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


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Filed under: Aldo, Architecture, building, China, Defragmentation, pieces, Renjilian, Ross, Rossi, Shenzhen, Uncategorized, Urban, Urbanism, Village, ,

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?”

Alex

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

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

 

My experience in Shanghai has been a humbling experience of sorts. I’ll be the first to admit that before the trip, I had negative pre-conceptions of China as still being largely third world, despite the endless news reports of its quick economic development. If you asked me what my expectations of China were prior to leaving on this trip exactly three and a half months ago, I’d quite simply say:

“Well, it’s probably going to be smelly, dirty, and gloomy”.

Now, while I would say most of that is generally still true, I cannot doubt the fact that I am genuinely appalled and afraid of where China is and fast becoming in the global community. A plethora of high-speed rail developments, no shortage of planned economic zones, heavily invested by leading international businesses, epicenter of global events, and did I mention the growing population of 1.4 billion?

If that’s not enough to strike fear in your adversaries, then I don’t know what will.

But it’s not just China. Our initial drive through Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong provided a small (personally, I wish we spent MUCH more time there) glimpse into true “urbanism” as we call it. Layered densities both horizontal and vertical, hybridity of programmatic elements, successfully integration of infrastructural systems; all these are characteristics of what we saw, felt, experienced. In short, we experienced an everydayness that was foreign to us, and yet at the same time intriguing and exciting because, quite simply, it worked.

But what does that all mean for us now, especially post-trip while we’re safely back within the completely different world of America? If anything, this trip has opened my eyes to the deficiencies that plague a stagnant America that is utterly stuck in its tracks. Of course, we do enjoy many freedoms unparalleled in most countries, but America is far from its glory days. If the 20th century was about America, then the 21st century is increasingly becoming about China.  Friedman’s “From WikiChina” article, albeit humorous, provides an insightful look into perhaps how the world is continuing to view us. Friedman states, “ The Americans have replaced working to exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself ‘exceptional’, only others can bestow that adjective upon you”. Ouch, but so true. I mean, what’s so exceptional about American infrastructure? We have 10 lane freeway expansion projects in LA that stretches for miles, but the only exceptional thing about that is perhaps the iconic smog generated from all the car traffic. We can’t even agree to pass a bill to install a network of high speed rail transit systems that will even go over 90 miles per hour. The realization of such an infrastructural revolution within America is a lesson that can be taken from Asia, where high speed is a necessity of most people’s transportation. Like cities such as Los Angeles, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to move from point A to point B without taking hours in traffic congestion. Also, the mobility of the individual becomes increased tremendously, allowing a greater opportunity for distributed intra-national economic growth. But no, industries that include airlines have lobbied hard against it in an effort to erase the competition; this along with many other political/economic factors have ubiquitously hindered any real change in our infrastructure.

Friedman is right when he says, “…the Americans are polarized over all the wrong things”. We are often so entrenched in our ideological beliefs that we live in a black and white world. This is that, this is not and cannot be that. Lefebvre touches upon this “situation” as he calls it: “ A modern object clearly states what it is, its role and its place.” Americans often view society and place in the same manner: a mall is just a mall; a train station is where people get on and off a train, etc. But there’s so much more to that, the possibilities of experience and juxtaposition of program and space are endless and intriguing if only we operated in the grey area. Tokyo Midtown was not just an office building complex, it was a subway station, mall, hotel, private residences, outdoor park all interweaved and layered to create a different kind of urban environment that was continuously engaging the public at different levels. We saw, in Hong Kong, the IFC mall turned into an airport terminus with an express rail line that directly linked the airport to the subterranean level. The airport then became more than itself, it was a transportation hub and also a lifestyle center, complete with cultural amenities, retail shops, restaurants, cafes, etc; the phenomenon of “infratecture”.

Lefebvre states: “Today we see a worldwide tendency to uniformity”. But beyond that, the tendency is also towards a sense of complacency. Complacency for how things are, how comfortable things can get. If given the same opportunity to see/experience the things I have in these last 15 weeks, there are people I know who would be unwilling, simply because their life back home is all too comfortable. Therein lies the greatest danger, and unfortunately America has become lost in its own complacency. If we do not stimulate ourselves with curiosity and intrigue, what good is replicating what has already been done before? How can we affect the world around us if all we know how to do and think is through mimicry? Asia, specifically China, is the new frontier, pioneering the world into the 21st century through technology, infrastructure, and most importantly urbanism. It’s about time America woke up from its dreams of what once was and realize we are losing the race in a world has long since moved on.

