URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Raised by Digital Wolves

For the past three years I have watched my niece Emily grow from the point where she was conceived in the hospital until now. And simply watching her development has been one of the most extraordinary phenomenons I have ever seen. Although I’m only less than 2 decades older I can see a huge gap in the way that we were raised. Just last year when Emily was only 2 years old, I found out that she could count in 5 different dialects: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Cantonese, and Hungarian. Although it’s true it was our family has taught her Cantonese, English, and Hungarian, none of us could’ve possibly have taught her any Spanish or Mandarin. It came to me that the very thing that taught her was the very device that she held on so dearly: the iPhone. This wasn’t  happening to just Emily but to all those that were her age where  kids less than 5 years old could already count, read, and write before even signing up for elementary school. IPads and DS lites were suddenly in the hands of every child and our generation started to see the power and influence of technology.

One of the hottest topics nowadays is the effects of technology on the developing world. We have noticed people to be extremely involved in the cyber world to the point where we have entire cities rely on using smart phone as means to purchase, travel, and conduct conversations. Technology has been so influential to our lives that we can, at any time of the day, exchange and interact with people from all parts of the world simply by sitting in front of a desk or sitting in a taxi. Even now while I’m traveling I am able to see the site, know its history, experience it by video, and understand every inch of floor plan moments before I arrive at the site. The extent of the information that is available to us as well as the sense of or time and space has completely been released and rearranged by the introduction of technology. Then as architects, as those who are crafters of space and time, we can only imagine what this means to the future of urbanism.

In the 19th century we witnessed the dramatic rise in the debates of new cities in the future of the built environment and its influence to the new urban vocabulary. Urban planning was no longer about the traditional sense of space and time because it has redefined our capabilities by placing us in a world that is timeless and placeless. We are now living in a generation where everything is hybrid and instant. We require high speed broad bands, ‘on the dot’ high speed rails, and one click financial transactions. The narrative of the 21st century suddenly changed and we took it all for the better and for the worse. The good part was that technology led to new materials, new ways to solve major urban problems, and new ways of architectural expression but it also created an enormous problem of making the public space less public.

The Boulevard, as understood by the Parisians was a wide street that encircled the center of the city. This was a place of high quality landscape, wide lanes, and was considered one of the principal features of the city where everyone gathered and socialized. But now we begin to see the traditional spaces of gathering slowly depopulating because with the rise of the digital age, it makes us “depend less and less on being in a specific place and a specific time “(Negroponte 35) And now “the bandwidth has replaced the boulevard” (Lerup).

Although this is partially true, I believe that architects and planners have begun to see the change and have used technology as a medium to the new urban developments. Digital living has simply ‘added another layer’ to our urban life where public areas now are able to not only interact with people around them but simultaneously interact with people around the world. Weeks ago while AAU was in Seoul, my classmates and I were walking down one of the main boulevards with the rest of the group when suddenly we lost them. With no means of communication we found one of many “media poles” down the boulevard and we were able to email a picture with a message to our instructor. The media poles were only one of the many artifacts that made Seoul such an icon as a digital city. The streets are full of digital signage, subways are fully interactive, and museums are mostly interactive as well. We have come to see in the 21st century the introduction to the ‘smart street’ and ‘virtual communities’.

Another benefit of the digital age is that we are witnessing a language of extreme compression and hybridization where not only are our devices getting smaller but the programs are experiencing hybridization as well. In Taiwan, one of the major places to gather in Taipei is a bookstore called Eslite. Eslite  is a super node of program that integrates not only a wide selection but books but is also a place for retail, food and beverage, and possibly anything the heart can desire. It has become such an amazing place of gathering that people literally spend their weekends at the bookstore. Another super node is the IFC in Hong Kong where people can live, shop, eat, go to the doctor, do their laundry and go to the airport all in one building. As Leffbvre says it “abandoning humanism allows us to enter super humanism” (Leffbvre 10)

So for those who have seen this rise of the digital forces and have called it a death to our generation do not realize it is the very thing raised us. We are no longer raised in the traditional sense but like Emily, we are raised by technology and are the resultant of a great transformation in the way of life.  So whether we are architects or urbanists, we should come to see that now there is a new way to think about the narrative and that technology should not restrain our designs but rather enable it to achieve better and higher goals.

