USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

To Plan Efficiently is to Plan Proactively

Adjusting to China has taken some time, to say the least there are some deep nostalgic feelings longing to return to Tokyo. From personal observations, Shanghai is not as uniform as Tokyo in a sense of having a clear manner of going about the everyday, yet the city as a whole works as a cohesive unit. There is an existing chaotic order that allows the city to function everyday. The bottom up agenda gives lead way for a loose mindset, meaning that there are no set rules, but rather there is much more responsibility for the individual to conclude each and every decision. When crossing the street, oncoming cars are not scared to challenge the pedestrian, whereas in the States, it is law that pedestrians have the right of way. Interestingly, the city facilitates people’s way of life.

Shanghai holds a strong market force driven by solely the economy. Following a westernized marketing strategy where marketing culture has become prominent. Routines are facilitated by the city where there is an awareness of what is happening and done in our daily lives that then facilitate what we do and how we use the city. In Shanghai, there is a chaotic order but there is still no difference in how actions are played out. The generic fabric is dilapidated but this is in due part because Shanghai is a few decades old. The city works the same way here in Asia, but differently in the West. Walking down the street may be an easy task as it does not impact our ability to complete it. For example without using a car for transit, the task at hand can still be done while in Los Angeles, the distance of programs makes it difficult; the systems facilitate the ability to tap into certain programs due to the infrastructure makeup. These programs impact our lives, as the ability to obtain something can be a simple arbitrator. The advanced technology facilitates our mobility as the methods of transit allow to physically and mentally go to another place. To physically experience the act of travel assimilates “the real”.

The importance about programming in a shorter more decentralize way is to keep a sustainable marketing agenda. Here in Shanghai it is possible to make a living on the streets as a street vender. The concept of a mobile program is plausible. Equivalent to the food truck craze in the United States, the theoretical engagement between the behavior of the city and the social prove that there is no need for a required infrastructure. Arguably there is more social and cultural engagement between the vender and customer. This idea of mobile programming allows room for open dialogue between the two also blurring the existing boundaries of the formal and informal infrastructure. The streets are a part of the social infrastructure where the activities begin to blur the public and the private merging the activities. The systems of the social are no spectacle but simply just life.

10/19/2013 Paula M Narvaez

Filed under: China, Shanghai, , , , ,

Welcome to the Good Life?

“One city, nine towns.”  This is the initiative passed by the Shanghai Planning Commission in 2001, calling for the creation of nine new urban developments outside of the Shanghai city center to provide an alternative living condition.  Thames town in the Songjiang district, and Zhujiajao in the Qingpu district were two towns we toured a week ago, Thames town a new development, and Zhujiajao an ancient river town around which a new development is being planned.  Visits to their respective urban planning exhibition halls preceded our arrival, as we learned of the district’s new plans for urban growth in the area.  What was most interesting about these new developments was their seemingly “reverse” urban strategy.

As we have studied over and over, the development of great cities is wedded to the infrastructural networks that sustain them.  Following this notion, airports, train lines, subway systems and highways often develop simultaneously with the city itself, if not before.  Thames Town and Zhujiajiao’s development strategy has proposed the opposite; Build first, infrastructure later.  Neither town has it’s own metro station in place or any semblance of a major transportation hub.  Our group arrived by bus to both locations, after more than an hour travel time from Shanghai’s center.  So what of their success and vibrancy, without a critical infrastructure in place?  In Thames Town’s case, it is quite dead.  Empty streets, vacant shops and restaurants, a strange ghost-town feel pervades the atmosphere.  The only sign of life comes in the form of young Chinese newly-weds, who flock here for a photo shoot against the picturesque English market town backdrop, after which the architecture is modeled.

Zhujiajao is much more promising.  Woven through the context is a small river, from which the life of the historical village thrives.  It is along this waterway where the most vibrant street life can be found… hundreds of small shops, cafes, restaurants and residences line the riverbanks, and crowds of people wander through the narrow streets and over the bridges of this old fabric.  A Far East Venice, if you will.  Interestingly enough, this small river which now only serves tourist boat rides was once a major infrastructural artery, providing transport and goods into and out of the village.  Even though it cannot be considered a major piece of infrastructure in the contemporary sense of an urban node, it was still essential to the sustainment of the area, and eventually the decision to develop around it.  The new development under Shanghai’s initiative seems to be working as well, and feeding off of the inner-vibrancy of the waterway.  Quite literally, this historical pocket is being left alone, as new development is building up around it.