So when I return, upon being bombarded with “What did you see?” or “How was Asia?”, I’ll simply reply:

Wow, you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you…

_Jonathan

Friedman, Thomas, “From WikiChina” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/opinion/01friedman.html?src=twrhp

Filed under: America, China, Infrastructure, Japan, Korea, Lefebvre, Psyche, Urbanism

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, , ,

Flexible Urbanism

The alarm rings, I start my day with a shower, followed by a walk to the metro station. Afterwards I pick up my latte from the local Starbucks, a sandwich from the shop down the street, and I sit down and start my work for the day. After settling down in Shanghai, I have started to come into a more structured lifestyle. After exploring the city for a couple of weeks, I have found things I like and don’t like, and places where I feel at ease. What is interesting is that even in a foreign country I have been able to find comfort with a schedule.  By following my schedule, I have found my own unique locations, and nodes within a city.

Finding these nodes provide great comfort and belonging especially in Shanghai, one of the largest cities in the world. Nodes are what allow the mega metropolis to become smaller, not necessarily talking in a physical sense, but rather in a mental sense. These nodes provide reoccurrences that start to become habitual. Reoccurrences like pushing my way into the subway train, recognizing menu items, and coffee house baristas memorizing my drink order (even in Shanghai, I know I have a problem). Similar characters start to show up in my daily narrative, like the girl who always sits in the corner, or the guy with the brief case who passes me on the street. By starting to create my own routine, my narrative starts to be played out within the city, I have started to realize other’s habitual patterns as well.

Habitual patterns start to become constant inputs. By tracking the quantitative data such as the number of people on the subway, and comparing this information with a timeline, the complexity of the urban fabric can really start to be picked apart layer by layer. As technology gets stronger, our ability to analyze habitual patterns becomes more sophisticated. With better understanding of movement and patterns, a city that can react and respond to our various inputs, doesn’t sound to ridiculous. For example, looking at street traffic, typically there is the same number of lanes on both sides of the highway, but many times both sides are not fully utilized at the same time. Rush Hour typically creates heavier traffic congestion going into the city in the morning hours, and leaving the city in the evening hours. A response to this could be flexible highway lanes that allow change in traffic flow direction at different hours.

This understanding of synchronized movement becomes an essential factor for understanding a cities urban fabric. The city is not only the physical built environment and occupation of people, but it also consists of moving through the spatial construct and moving through time itself. Currently urban design and the built environment has become a very rigid understanding of solid and void. This relationship has given character to many different cities, and has been the initial stages of defining our metropolises in order to deal with stasis and mobility. This idea is further analyzed in walking in the city, where the article starts to analyze how the built interacts with these patterns of human interaction, “Your path in a city is controlled by the cities order. Whether be through streets that are layered in an organizational grid, or even the negative spaces created by this grid pattern, in some way or another the urbanism organizes people”. With populations on the rise, in most major cities, and China in specific, we have to start to analyze how cities can be better organized, or more efficiently planned for people’s interaction with the built fabric.

Through past analysis of major urban morphology, one way that cities dealt with population increases was by building upward. New York and Chicago were the first cities to really start to explore the potentials of verticality with the skyscraper. These giant towers of stasis started to contain the expanding population, and found a way to combat sprawl with density. This has started to become one of the major problems with moving around the city, because we have vertically stacked the nodes within the city, but have constrained the means of moving from node to node. As these towers empty out at the end of the day, people flood the streets in a hurry to get to their next location, and as mentioned earlier everyone is always seeking location. Since the location has the ability to be rented, there is more emphasis on how the location is built rather than investing in the means of getting to that location.

In order for density to become a viable and sustainable model, the numbers have to be put into consideration, and the city has to become more flexible. The traditional model of the ground plane being the sole provider for transportation is simply just not going to be enough infrastructure to support the vertical density being sought out by rapidly developing countries. Cities need to advance their spatial understanding, and analyze how layering could really start to promote better fluid circulation. By habitual patterns analyzing and parametrically designing the built environment, the city will be able to respond and react to its occupants various inputs. With effort, the urban environment can start to not only become the container of people; rather it could take a more active role with the ever-increasing demands of its occupants. When the city starts to respond to its people the idea of a living city starts to come into play, and in my opinion will become the future of urbanism. We are not just talking about flying cars anymore, what we are talking about is a city that can morph and respond as a flexible solution to its users.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: Architecture, City, Flexible, Growth, Habitual, Infrastructure, patterns, population, Renjilian, Ross, Urbanism,