Anita

Filed under: Architecture, Digital age, Korea, Seoul, Social Development, south korea, technology, Urbansim

Urban Schizophrenia

The condition of schizophrenia is a state of delusions that can be challenging to understand. It is a terrifying battle that takes you through an existence that is “deranged, empty, and devoid of all anchors to reality”. In several cases, schizophrenics often have separate personas or ‘controllers’ whom entice them to abandon their realities and enter a place that causes severe emotion and a loss to what we perceive to be real. It would then become hard to decipher thoughts and eventually the everyday consciousness would be lost and taken over. In a similar way we as inhabitants act as schizophrenics in how we perceive reality within the realm of the metropolis where we are no longer aware but desensitized by the very factors that make up the city.

In Simmel’s Metropolis and the Mental Life, he clearly defines two key components that act as the basic construct of the city: the man and the external forces. As man it is essential to understand that we adapt to environments in forms of habits, convictions, and impulses that clearly “take a regular and habitual course and show regular and habitual contrast” (Simmel 410) From this Simmel suggests that the metropolis manipulates man’s formulated nature and conditions it with the “sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions”. This in turn slowly alters our psyches and distorts what we perceive to be real and uninterrupted in order to fuel a successful city growth. “With each crossing of the street, with the temporary and multiplicity of the economic, occupational, and social life, the city sets up the sensory foundations of a psychic life.” (Simmel 410) The forces in our daily routines are so constant and matter-of-fact that we have lost our sense of judgment in distinguishing what is real and untouched. Thereby numbing our actuality to make the metropolis’ reality our own reality and the metropolis’ struggle our own struggle. These external forces in the city play the parallel role to controllers in the schizophrenic world. The external forces or ‘urban controllers’ if you will, condition and entice man to constantly struggle in defining and achieving his individual role. And like the schizophrenics and their alternative personas, the urban controller and the man eventually become one.

About two weeks ago as I flew into Hong Kong, I felt that I understood the city very well. I knew every bar, every subway line, and every good restaurant because beginning a few years ago I worked in the city for a few summers. Every morning I would go from my apartment to the office and every night I would leave the office for my apartment. Moving from place to place within Hong Kong became a daily routine and eventually I molded my habits and routines to the point to where I could travel swiftly across the streets, up the escalators, and through the foot bridges. Then as weeks pass I eventually discovered places to eat, things to eat, places to meet people, and places to shop. It is not until now do I realize that as I came to Hong Kong all those years ago that my mind was actively adapting to its environment by absorbing the streets, the advertisements, the people, the culture, etc. My daily choices and impulses came from the many external forces that is Hong Kong. I, in this case, was the schizophrenic and the urban controller was very much apparent. For instance if I picked up a particular brand of water bottle it would be because of the simple glance of a poster somewhere on my way to work through an air conditioned mall that I wanted to pass go through because the weather was so hot. Just by this simple, quick, yet unconscious decision I actively participated in the economic life of Hong Kong by fueling that particular business which fuels that particular habitant’s life. My needs, just as it is in the United States are the same as it is here in Asia. And the city, knowing well my internal nature has implemented forces into the city to subconsciously convince me to participate in city life. All these forces take over and eventually the urban controller and I became one.