Another question to ask of these new development models concerns their legitimacy within a larger urban agenda.  As mentioned before, the goal of the “one city, nine towns” initiative is to provide a different living condition from the “suffocating” city center.  In doing so, many of these towns are appropriating new, undeveloped land around the periphery of central Shanghai.  This could have a negative affect however, and result in vast urban sprawl and inactivated developments, especially due to the missing infrastructure.  As Robert A.M. Stern argues in his piece Urbanism is About Human Life, “We don’t need new cities; we need to reuse and make better use of our existing urban areas.  We don’t need to take new land; we need to reclaim wasted, abandoned land.”  I am not arguing that Shanghai should not be expanding, but only to consider solving some of its urban issues from more of a “compact urbanism” standpoint, from which more broad scope urban tactics can be reasoned.   If “urbanism is about human life”, than our urban interventions should respond to it, and enhance it.  Developments like Thames Town seems to be completely re-defining what life is for Shanghai; Cobblestone streets, red brick buildings, and Victorian churches couldn’t be further away from city life, and as of now are proving unsuccessful.  New life doesn’t necessarily mean better life.  Ultimately, we should continually remind ourselves of the questions Stern asks… “What is a good city?  What is the good life that we as architects should advocate?”


Filed under: About, China, Infrastructure, Robert A.M. Stern, Shanghai, Thames Town, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Urbanism Is About Human Life, Zhujiajiao

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, , ,

Detours & Stagnancy

Currently, the infrastructure of Los Angeles does not compare to that of Asian cities.  Public transportation is hardly utilized in Los Angeles, while it is the main form of transportation in virtually all Asian cities.  While Shanghai’s entire metro system was constructed in five years, Los Angeles’s Expo Line is taking years to complete the single line.  The debate over the high speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles has gone on longer than it took to build Shanghai’s entire metro system.  Why does America refuse to take the steps to match other country’s infrastructural systems?  The social debate may be what is causing the lack of progress.  With the lack of the social aspect, Shanghai is able to push ahead.

Michel de Certeau’s Walking in the City explains that “the walking of passers-by offers a series of turns…and detours that can be compared to ‘turns of phrase’ or ‘stylistic figures.’  There is a rhetoric of walking.  The art of ‘turning’ phrases finds an equivalent in an art of composing a path… Like ordinary language, this art implies and combines styles and uses.  Style specifies ‘a linguistic structure that manifests on the symbolic level…an individual’s fundamental way of being in the world’; it connotes a singular.  Use defines the social phenomenon through which a system of communication manifests itself in actual fact; it refers to a norm.  Style and use both have to do with a ‘way of operating’ (of speaking, walking, etc.), but style involves a peculiar processing of the symbolic, while use refers to elements of a code.  They intersect to form a style of use, a way of being and a way of operating.”

de Certeau’s walking rhetorics are formed by the creation of a pathway defined by certain turns and detours.  In terms of infrastructure, it could be said that Los Angeles is moving forward in a straight line, without turning.  This creates a stagnant sense movement.  Where Los Angeles is stagnantly moving, cities like Shanghai are taking detours in order to progress.

Socially, on the other hand, the relationships of city to pathway is reversed.  Shanghai has little forward movement socially, while Los Angeles is detouring from a straight path.  Shanghai’s social stagnancy may be helping at the time being.  With a strong social draw, much of the current and rapid progress apparent in Shanghai may have not been attainable, much like Los Angeles today.

In each city, these two pathways merge in order to create the city’s essence.  Infrastructure and social.  The city’s infrastructure could be considered the “style,” while the social aspect is how the style is “used.”  One cannot exist without the other.  At the time being, for both Shanghai and Los Angeles the two pathways merge to create almost identical pathways because of the strong detours for one pathway and the stagnancy of the other for each city.  What will happen when one of the stagnant pathways dramatically takes a turn?

Thanks to Mao’s Cultural De-Revolution, China is struggling to catch up to other cities socially and societally.  What will happen when Shanghai’s social aspects match their infrastructure?  Cities like Los Angeles will slowly become forgotten and overlooked, unless they change the way that they are currently operating.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: China, Infrastructure, Los Angeles, Shanghai, social

The Twilight Zone

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man it is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity it is the middle ground between light and shadow between science and superstition and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call- the Twilight Zone.”