China At a Crossroads

Many of my classmates have blogged in recent weeks as to the incredible pace of development underway in China. In one of the most rapid economic transitions ever to take place, the nation now stands on the brink of possessing a new level of global influence. Only thirty years ago, Chinese economic and political philosophy favored isolationism and socialist economic policies; today it is a major influence on the international community, a country where mass production and first-world consumeristic practices have taken a firm hold. Over breakfast in Xi’an, a quick glance through newspaper headlines reveals a reader’s digest version of overtly contemporary concerns affecting China today: “Putting A Brake On Inflation,” “2010 Entrepreneur Of The Year Award Winners,” “High Speed Rail On Agenda.” The list goes on.

Clearly, great insight is given to the more quantitative indicators of China’s rapid transition to world economic and political power. Sadly lacking from these articles, however, is a more qualitative analysis of Chinese culture and its newfound identity in the twenty-first century. Surely, China’s abrupt about-face must have profound implications on Chinese society, its people, its urbanism. How exactly will this swift transition impact China’s citizens?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in Henri Lefebvre’s The Everyday And Everydayness, a meditation on what many of us would otherwise disregard – the day-to-day-ness which would otherwise seem unimportant, yet affects every patriot of so-called modern culture.

Before the series of revolutions which ushered in what is called the modern era, … [living] presented a prodigious diversity. This diversity has never been well acknowledged or recognized as such; it has resisted a rational kind of interpretation which has only come about in our own time by interfering with and destroying that diversity. Today we see a worldwide tendency toward uniformity. […] The everyday is a product, the most general of products in an era where production engenders consumption, and where consumption is manipulated by producers: not by “workers,” but by the managers and owners of the means of production (intellectual, instrumental, scientific).

The everyday, in Lefebvre’s definition, is a uniquely modern phenomenon, affecting the urbanites of the most developed cities, regions, and countries around the world. He continues:

In modern life … the everyday imposes its monotony. The days follow one after another and resemble one another, and yet – here lies the contradiction at the heart of everydayness – everything changes. But the change is programmed: obsolescence is planned. Production anticipates reproduction; production produces change in such a way as to superimpose the impression of speed onto that monotony. Some people cry out against the acceleration of time, others cry out against stagnation. They’re both right.

Without a doubt, this concept of everydayness will soon take hold in much of China, and more immediately in its urban centers. Yet much of the country – most specifically Shanghai – stands at a bizarre intersection of the more empirical measures of the everyday (as seen in the newspaper described above) and the psychological everyday which Lefebvre illuminates in his essay. Though skyscrapers fill the skyline of central Shanghai, my classmates and I often remark that residents of the city often maintain practices more closely associated with rural life – spitting in the streets, chickens de-feathered on the sidewalk, garbage left haphazardly outside shops and in alleys. The uniformity, and mechanistically produced life described in The Everyday And Everydayness has yet to fully take hold, though at a distance, one may easily mistake the skyline of central Shanghai for that of a long-established urban center.

This juxtaposition of mechanistically produced urban landscape and urban life likely has its roots in China’s rapid development over the past thirty years. Not long ago, China was far from a world economic power; a nation steeped in socialist philosophy, it was largely removed from an increasingly capitalistic world. Today, however, a renewed vigor on economic production has given China newly-minted economic and political power, and with it, a shift toward a first-world standard of living. As Lefebvre states, the everyday of the modern city is indeed a product, closely tied to the physical –  the architecture of the modern city acting as an ever-present character, facilitator, catalyst to the modern life – yet in times of rapid development, the disparity between the physical and the mental can seem stark.

In the case of present-day Shanghai, a more traditional, less mechanistic way of life persists amidst an increasingly modern infrastructure and urban environment. However, it is only a matter of time before the physicality of modern-day Shanghai and the everyday illuminated in Lefebvre’s essay become inextricably linked. In this sense, our stay in China in the infancy of its modern self gives our class a extremely rare look at this connection between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of development, industrialization, urbanism and modern life; the birth of a modern city, not in its physical sense, but rather in its mental.

-Taylor

Filed under: Architecture, China, Urbanism

Contextualizing the City

In Hays’ The Crisis of Humanity, The Dissolution of the Object, Hay’s exemplifies Mie’s skyscraper proposal as examples of “humanist conceptions of formal rationality and self-creating subjectivity” that cannot cope with the irrationality of actual experience.

