URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Fragmentation

“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, ,

The bitter mote…of a soul?

Ever since the first computers, there have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?

As an architect, you have the power to control everything. As an architect, you lack the power to control anything. That is the lesson I am discovering on this leg of our journey through Hong Kong and Shenzhen. We have visited countless architecture works by architects from Ando to Ito to Koolhaas to Foster and yet, no matter how star-studded and acclaimed these architects may be, I argue that not a single one can design a building where they control every surface and every interaction that occurs within its realm. We encountered an unexpected programmatic use on the ground floor of Norman Foster’s Hongkong and Shanghai Bank on a Sunday (if you visit, it has to be a Sunday!). There, blanketing the ground floor that powerful bank executives cross everyday during the week, are hundreds of Filipino women and children, sitting down, playing cards, and taking in the Sunday relaxation. You could look around the grounds for a sign designating the area Sunday Picnic Space but you would never find it. I am reminded of the old architect mantra “build it and they will come.” No offense to Lord Foster, I do not believe he anticipated the use of his ground floor for leisure rather than business. Instead, we witness a fascinating parasitic weekly occurrence. The building acts as a “host” to the people, who utilize the space for short periods of during the week and then leave. What makes this phenomenon more prodigious is that something of this nature is seldom seen back in the States. The main operating principle of a parasite is that it feeds off of its hosts but never harms it. The ground floor is never left with trash or waste when Sunday ends. How many times has a parking lot outside of a stadium been left spotless after a day of tailgating?

These types of conditions are more closely detailed in Junzo Kuroda’s Made in Tokyo: Guide Book. Kuroda’s guidebook chronicles various urban spatial situations throughout the city of Tokyo that are unique because of odd programmatic groupings. Kuroda labels these situations as Da-me architecture, or not the “architecture of architects.” He observes instances such as a highway department store, roller coaster building, and a graveyard tunnel that are a result of an organic city that breathes, consumes, and produces. As architects, we cannot ignore the fact that often times the city creates where architects or civil engineers do not. We must accept that the city evolves and morphs on its own.

The film quote above is by a scientist discussing the artificial intelligence of robots and the possibility of a machine having a soul. Why is it that when [programs] are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? I witnessed one instance of this along one stretch of street in Hong Kong. As we traveled on the tram, we passed dry-fruit stand after dry-fruit stand, all lined up next to each other. Then it would change to light store after light store. Groupings of similar program change as the fabric did. Is this by coincidence or the act of architect or engineer? Did the entire dry-fruit stand owner population get together and decide to post up their shops next to each other?

Rather, there is anintelligence at work. An intelligence that seeks to counter the “void phobia,” as Kuroda describes it, that the city of Tokyo combats by filling every available space, even the smallest amount of space that can be filled by a vending machine. This void phobia exists over streets in Hong Kong, with signs stretching over and past one another, fighting to gain leverage over the other. This intelligence is everywhere. You only have to look.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: code, cross programming, da-me architecture, ghosts in the machine, Hong Kong, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, intelligence, Junzo Kuroda, koolhaas, Made in Tokyo, mote of a soul, signage, sunday picnic, Tokyo, Uncategorized, unexpected protocol, Urban, void phobia,

Micro City in a Macro Metropolis

Tokyo is a city of extreme density, which forces architects to not only consider the x and y plane for circulation, rather they are forced to realize the complexity of the circulation layers found within the city. This has led to atypical design moves that form a more adaptive building typology. The understanding of the base of the building, and I will use the term base for it is not as simple as the ground floor/ bottom, is predominantly given to the public to interact with the urban. By doing so the typological lobby of buildings have been replaced with multi-layered pedestrian streets and mini plazas that have successful businesses and life weaved throughout the spaces. These bases actively engage the many layers of Tokyo’s infrastructure including subways, street fronts, and above ground rail lines.

By stepping back and looking at the larger urban plan, one can start to understand this complex network of bases plugging into the city grid. Each of these bases creating connections in the x, y, and z plane. Series of connections are what allow Tokyo to successfully delaminate their ground plane, which requires the architecture to adapt to its surrounding context.

With all of the above-considered one can start to analyze the urban conditions as a woven fabric. The entire city is connected by built environment. This uniformity typically consists of many small objects being brought together by the series of connections. In most cities circulation is dictated by automobile circulation and these connections typically represent an organizational grid. The voids created with the street grid are divided into separate properties allowing for many smaller objects to occupy the single void. Another way of looking at urban manipulation is creating larger objects that embody smaller programs. This method in some ways looks at creating a micro city coexisting within the larger metropolis.

One example of this methodology is the midtown development in Tokyo. By acquiring multiple properties, SOM (Skidmore Owings & Merrill) was able to demo a larger area of land to replace with a micro city. This urban strategy looks at a hybrid program solution, which incorporates retail, business, residential, hospitality, food, art, and transportation in one complex. The diversity of the program required specific attention to adjacencies and circulation to public and private spaces. Midtown’s solution was to create a complex base plug-in that addresses the complex public domain, and allowing three individual towers to rise out of the base to better support private spaces.

The base system for Tokyo Midtown is focused around a public plaza, which is the predominant driving force for the organization of the different programs. The outdoor plaza provides easy pedestrian access to the major program components from the street level, while providing a core to organize the many pieces. Although the plaza is pulled away from the main street the diversity of programs feeding off of it provide enough foot traffic to keep the space lively throughout the day. Off of the plaza are several lobbies that feed to the towers. These lobbies create thresholds that restrict circulation into the more private spaces. In the Ritz Carlton the ground lobby is predominantly used for vertical circulation, which opens to grand lobby on the 45th floor. Other means of linking the different programs together is a series of underground halls that have been scaled to act as pedestrian streets below street level. These streets are primarily driven by subway transportation, and are lined with street vendor style food and general shops.

On one end of the project the galleria anchors two of the towers, and allows the public to engage with the complex in the z-axis. This sectional manipulation provides more hierarchy and exclusivity to the shops that occupy the space above, giving visitors a more intimate relationship by simply pulling the shops off of the “street level”.

Car transportation for the complex is underplayed, and more geared for the wealthier clientele. Side streets provide access to the complex and are predominantly used by the Ritz-Carlton and private residences. This environment follows through to the garage where it is broken up into several small lobbies for valet service for each program component.

The green space is wrapped around the other side of the complex creating public walkways. Setting it off to the side and creating few circulation connections from the main complex, allows the space to maintain a semi private feel creating an oasis in the larger urban context. Towards the back of the complex is an expansive green space that allows for larger events and crowds to enjoy the open sky.

Delaminating the circulation paths in combination with clustering different programmatic elements together helps create a series of diverse sectional environments. The complex has many qualities of a larger ecosystem, which mocks the urban lifestyle. Most of these conditions are represented in the base of the project, which acts as a larger base that plugs into Tokyo’s urban fabric. This different urban strategy so far has proven to be successful, and has been a model for other urban developments including LA Live in Los Angels and The City Center in Las Vegas. With the lack of transportation networks in The United States it will be interesting to see if the complexes maintain their popularity and vitality. In contrast, Midtown has the advantage of plugging into a larger system that has been prevalent in Tokyo for quite some time. The different developments share similar programmatic overlaps, but I would argue that Midtown’s success is largely in part of it’s well thought out arrangement of public spaces and it’s connections to it’s surrounding contexts. When a development successfully connects urban infrastructure and its surrounding context the single project becomes a piece of the collective metropolis.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, City, Fabric, Metropois, Micro, Midtown, Renjilian, Ross, SOM, Tokyo, Uncategorized, Urban, ,

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PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP

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