This quotation is one of many introductory narrations of the Twilight Zone series.  It contantly reminds me of the various “realities” that I have expierenced throughtout the trip. Obivously, I am in a different world because I’m in China, but it is the strange and complex polemic layers that transforms a situation, moment, or place into this undescribable limbo.  The most recent event was when I visited Songjiang Province’s Thames Town.

Thames Town’s creation relates to the larger issue of Shanghai’s sprawl.  Because the government understands its consequences, it has implemented satellite towns such as Songjiang and Qingpu as new city centers that will eventually build up with density.  Rather than travelling from the outskirts of Shanghai into the city, one’s workplace will be in the new satellite city center.  Then, infrastructure will start connecting the satellite towns to greater Shanghai.

The success of these satellite towns is still to be determined, but regardless, it is exciting to see a city in the in between stages of development.  This stage is caught between light and shadow, superstition and science, fear and knowledge.  It applies from the macro Shanghai to the indvidiaul town.  On the city scale, I’m temporarily thrown into these unknown worlds and then yanked back out as I return to Shanghai.

Immediately surrounding Thames Town is modern housing developments typically seen throughout China and bustling streets with various activity.  Once I entered Thames Town, everything from the streets, architecture, telephone booths, and traffic lights were British.  But I am in China…

Despite its adoption of another city’s context, there was no other human life form in the town other than my peers and the occasional photo entourage.  I can’t classify this as a ghost town like the Wild West because there wasn’t mad rush to physically be there and a slow decrease of residents that eventually leaves a town empty.  The only rush was to buy the property.  With only a 20% occupancy rate, the mix-use retail that underneath struggled to stay in business after its first year.  Now the majority of the street level retail is empty or taped up with the exception of some photography studios profiting from picturesque glamour shoots.

On paper as an urban and marketing strategy, it is a great idea to theme many of these towns after European cities.  The housing units become limited edition collectors items.  Others see Thames Town as an affordable way to “leave” the city and take their wedding photos in a British backdrop.  Sure this area was able to sell all its units in 48 hours, but how sustainable is it to create an artificial town with the vital ammenities with no one to inhabit it, compared to the naturally occuring developments located in the outskirts of Shanghai where people have to travel to and from the city center everyday?

It is especially strange to me that the immediate context outside of Thames Town is thriving and oozing with activity that this expensive real estate development lacks.  Thames Town is a the a “real” Twilight Zone where it is built to be a functioning part of the city, but is missing the actual inhabitants to allow it to flourish.  In a wedding photo, it could be taken in England 10+ hours away, but in reality its only a 45 minute drive from Shanghai.  It’s a great copy of a British town, but right outside is Songjiang, a satellite town of Shanghai. Shanghai is in the “communist” People’s Repulic of China, but given its growing economy, China has adopted a Western influenced aesthetic for branded goods and lifestyle.

If I had to REALLY describe Thames Town, I couldn’t because of its multiple and complicated twists of contradictions.  The oveall ambiguity of categorizing and labeling Thames Town makes it this Twilight Zone.  But then, does everything with multiple polemical layers be categorized as the Twilight Zone?  Maybe Thames Town was made as this accentuation of the Chinese addiction to imported culture.  In that case, those who know about this are extremely amused and entertained.


Filed under: Architecture, Branding, China, satellite town, Shanghai, Songjiang, Thames Town, Twilight Zone


Located in the Qingpu district of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao is a water town lined with never ending merchants, colorful smells, and a culture that dates back 5000 years.  This video is a short compilation of my experience through this tiny village: the sights from a river boat ride and the sounds of walking through the merchant streets.  As it is impossible to remember every moment of an experience, the video slows down to focus on a few select flashes of the everyday culture in Zhujiajiao in order to enhance the reality of this unique place.



Filed under: China, River, Shanghai, Video, Zhujiajiao

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Of all the cities we’ve analyzed over the past three months, few have made us as susceptible to ‘the everyday’ like the metropolis of Shanghai.  I suppose it’s something that comes with living in any new environment for a prolonged period of time, once the undesirable status of ‘tourist’ has been outlived.  It is the point at which a foreigner becomes attuned to the defining characteristics and nuances of a place and culture. Whether it’s the daily routine of walking to a metro station or the man selling roasted sweet potatoes on the street corner, the day-to-day occurrences that often go unnoticed are what constitute ‘the everyday.’  In Henry Lefebvre’s The Everyday and Everydayness, he attempts to decode the modern world through this most common denominator that exists within every culture’s forms, functions and structures.  Our ability to identify the differences between the ‘everydayness’ of one region and another is what will reveal the diversity in a world of increasing uniformity.