He goes further by saying that the current trending of anti-humanist thought, in architecture, has relegated society into a “crisis” in which the critical separations between the architectural form and context is constantly being blurred and erased.

Chaos, if you will, is the collection of various fragments of true reality. In essence, the struggle is between the subject and the object. Whereas before, the subject, in many ways, dictated how the object came to be, now we see the object as becoming it’s own referent: a sign and signal.

However, from a holistic point of view, isn’t that how cities are formed? Urban metropolises are no more than a giant man made object out of a field of objects itself. Rossi argues that, through the process of time, the city is comprised of individual and collective “artifacts”. The existence and perpetuation of a city evolves from the very essence of monumental designs. City Hall, convention centers, transportation hubs, urban parks, etc. are all singular elements that have their own experiential and temporal-physical quality that makes a city so great. Inherently all architecture has the potential to have some impact within the urban, but whereas some spaces/form become isolated over time, Rossi argues some monuments have the capacity to become major catalysts of city growth. These artifacts help not only architects, but also the average-joe to perceive the city as a whole, but also allow an individual to understand his/her immediate context within the urban fabric system.

It’s not just the social, economical, or political forces that constitute a city, but also a set of systems that are overlaid to create complexities. Our recent trip to Morphosis’ Giant Campus project revealed to us the powers of architectural design through systems. Form, space, structure, and a whole series of networks can be simply collated and collapsed to form amazing experiences and interesting juxtapositions that allow for creative program opportunities. In reference to Hilberseimer’s architectural theory, Hays states “architecture substitutes an image of a situation whose simulation makes it possible, collapsing the complexity network of colliding forces in which architecture originates in order to present us with a self generating model that obeys only its own logic”. This can be analogous with how the urban framework is also experienced. Creating a city requires difference elements and parts, and these parts are interconnected to create continuity at the macro scale. Infrastructure, zoning, sewage, etc. are all interweaved to allow for what we call, the narrative and the everyday. The fact that we can simply walk down a major bustling shopping center in Shanghai and turn into a side street, only to be overwhelmed by a maze of grimy residences and alleyways is powerfully intriguing as an experience/memory of place. Rossi also argues that specialized zones are common characteristics of a city, and they naturally possess a sense of autonomy within the whole system. Places like Lujiazui, Xintiandi, and Xujiahui become “destinations”, not merely just stops along the subway line.

Can a city have a form? How can we derive the context of these “artifacts” out of an ever-changing urban system whose conditions are created by the collective understanding of various experiences? We can never grasp or physically epitomize the true essence of any urban center because there are simply too many variables unaccounted for. Ultimately, the phenomenon of urban elements/objects and spatial systems have the potential to evolve the city, over time, and affect the physicality and functionality of the city and its parts.

_Jonathan

Filed under: Architecture, Hays, Mies, object, Rossi, systems, Uncategorized, Urbanism

My China

As a class we have talked often about experiential phenomena in the city.  Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai…they all have high rise buildings, elevated expressways, subway systems, bustling boulevards, bright lights, and throngs of people.  We have seen this together as a group but experience, the interpretation and comparison of small differences, occurs on an individual basis.  Experience is the stuff of memories, the ideas we take away from a place and the ones that resonate with us even if nobody else pauses to notice.

With only a couple weeks left in China, two thoughts chase me around everywhere I go.  The first is my excitement to return home to California, where life will regain a sense of normalcy.  The second is fear that this normalcy will handicap me, that my jolting experience abroad will by comparison render anything back home inadequate – or worse, boring.  So what is my experience? What has China been to me?  Here are a few of my favorite parts of the day – the things I look forward to when I wake up and the things I will miss most.  This is my China.

-At the beginning of the fifteen minute walk to the subway station, we cross a large boulevard shortly after leaving the hotel.  A concrete pedestrian island separates lanes of car traffic passing in front and bike traffic passing behind.  When I huddle on this island with ten other people, the city whizzing by on all sides, I imagine a boulder sitting still in a fast moving river.  This is the most peaceful part of the day.

-Whenever I get change at a market, it’s always a mystery whether the cash register attendant will give back One Yuen notes or coins.  I try to guess which one it will be, and secretly hope to get coins because the notes feel small and insubstantial.  Occasionally the coins will be counterfeit, but nobody seems to pay too much attention.

