USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Growing Pains

In the early 1980’s. China’s economic policy went through a major change, combining both a centralized, socialist government structure with a market-based strategy in order to raise the standard of living. Consequently, China has been on a incredible growth-run for the past decade, and even more so recently, surpassing Japan as the second largest economy in the world. China’s game of “catch-up” with the rest of the world powers has no doubt resulted in a growing effort to revitalize and create a new image of China as an emerging world power both in terms of economics and politics. As the so-called “sleeping giant” emerges in the next decades, the eyes of the world rest upon China as the next big experiment/spectacle. With such international acclaim and pressure, the Chinese government has really made hard efforts to propel the new national and modern image to the rest of the world.

The 2008 Olympics in Beijing marked one of the greatest events in China over the past half-century. It was one of the first real efforts of China to embrace the notion of globalization by hosting an international phenomenon within their country. For a country that had for a long time retained much pride in its separation from the West, this was a major step toward a new China that had a global perspective in mind. International corporations, businesses, industries, and of course architects like Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron made a stake in cities like Beijing, rich in traditional culture. But the problem became apparent that a culture clash was evident. The rapid pace of development in such places like Beijing threatened the existing culture that had been there for centuries. Old fabric of traditional hutongs was being wiped and replaced by mega-block office towers or hotels/apartment complexes. And yet, with all this growth and modernizing developments, the congestion and environmental repercussions are enormously daunting, from the LA-like haze that fills the skies to the gridlocked intersections that plague the ring roads around the city. The image of modernization, clichéd with glass office towers and high-rise residential blocks lining the sky was what China was aiming for, but the consequences, as a result, has not really increased the standard of living at all.

Shanghai’s World Expo 2010 provides yet another instance of “country branding” China has instigated. The blocks upon blocks of the world’s finest architecture, all congregating in Shanghai speaks enormously about China’s global reach and political power to host such an event. However, behind the pretty pieces of architecture that line the waterfront still lies a third-world, poverty stricken class of people who make a large part of the social structure within China. Even though China has branded it’s own successful kind of market-driven economics to compete globally, it has precipitated a greater schism between the elite and lower classes. It’s amazing to see such beautiful pavilions, but even more amazing and mind-boggling to see people spitting in one! The point is, China may have propagated this image of clean and modern, but the people are a different story. The constant pushing and pulling in line, the spitting, the trash throwing, etc. are all cultural conditions of behavior that have been long accepted. You cannot possibly instill a new ideology within a cultural generation that has been nurtured upon long-standing socialist policies. Keeping in mind that China is still in its growing pains, perhaps the only hope is to look onto the new generation of Chinese consumers who are becoming more and more globally aware/functional and mindful of their role in a world totally beyond their own.


Filed under: Architecture, Beijing, China, economy, Image, modern, shanghai expo, sleeping giant, third-world, Urbanism

An Authentic Window of the World

While riding on our bus in Shenzhen, the last thing I expected to see out of my window was a glimpse of the “Eiffel Tower.”  Thinking I was hallucinating after a short nap, I realized that it was indeed the tip of an Eiffel Tower, but why was this here?  Curious as I was, I decided I had to check this place out along with some friends to see what this amusement park really was.  Upon arriving to what was called the Window of the World, through the main entrance of Roman columns, I could see the “Eiffel Tower”, a glimpse of Japan, and the Taj Mahal all at once.  Although these were tacky copies of notorious architectural landmarks, they were nonetheless very similar, even at their scaled down sizes.  With copies of the Pyramids at Giza, Mount Rushmore, The Grand Canyon, Italy, Holland, and Greece surrounding me, it became quite a peculiar, yet impassive moment.

Following Shenzhen, we departed back for Hong Kong, and are now situated in Shanghai.  Fortunately, we arrived in Shanghai about two weeks before the Shanghai World Expo was ending, and therefore have been spending our first week in here at the Expo.  We have tickets for six days, which is definitely needed!  With lines ranging around four or five hours, we have to carefully select which pavilions we decide to enter.  It is an incredible experience simply walking outside of these pavilions, and gets that much more extraordinary as we venture inside the chosen pavilions.

As I was voyaging through the crowds and pavilions from countries all across the world, I could not help but compare the Expo to the Window of the World.  Although it may seem like a far stretch at first thought, the Expo and the Window of the World actually do share a similar goal: creating an experience of the world and culture by means of architecture, all within a small area as opposed to the entire world.  In an experiential point of view, of course the two do not even faintly compare.  However, in terms of an overarching theme, the Expo and the Window of the World are completely analogous.

In an excerpt from “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by Walter Benjamin, he states, “By making reproductions, you substitute a plurality of copies for a unique existence.”  I found this to relate to the Window of the World in a way in which it cannot relate to the Shanghai World Expo.  Obviously I knew walking into the Window of the World that what I was about to experience was not real, and was purely for entertainment purposes.  Walking around the amusement park absolutely confirmed Walter Benjamin’s statement in that once a copy is created, the uniqueness of the experience at the actual landmark becomes substituted with artificial emotions.

Benjamin goes on to affirm that no matter how perfect a work of art is replicated, it will always lack one ingredient: “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”  This lack of emotional contact is the one of the sole elements that separates the Window of the World and the Expo.  Even though the Expo is exhibiting 192 countries’ pavilions in a limited area, each country is nonetheless able to enthrall you into their culture through their architecture.  The Expo provides the emotional and experiential quality that the Window of the World lacks tremendously.  Each pavilion in the Expo radiates its society’s culture to each visitor, simply due to the fact that it is not a replica of an architectural attraction.  The Shanghai Expo provides a “unique existence at the place where it happens to be,” whether that happens to be in China, Chicago, Germany, or London – something that cannot be said for the Window of the World.  It was interesting to see that even though one country’s culture is placed into another country, it can still provide incredible experience, if done appropriately.


Filed under: Architecture, China, shanghai expo, window of the world


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