Before modern times, people lived their lives according to their region, country, class, available resources, season, climate, profession, age, and sex.  The specific response to each of these contextual elements contributed to the diversity of culture and in turn the unique sense of place we enjoy experiencing as foreigners.  However, as we strive to programmatically rationalize and define the world around us, we are promoting the process of mass production, which inherently undermines this diversity.  As Lefebvre’s explains, all of the forms, functions and structures that are connected through ‘the everyday’ experience promote mass consumption on a global scale.  Although, similar forms, functions and structures existed in ancient times they were left unnamed within an ‘undifferentiated whole.’  In other words, their nature (meaning) was not clearly outlined, and therefore could not be associated with a universal category or style.  Without such associations, the distinctiveness of these elements could remain intact and exclusive to their respective origins.  Today he explains, “The relationship of form to function to structure has not disappeared.  On the contrary, it has become a declared relationship, produced as such, more and more visible and readable, announced and displayed in a transparency of the three terms.  A modern object clearly states what it is, its role and its place.”

It becomes apparent within Lefebvre’s logic that language as a tool is incremental in the modern rationalization phenomenon. According to Richard Rorty, a famous American Philosopher, there are many different beliefs about the world because “Anything can be made to look good or bad, important or unimportant, useful or useless, by being re-described” through the tool of language.  What accounts for the differences in cultures are the ways in which they describe events in the world.  If we acknowledge the fact that we think with language, then new ways of thinking will enable new ways of describing.  As descriptions change, so do the way people think and act in the world.  Similarly, the truth of Lefebvre’s “everydayness” is that it is not concerned with discovering some universal condition or system, it is about creating diversity (change) through the imaginative metaphorical re-descriptions of ‘the everyday’ human experience.  A common denominator that seeks to create rather than discover or find the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Metaphors that emerge from the human poet lead to new ways of thinking and living in the present environment.

Structure is one component of ‘the everyday’ experience which is most applicable to the study of architecture and urbanism.  Existing in both natural and constructed form, structure is the backdrop of ‘the everyday’ where forms and functions are enacted.  Lefebvre says, “…in the domain of architecture, a variety of local, regional, and national architectural styles has given way to “architectural urbanism,” a universalizing system of structures and functions in supposedly rational geometric forms.”  In the same way that language dictates the symbolic value of the forms and functions in our lives, so to does the predefined formal language found in ‘architectural urbanism.’  What influence does the architect have in ‘designing’ a structure that is simply defined by the inscribed functions?  Diversity within architectural and urban design becomes ‘apparent’ as the overriding rational geometric form is the principal means of consumption.  Work by Rem Koolhaas and OMA is successful because of its unique ability to broaden this formal vocabulary through metaphorical re-descriptions.  Seattle Public Library re-defined the typical organizational strategy of that type of institution and had a larger impact on ‘the everyday’ as a result.  As Louis Kahn said, “I just want to make my last demand in reverence to the work of what has been done by architects of the past. what was, has always been. what is, has always been. and what will be, has always been. such is the nature of beginning.”

Lefebvre’s analysis of ‘the everyday’ is an insightful look into the often undesirable banality of the human experience.  In a world dominated by instantaneously available mass consumption, it is refreshing to observe the minuteness of the present moment.




Filed under: Henry Lefebvre, Language, Shanghai, the everyday, Uncategorized

Four Hours

Since being in the French Concession of Shanghai, I have not given myself the task of exploring the area, so I head out at around 6 p.m. hoping to learn more about this place. I find a shop that sells Monchichi, a doll I recognize from a toy bin I used to have (the ones I remember once belonged to my sisters). Further around the block I find several hair salons, all manned (pun intended) by well-stylized individuals. I keep walking around, going into a few places here and there. Model shops, cool t-shirt design boutiques, a pet store with clear containers containing furry felines, a bookstore/cafe, a massage parlor and an interesting stack of small boutique stores.