In a recent public online diary entry, Janet Jordan, a 27 year old schizophrenic, has had severe hallucinations through the last 25 years of her life. She states in her entry that the controller in her head has taken over for so long that she does not remember the point when the controller wasn’t there. Fortunately her hallucinations would fall in and out thereby giving her a reality to anchor to. It was not until she acknowledged this reality could she feel she had a problem and begin to take hold of it. In the same way if we begin to take hold of these two components and understand the relationship between the man and urban controller, as Simmel calls us to, we can begin to experiment and begin an entirely new phenomenon much like the experimental city of Shenzhen. However in my observation I consider Shenzhen to be a fake reality because of its reaction to the extreme rate of urban control. At the ‘untouched reality’ Shenzhen is still a lower class village while the ‘controlled reality’ sees Shenzhen as a rapidly growing city, dense of glass skyscrapers, and with the highest GDP in China. In this case Shenzhen plays both the man and the controller because Shenzhen is trying to condition itself to catch up to their wild and experimental standards. I believe that the natural slow altering of the man’s psyche has not quite caught up with the pace that the urban controller is trying to condition the city to be. The city is expanding at such a rapid speed that there is a very big gap between habits and actuality and thus course the urban controller and the man are not one.

In the comparison between Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the case of urban schizophrenia, the relationships are so different and interesting that it calls into question which one will work better. Will the urban controller that has a steady pace or a rapid pace work out better? Will the rabbit or the turtle win? We can only allow the disease to play out in order to fully study and understand the condition of the mental vs. the metropolis.

//Anita//

Filed under: Architecture, Hong Kong, mental disease, Metropolis, schizophrenia, Social Development, Urban Village, Urbanism, Urbanism Is About Human Life

Better City, Better Life. For whom?

While “preparing for arrival” in Shanghai, My eye was drawn to rows and rows of massive housing blocks. These mega forms give the first glimpse of the rapid urban growth being experienced in China. As the plane landed, an amazing transit system was right there to get you from point A to point B, and even more impressive is the system has only been in place for five years. This rapid growth to modernize China has created this new Chinese mentality of perspective. Most of this large-scale development is put into play to demonstrate China’s quantitative power, and to show the western world that it will soon be a new power. With this modernization for power, I question will the people be remembered.

In Japan, the level of development has nearly reached the state of perfection, if perfection could be achieved, and Korea is not too far behind. Japan’s success has to do with its culture. There was no trash in the streets and a degree of personal space is amazingly achievable in a dense metropolis. Somehow the Japanese have developed a sense of collectivism that is wired within their way of thinking. This is not saying that the Japanese model is correct, but it begs the question of what type of cultural and urban development is brewing in China.

My first reaction to China was even with though it is developing physically there seems to a lack of social development. For instance, standing in the gardens of the Forbidden City, the last stop in what been an extraordinary procession of architecture I felt a sudden grip on my arm. A Chinese woman was pulling me out of our group. My automatic reaction was to step away yet she reached for me again. As I shook my head, saying no to the picture-taking I was becoming accustomed to I could not help but wonder how this breach of personal space was a norm in China. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and we are at the Shanghai World Expo. Here within the pavilions that are boasting modern advancement people are spitting, throwing trash, pushing people, and cutting in line. Something we were taught not to do from the age of three.

The difficult part here is to not get into what’s proper and improper, rather stepping back and understanding their culture. As a person who has grown up in the West, I assume my social standards to be the same for the rest of the world. On the contrary being in Japan, and feeling rude and out-of-place, I started to realize how robotic and unnaturally human Japan has become. China has the grit and grime that makes the city feel more real and humanizing.

The world Expo was a great example of this real human factor. Although the event is meant to celebrate the development of different countries, the main emphasis on the Expo was the new power of China. Many different countries designed beautiful pavilions and exhibitions, but there is another beauty beyond the architecture. I saw a society that has been closed off for the past 40+ years experiencing something new and exciting. Seeing and experiencing what every country has to offer. As much as that woman pulling me away irked me in retrospect I am beginning to understand the fascination.

The theme for the world expo is, “Better City, Better Life” yet one cannot forget a City is not just the built environment but a make up of people, economics, and politics that drive it. I think the challenge for China will be finding a balance between social concerns and economical and political dominance. As they continue to push for a modernization will social issues such as the huge gap between the affluent and the lower class, begin to stunt its growth? I think China will begin to create its own identity, whether it is towards the hyper-density and collectivism of Japan or the sprawled, individuality of the west.

– Precious

Filed under: Architecture, China, Growth, Japan, Psyche, Social Development, Urbanism, World Expo

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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