USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program


“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, , ,

Contextualizing the City

In Hays’ The Crisis of Humanity, The Dissolution of the Object, Hay’s exemplifies Mie’s skyscraper proposal as examples of “humanist conceptions of formal rationality and self-creating subjectivity” that cannot cope with the irrationality of actual experience.

He goes further by saying that the current trending of anti-humanist thought, in architecture, has relegated society into a “crisis” in which the critical separations between the architectural form and context is constantly being blurred and erased.

Chaos, if you will, is the collection of various fragments of true reality. In essence, the struggle is between the subject and the object. Whereas before, the subject, in many ways, dictated how the object came to be, now we see the object as becoming it’s own referent: a sign and signal.

However, from a holistic point of view, isn’t that how cities are formed? Urban metropolises are no more than a giant man made object out of a field of objects itself. Rossi argues that, through the process of time, the city is comprised of individual and collective “artifacts”. The existence and perpetuation of a city evolves from the very essence of monumental designs. City Hall, convention centers, transportation hubs, urban parks, etc. are all singular elements that have their own experiential and temporal-physical quality that makes a city so great. Inherently all architecture has the potential to have some impact within the urban, but whereas some spaces/form become isolated over time, Rossi argues some monuments have the capacity to become major catalysts of city growth. These artifacts help not only architects, but also the average-joe to perceive the city as a whole, but also allow an individual to understand his/her immediate context within the urban fabric system.

It’s not just the social, economical, or political forces that constitute a city, but also a set of systems that are overlaid to create complexities. Our recent trip to Morphosis’ Giant Campus project revealed to us the powers of architectural design through systems. Form, space, structure, and a whole series of networks can be simply collated and collapsed to form amazing experiences and interesting juxtapositions that allow for creative program opportunities. In reference to Hilberseimer’s architectural theory, Hays states “architecture substitutes an image of a situation whose simulation makes it possible, collapsing the complexity network of colliding forces in which architecture originates in order to present us with a self generating model that obeys only its own logic”. This can be analogous with how the urban framework is also experienced. Creating a city requires difference elements and parts, and these parts are interconnected to create continuity at the macro scale. Infrastructure, zoning, sewage, etc. are all interweaved to allow for what we call, the narrative and the everyday. The fact that we can simply walk down a major bustling shopping center in Shanghai and turn into a side street, only to be overwhelmed by a maze of grimy residences and alleyways is powerfully intriguing as an experience/memory of place. Rossi also argues that specialized zones are common characteristics of a city, and they naturally possess a sense of autonomy within the whole system. Places like Lujiazui, Xintiandi, and Xujiahui become “destinations”, not merely just stops along the subway line.

Can a city have a form? How can we derive the context of these “artifacts” out of an ever-changing urban system whose conditions are created by the collective understanding of various experiences? We can never grasp or physically epitomize the true essence of any urban center because there are simply too many variables unaccounted for. Ultimately, the phenomenon of urban elements/objects and spatial systems have the potential to evolve the city, over time, and affect the physicality and functionality of the city and its parts.


Filed under: Architecture, Hays, Mies, object, Rossi, systems, Uncategorized, Urbanism


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