Heading in the opposite direction, I make my way to the park I discovered a few weeks ago. Sure enough, I am quickly transported to one of our earlier discussions about program, space, and activity. The first time I heard this lecture I was in my second year of architecture studies, diligently taking notes on heat sensitive glass walls that served as urinals in a men’s bathroom…

Once in the park, where music seems to emanate from the trees lining the walkway, I see dozens of couples waltz precisely and rhythmically, like a school of fish. In no other instant have I witnessed this behavior in China. There’s no competition, no need to rush up against one another in an effort to get ahead, because there is no apparent destination. They cautiously avoid each other, nimbly prancing from one step to the next.

As I watch these men and women, women and women, solitary men, solitary women (never men and men), I almost forget that I’m sitting on a park bench watching and writing. My pen seems to follow the beat with each stroke, dancing in the park and dancing in my sketchbook… a paper ballad.

And this is the same park where I also discovered several men writing with water on the stone pavers. These dancers paint the path on the ground with the swift strokes of their choreographed steps, just as the water of the calligraphers paints evanescent messages on the ground. Who says a park can’t be a dance floor, or a blank piece of paper, ready to morph itself into the setting of a new story?

The elderly woman sitting next to me surrenders her seat as she reaches to take the hand of a younger woman who just approached her. They’re lost on the dance floor…

I get up to leave almost wishing I had taken the opportunity to learn a dance, but tell myself I shall return.

Heading towards the subway station, I walk past the intersection and stroll into the McDonald’s near the entrance. I step up the register and order a number 3 (not number 1 as in the U.S.) with a Sprite. I take my tray and find a nice vacant corner to sit in. As I sit there eating away at the layers of my Big Mac, I can’t help but think of Ray Kroc and how his humble idea grew into something so large, now manifested indefinitely around the world. Something taken for granted and merely accepted into the daily ritual.

Order, pay, eat, and leave.

I finish my meal and head further north towards Cathay Cinema, where we watched the first part of the seventh installment of Harry Potter. That was quite an experience. I walk past it and make my way into the shopping center nearby thinking I need a new hoodie, but quickly dismiss this thought upon remembering that I left my credit card in the safe back at the hotel.

Up four sets of escalators and back down, I decide to head back. I had forgotten my phone and never got around to buying a watch, so I have no idea how long I’ve been gone. Stepping onto the street, I wonder why there isn’t a Chinese version of Big Ben in this part of the city – I could really use one at the moment. I even contemplate walking into one of the boutique shops to ask the time, but I don’t know how to ask in the native tongue. Which reminds me, I just bought a Rosetta Stone to learn Mandarin Chinese. If only I’d had that over summer.

The choreographed walk back to studio is less exciting than the spontaneous route I’d followed earlier. Wondering if the couples are still dancing, I choose the path adjacent to the park. By then there are only two or three people standing on the almost vacant dance floor. Maybe tomorrow night.

As I turn into the alley that leads to Dean Ma’s office, I run into Ross, Precious and Sara. The looks on their faces convey how long I’ve been gone. On the work tables inside the office I find a piece of A3 paper folded in half with the following written on it:


We have your stuff, don’t worry about that.

Doorman has Joyce’s # please call her ASAP. We are worried.

I guess time flies when you’re watching people dance in the park.


Filed under: Dance, French Concession, Park, Shanghai, Uncategorized


Having stayed in Shanghai for almost two months now, it almost feels like I’ve been living here my whole life. A few days ago, I was at the subway station waiting for the next train to arrive when an elderly woman came up to me and inquired whether or not the train I was waiting for would bring her to her destination stop; In one of my proudest moments, I answered that question without hesitation and even suggested what exit to take to get to her destination, all in Chinese! It seems to be getting easier and easier to get into an everyday routine nowadays, especially at the subway station. One second you’re descending the elevators into the terminal and the next, you’re surrounded by a sea of black haired and brown-eyed men and women crowding to squeeze into the subway cars. Trying to hold your balance during jolts of the subway cars, the musty scent of body odor and sweat, the occasional beggar journeying from one end of the subway to the other shaking his coin jar, being inches away from the person next to you during rush hours; all that has become part of the everyday, at least for me. All this reminds me of what Michel de Certeau validates as being a “haunted” place,

Haunted places are the only places people can live in”.

Scary, right?

