and free market faults.

China currently is going through a very similar growth model that America has previously been through. The political model of communism is starting to take on more of a free market approach in China, and the “American Dream” model is starting to become much more prevalent in the east. This rapid development and modernization in China has already started to create a free market, in which many western values are being used as precedent. In order for China to grow as a country they are going to also have to consume.

What is starting to create tension with the idea of consumption is that resources are already starting to dwindle. Wars have been fought over oil control, and the amount of pollution that has been pumped into the environment is starting to make areas inhospitable. When we start to compare numbers, America is a country of 310 million people compared to China’s roughly 1.4 billion people, the idea of scale starts to come into play. America is starting to realize that the “American Dream” model is not necessarily a practical mindset for a world where resources are limited. America’s dependence on the car has started to create congestion and a market dependent on the price of oil. Oil is only one of numerous resources that are starting to vanish, and in the future different resources will become higher in demand.

We can only predict the impact of western values possessed by the east, and in many ways we can only hope that China learns from America’s faults as opposed to mimicking them. With the argument that America had its chance to develop, and now it is China’s turn, we already see the immaturity of the situation, and this is the part that starts to get serious. China’s search for quantitative and economic power has really been the driver for this western, free market ideology. As cities in China start to get covered in smog, this is not necessarily viewed as a problem rather as progress. Factories begin to pump out more and more products, and the instant result is that China becomes more powerful and modernized. This mentality ultimately creates the effect of 1.4 billion people searching for their yellow Lamborghini, and we can only hope they will be hybrid.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: 798, AAU, America, American, Art, China, Creative, development, Dream, Free, Industry, Lamborghini, Market, Modernization, Politics, Renjilian, Ross, Urbanism, , ,

2 V L

 

Before I left for Asia, I thought finding my Starbuck’s double, tall, vanilla latte would become a difficult task; on the contrary it has now become an everyday ritual. Even with the language differences, the Baristas know the Starbucks lingo and, after I ramble off my order, they smile back and say, “Will that be all”. Some of the food items are unique to the Starbuck’s region, but all in all it’s just like any other Starbucks back at home. This comfortable atmosphere and exchange simplifies the ordering process, which creates a enjoyable experience.

I started to analyze this relationship I had with the coffee house. Why is it that I continually choose something that is completely western, while I am in Asia for the experience? The surface answer is that it’s easy; I know when I walk into a Starbucks that I will walk out with something that I am satisfied with. I understand what I am ordering, and I am able to convey what I am looking for to the other party.

I brought up this idea in a critique, which talked about the ideas of globalization and branding. The idea that I could have nearly identical exchanges in both the United States and Hong Kong started to sicken me. How could Hong Kong, a city with so much character and uniqueness, have a Starbucks on every corner? I felt that Hong Kong was loosing touch with its identity, and caving into the corporate America model. Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks

But is it? A great analogy was brought up during my critique about the idea of appearance, and the distance in which the object is viewed from. For example from far away a surface may look smooth, but as you start to move closer, and actually have the ability to touch the surface, you can realize that the surface is actually a rough texture. This notion of how far you zoom in and analyze the material really provides a greater depth to the problem. The same can hold true for Starbucks. When I first analyzed the situation I took it for its surface value. Walking into the coffee house, I identified with its logos, colors, smells, and tall, grande, viente way of life. At the surface it was Starbucks. On the other hand though this is the phenomenon. Half way across the world Starbucks has the ability to create identical experiences. When I started to look at this as a positive trait, as opposed to a negative, I realized that this is truly spectacular. I am ordering my double, tall, vanilla latte in Hong Kong. In every way this is a Hong Kong coffee house, a place where its residents and tourists come to relax, socialize, and brew up ideas.  Two completely different cultures can truly experience and appreciate the same/ but different Starbucks coffee house.

Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks mentality is not the end of culture, rather it is a bringing together of cultures. It creates a common tie between America and Hong Kong in which, two completely different cultures could actually sit and talk over the same cup of coffee. As mentioned before this is truly a phenomenon that comes down to Starbuck’s ability to not only make coffee, but to create an atmosphere that appeals to very different people. After stepping back, and zooming into the situation I realized that the concept of globalization might start to blur boundaries among different countries and cities, but at the same time create truly unique connections. Although Starbucks is a corporate America brand, many people in the east have accepted the Starbucks brand as their own. Urban cities are not necessarily about one culture; rather they are about many different cultures coming together. The urban environment plays as the backdrop to many different programs, and it is through different filters that we can start to realize how these different programs play out. You could have two identical programs with two different backdrops, and these backdrops could completely change a person’s experience and interaction with the program. It is this unpredictable factor that makes urbanism a complex riddle that may not have an answer, but when the ingredients mix together just right, you get that perfect double, tall, vanilla latte.

