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.


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

The Twilight Zone [Episode 1: Paju (“Book City”): Architectural utopia or hell?]

Our story begins in Paju “Book City,” South Korea, where a young man awakens to find himself in a world unfamiliar to him.

“Where am I?” Chris asks himself, strewn upon the ground with an aching pain in his head. He can’t seem to remember how he found himself on a lawn in front of what looks like a traditional Korean dwelling.

“It has to be Korean,” he thinks to himself as he observes the tiled roof and the thin white window screens that let light into the home.

But as his attention fades away from the old home, he becomes more unsettled, as he sees building after building, block after block of these marvelously designed pieces of architecture.

“I’ve died and gone to architecture heaven,” Chris manages to says, stunned by his good-fortune and taken aback at the sight that has befallen his eyes. He’d only been a student of architecture for 4 years but never in that time had he visited a place that seemed to have such a crispness and cleanliness about it. There were no dilapidated liquor stores or abandoned warehouses or “cookie-cutter” suburban homes.

No, these buildings were all carefully thought out and designed. Not simply dropped onto their sites because it was the most affordable option. There was surely a long planning process in place to make sure such quality buildings were erected here.

“What am I doing just standing around for, I must take this all in!” he exclaims as he began running up and down the street, taking in the majestic elements of each structure. He briefly stops at one, a dynamic concrete building with an exterior staircase that moves Chris to the core.

“Now this is what a staircase should look like. I need to see more!”

One after another he took in a building and it’s components, each one differing from the other.

But then it begins to dawn on Chris. The buildings that started off looking so unique and different from each other start looking more and more alike. A cold chill runs up his back as this thought occurs to him.

“No, no, it can’t be. I’m sure one of these buildings is addressing its context or at least contains an elevation that gestures to an adjacent site. There has to be at least one!” he cries out as he runs from building to building, trying to find one element, one material move that would prove his theory wrong.

He finds nothing.

The dream scenario quickly turns into a nightmare for Chris, who cannot seem to escape this collection of randomly disassociated pieces of architecture. He runs down one street, only to be confronted by more buildings.

Soon they’re everywhere, surrounding Chris until it’s as though they are right on top of him, stifling his breath, choking the life out him. He can’t breathe. He can’t think.

“GET ME OUT OF HERE!” he screams sitting up in his bed, beads of sweat drip down his face.

“Dude, what’s wrong?” Christian, Chris’s roommate, worriedly asks.

“I-I don’t know. I had a dream I was in this architectural utopia, where it was as if everything were designed by Gehry or Koolhaas…it was all crashing down on top of me. Ev-everywhere…” replied Chris.

“How could that be bad? That would be amazing!” says Christian.

Chris replies, “You would think, wouldn’t you?”

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: "Book City", architectural utopia, contextual relation, objects, Paju, planned city, south korea, Uncategorized


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