-Most subway stations have a pair of soldiers standing silently at the entrance and exit.  For some reason one of them stands on a one-foot tall pedestal, and the other on the ground.  The shorter soldier always stands on the pedestal.  This makes me happy.  I have not sought out any further explanation, and don’t plan on doing so.

-When ordering drinks, ‘lemon iced tea’ is almost always written as ‘ice lemon tea’.  If you say the former, servers will correct the order of your words.  To order Coca-Cola do not ask for ‘Coke’ or you will get a confused look.  Ask for ‘Cola’.  Drinks invariably come with knotted straws that force your beverage to make a loop-the-loop as you sip it.  The jury is still out on whether this adds anything to the experience.

-The undersides of elevated expressways are all brightly lighted.  A nighttime cab ride passes underneath, on top of, and above floating ribbons of color twisting their way through high-rise canyons.  I think about how this looks futuristic, and also a little bit silly.

-Elevators usually have no button for number four, because the Chinese word for it resembles the word for death.  This always reminds me of how many American buildings omit a thirteenth floor.  Superstition both amuses and annoys me but I’m not even sure why thirteen is superstitious to begin with, so I find the Chinese version more legitimate.  Checking for this is always the first thing I do in an elevator.

-Inside the subway station there is a long corridor you must walk down between the entrance and turnstiles.  At rush hour the corridor is filled with people, some walking briskly, some walking four abreast, some on their cell phones, some listening to music, some holding briefcases, and some completely unremarkable.  All these people moving at different paces make it impossible to walk the length of the corridor in a straight line.  You have to judge speeds, make passes, navigate groups, twist and turn your body, rub shoulders, and keep alert.  I love this.

Matt Luery

Filed under: America, Architecture, China, everydayness, experience, phenomena, Urbanism

Becoming the Everyday

One views and interacts a city differently through a camera lens than without the guise of the lens. Through the lens, one can never truly experience the city. Preoccupied with taking photographs of what appears to be exciting and new does not let the photographer become aware of the small nuances of a city. The attempt to become part of a city occurs as these subtleties begin to be noticed.

“The concept of the everyday illuminates the past. Everyday life has always existed, even if in ways vastly different from our own. The character of the everyday has always been repetitive…In the study of the everyday we discover the great problem of repetition… The everyday is situated at the intersection of two modes of repetition: the cyclical, which dominates in nature, and the linear, which dominates in processes known as ‘rational’… In modern life, the repetitive gestures tend to mask and crush the cycles. The everyday imposes its monotony. It is the invariable constant of the variations it envelopes. The days follow one after another and resemble one another, and yet—here lies the contradiction at the heart of everydayness—everything changes. But the change is programmed: obsolescence is planned. Production anticipates reproduction; production produces change in such a way as to superimpose the impression of speed onto that of monotony.” This is Henri Lefebvre’s interpretation of the everyday as stated in The Everyday and Everydayness.

Is it possible for an outsider to become a part of the everyday? Can they become an element of the monotony?

For example, after being in Shanghai for a few weeks, when walking from the subway station to MADA s.p.a.m., one is no longer bombarded by street peddlers, trying to sell their “bags-watch,” because they recognize the walker, who constantly tells them “no.” Once the peddler begins to recognize certain cycles and constant variations to their day, they begin to anticipate certain aspects. One has effectively become part of the peddler’s everyday. Because one is part of the peddler’s everyday, does that make one part of the city’s everyday?

There is a difference between the city becoming one’s everyday and one becoming an everyday aspect of the city. The city becomes part of one’s everyday once one becomes a passive member of society. When getting pushed out of the way by locals, one begins to mindlessly push back. One is no longer phased by everyday occurrences which may not be routine. Although one may have become a passive member of society, this does not mean that one is part of the society’s everyday. A temporal aspect of the everyday, maybe. The city becomes a monotonous part of one’s life, but the same does not hold for one’s impact on the city.

The repetitive cycle of outsiders coming and going becomes a part of the everyday. The linear aspect of the everyday is how the city’s everyday impacts one’s life. The cyclical everyday for the city repeats itself. Unlike the everyday for the city, which remains unchanging and almost mechanical, the everyday for the user is much more erratic. Day by day, one goes about their linear journey, letting the everyday aspects of different cities impose their distinct qualities on one’s life. The outsider remains a stranger to the everyday of unfamiliar cities.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, China, everyday, Urbanism, ,

Haunted

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.

 

_Jonathan

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

ABOUT THE AAU PROGRAM

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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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