Ross Renjilian

 

Filed under: America, Branding, Double, Globalization, Hong, kong, L, Latte, Renjilian, Ross, Starbucks, Tall, Urbanism, V, Vanilla, ,

Identity Crises

7 million people live and work within Hong Kong. These 7 million people are squeezed into an area of 31 sq miles, which makes Hong Kong one of the world’s densest cities. In contrary to many other urban plans, Hong Kong has resisted urban sprawl. When cities have typically grown in the past, they tend to increase in size and area. The natural elements in Hong Kong including the mountains and the bay have been physical boundaries of the city, which have contained the city’s footprint. Therefore the only way Hong Kong can handle its population demands is by growing vertically.

In order to handle the large population, many systems and networks are in play for transportation, infrastructure, employment, and leisure. Since Hong Kong is operating on such an extreme scale, the focus is on quantity and not necessarily the individual. This is where the question of the individual’s importance to the metropolis becomes a crucial component towards the metropolis as a whole.

Cities run on numbers. Numbers are what drive industry, and industry drives growth. “The Culture Identity” states, “Industry is interested in human beings only as its customers and employees and has in fact reduced humanity as a whole, like each of its elements, to this exhaustive formula”. This drive for constantly posting numbers is truly what defines a city, which is enforced by the power of corporations in the urban environment. Each company plastering their name on top of every tower within the city demonstrates this hierarchy. This in return leaves little to no significance for the individual, moral rights, or culture.

This formula is exemplified even further during periods of intense growth. For example the industrial revolution in America, lead to economic booms to existent metropolises, and gave birth to new cities at exponential rates. Development was at an all time high, and everything in America became a business opportunity. We are seeing this same behavior in China currently. With industry reporting record numbers, and population at a staggering high, China has been exponentially growing numerically, and in return sacrificing individuality and culture.

It is in these times though that we see the human element stripped out of the urban environment. For the same reason that the economic growth of a city is strictly about numbers and not about the individual. Day in and day out, people follow the workweek system, and blend into the collective workforce, in which the urban organism is programmed to respond to these patterns.

Hong Kong has urbanistically responded to this system, through its building typologies. As The radical, vertical growth in Hong Kong has littered the urban plan with a series of pencil towers. These slender vertical towers are packed with residents and offices literally stacked one on top of the other. Every window representing a single cell of program designated to the individual. At the base of these towers are series of connections to relocate the individual to its next location either being their residence or office. This linear travel of point A to point B has isolated the individual from its urban context.

On the other hand though, there is a more complicated understanding of how the individual is tied into the city. In many cases the predominant driving force of the metropolis is money, but there are also many other elements within the city that belong to the individual. Simmel questions the role of the individual within the larger metropolis for, “It is the function of the metropolis to provide the arena for this struggle and its reconciliation. For the metropolis presents the peculiar conditions which are revealed to us as the opportunities and the stimuli for the development of both these ways of allocating roles to men”. For man to believe he is a completely free being within a city, is in my opinion a mistake, but I would have to argue that there are freedoms within a city in which man can rightfully claim. The individual comes out in the culture of the city, the charm that gives the city its character and personality. If every city ran strictly on numbers then every city would have the same aura, which I would argue is not the current case.

On the other hand if Industrialization keeps pushing forward, and we discredit the individual throughout the process, cities may become more uniform with one another and the corporate counterpart may strip the individuality from the city. Using Hong Kong as an example, the city’s street life is an important element that represents Hong Kong’s culture. We typically see groupings of street food, vendors, and traditional gift shops parasitically controlling the street territory. This element still exists throughout Hong Kong, but the A to B mentality has started to have serious affects on Street life in the area. Subways taking people off of the street has started to choke these smaller shops, which will deprive Hong Kong of its cultural identity.

Personally I think this struggle is represented in Hong Kong’s urban fabric. There is a series of perspectives in which you can view Hong Kong. By starting on top and looking down over the sea of buildings the reading is very uniform and one collective being. Buildings start meshing into one another creating this over whelming collage of windows and structure. As you start to focus though, the details of the city start to reveal themselves. In some instances each unit of the building is carefully articulated, or the street life is vibrant in contrast to what towers above it. This overlaying of individuality on top of the urban fabric starts to demonstrate the role of the individual within the collective whole. From afar we look at Hong Kong as a single entity, but as we take a closer look identity of the city becomes more apparent. It is through these glimpses of individuality that I can argue that the individual is still very prevalent in the urban fabric, and although his role may be small, it still impacts the way people experience and stand out in the urban environment.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: Architecture, China, Culture, Density, Hong, Identity, Individual, Industry, kong, Life, Renjilian, Ross, Street, Urbanism, Urbansim, ,

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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