I think what Certeau is ultimately getting at is the core of all this phenomenology within a city: the notion of a place. If place is defined by the metaphysical (memory, time), than that place is no more defined than through what is seen. The existence of that significance is within the memory, which associates certain emotions/ideas embedded within a space. Memories, are in essence, the practice of spatial ordering because places are merely fragments of private histories accumulated from everyone who has passed through there. People are the make up of the city. Certeau even suggests that the city space is, in itself, the canvas on which the people (pedestrians) write the story through their movement through and within these spaces.

However, I would argue that unlike what Certeau argues as the inevitability of non-place as a direct result of mobility, the city itself is full of urban places solely because of pedestrian traffic. If walking is the “acting-out” of a place, the city is then the container of these acted spaces. The very act of naming spaces are the “impetus of movements, like vocations and calls that turn or divert an itinerary by giving it a meaning (or direction) that was previously unforeseen”. Names we are all too familiar with now like “The Bund”, “People’s Square”, and even our very own “Old Humin Road” all connote some sort of experience or memory that transcends just the physicality of the site or the label. These places have become more than names or streets but destinations, meeting points, symbols. It goes beyond just being a dot on a map, but only to be experienced fully from the viewpoint of the individual. And all this is part of the story that the city tells through the observer. These “Urban Texts”, if you will, are written through the mobile nature of the individual and the masses that each offers their own experiences. Spaces can only be defined as long as the person stays there, with the next person replacing the narrative with a fresh perspective. The city can never maintain one image since the mass population can never remain static nor impose one unifying image on a space in which they move through. It’s amazing and simultaneously wonderfully exciting to think that what I offered as my own experience of the subway ride may be the total opposite image of the next person riding the same train, five cars down. So perhaps while I silently let the subway rock me back and forth on my next Line 1 ride, I’ll be reminded that what I see, feel, and hear is just an excerpt from my Shanghai narrative that has yet to be fully written.



Filed under: Architecture, China, haunted, Michel de Certeau, Shanghai, Subway, Urbanism, Walking in the City

The People Pavilion

I realized that the world expo was about more than just visiting pavilions when I decided to buy a cone of Turkish ice cream on our first day at the venue.

The character serving ice cream was a very animated individual, effortlessly earning the attention of curious bystanders. In fact, the crowd gathered around his booth was so large that in order to even see him you had to find a gap from which to peek. Having made my way to the end of the line, I noticed that the people gathered there were not in fact buying ice cream from this man. Instead, they were excitedly huddled around him and his customers as if waiting for something to happen.

Eh, whatever. I handed the woman standing next to him the twenty renminbi for my cone.

He scooped a generous blob of the sweet treat onto a crunchy cone and handed it to me.

Well, kind of…

Walking away from the booth with cone in hand, I knew I would never forget this ice cream cone and felt the need to share this experience with the rest of the group. After meeting up with everyone else, I told them how great the ice cream was and encouraged them to get a cone for themselves.

Luckily for me, Mr. Liang was down for some dessert. So, I led the group back to the ice cream booth and signaled to the Turkish server that Andrew would like to buy a cone. He winked at me, and this is what followed:

upload in progress… link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4dhLvIyTpU

Looking back at the expo, it seems that the pavilions that were constructed served merely as containers for the most important exhibit: people. The people pavilion, most commonly identified as the obstacle to overcome in an attempt to reach the other pavilions, was by far the largest and most impacting.

Everywhere you looked, there were people.

People taking pictures.

…waiting in line.

…eating in small groups.

…eating in large groups.

…watching shows.

…watching people.

…watching people watching people.

…watching people watching people watching people.

Being the pavilion you experience as you attempt to reach the other attractions, it’s hard to imagine going through the expo without it. Moving through the undeniable “mass” of people filling the space between the pavilions, sometimes very dense and sometimes sparse, felt like moving through a bowl of Jell-O: carving out a path that closes up behind you as soon as you pass through, as if you hadn’t been there at all.

At the other extreme, there were those people pavilions composed of single individuals, much like the one in which Andrew plays protagonist. More than a few of the members of our group were often pulled aside from the group in order to be photographed, almost like celebrities. The more entertaining aspect of these moments is that once a person mustered up the courage to take the first photo, a mob of onlookers felt the need to pose with the same person, not wanting to be left behind.

The whole event in itself became a spectacle for the rest of us standing nearby. Even more so after realizing someone was looking at us, looking at them, looking at us, looking at…

You get the picture.

– alfredo

Filed under: pavilion, people, Shanghai, Uncategorized, World Expo


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