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

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

Up in the Air

In the seventh chapter of Spatial Practices, titled Walking in the City, author Michel de Certeau considers the implications of viewing pedestrians from high atop the World Trade Center in New York.  He recognizes that elevation transforms us into voyeurs, at once detached from the city physically yet endowed with a uniquely invasive perspective.  From an observation deck, Certeau goes on, people on the streets move about as though writing urban text but without being able to read it. This privilege is instead conferred upon the voyeur, on whose initiative rests the opportunity to decipher and translate this text into something more than mere writing.  If pedestrian movements are the pen strokes, than streets and buildings are the spacing of the lines and layout of the paragraphs.

All this lends itself to comparison of urban writing just as novels do literary writing, and so I used my time atop Shanghai’s World Financial Center to do just this.  Drawing on memory from my own experiences looking down at New York, the movements and forms of Shanghai were rich in contrast.  In place of Manhattan’s rigid grid of streets and enormously diverse buildings stock was a pattern of superblocks and meandering roads containing tens of identical apartments practically begging for copy-paste Autocad jokes.  If New York has one-way avenues with narrow sidewalks packed with pedestrians, Shanghai has grand boulevards with ten lanes of car traffic, two lanes of bike traffic, and 20 meter sidewalks on either side.  These sidewalks are also filled, but pedestrians in Pudong pass only one cross street for every 400 meters, while New Yorkers might pass 4 during the same distance.  This tends to aggregate disparate circulation paths and limits opportunity for route improvisation, creating a more unified pedestrian body.  Combine this with an interchangeable and repetitive building stock, and viewing the urban fabric of these two cities from above suddenly reveals a great deal about the politics and society of their respective countries.

My experience definitely lent credence to Certeau’s idea of ground level pedestrians writing an urban text; the only shame is that at the Shanghai World Financial Center it costs a month’s worth of subway fare for a chance to read the book.

Matt Luery

 

Filed under: China, Michel de Certeau, Shanghai, Urbansim, Walking in the City

Identity Crises

7 million people live and work within Hong Kong. These 7 million people are squeezed into an area of 31 sq miles, which makes Hong Kong one of the world’s densest cities. In contrary to many other urban plans, Hong Kong has resisted urban sprawl. When cities have typically grown in the past, they tend to increase in size and area. The natural elements in Hong Kong including the mountains and the bay have been physical boundaries of the city, which have contained the city’s footprint. Therefore the only way Hong Kong can handle its population demands is by growing vertically.

In order to handle the large population, many systems and networks are in play for transportation, infrastructure, employment, and leisure. Since Hong Kong is operating on such an extreme scale, the focus is on quantity and not necessarily the individual. This is where the question of the individual’s importance to the metropolis becomes a crucial component towards the metropolis as a whole.

Cities run on numbers. Numbers are what drive industry, and industry drives growth. “The Culture Identity” states, “Industry is interested in human beings only as its customers and employees and has in fact reduced humanity as a whole, like each of its elements, to this exhaustive formula”. This drive for constantly posting numbers is truly what defines a city, which is enforced by the power of corporations in the urban environment. Each company plastering their name on top of every tower within the city demonstrates this hierarchy. This in return leaves little to no significance for the individual, moral rights, or culture.

This formula is exemplified even further during periods of intense growth. For example the industrial revolution in America, lead to economic booms to existent metropolises, and gave birth to new cities at exponential rates. Development was at an all time high, and everything in America became a business opportunity. We are seeing this same behavior in China currently. With industry reporting record numbers, and population at a staggering high, China has been exponentially growing numerically, and in return sacrificing individuality and culture.

It is in these times though that we see the human element stripped out of the urban environment. For the same reason that the economic growth of a city is strictly about numbers and not about the individual. Day in and day out, people follow the workweek system, and blend into the collective workforce, in which the urban organism is programmed to respond to these patterns.

Hong Kong has urbanistically responded to this system, through its building typologies. As The radical, vertical growth in Hong Kong has littered the urban plan with a series of pencil towers. These slender vertical towers are packed with residents and offices literally stacked one on top of the other. Every window representing a single cell of program designated to the individual. At the base of these towers are series of connections to relocate the individual to its next location either being their residence or office. This linear travel of point A to point B has isolated the individual from its urban context.

On the other hand though, there is a more complicated understanding of how the individual is tied into the city. In many cases the predominant driving force of the metropolis is money, but there are also many other elements within the city that belong to the individual. Simmel questions the role of the individual within the larger metropolis for, “It is the function of the metropolis to provide the arena for this struggle and its reconciliation. For the metropolis presents the peculiar conditions which are revealed to us as the opportunities and the stimuli for the development of both these ways of allocating roles to men”. For man to believe he is a completely free being within a city, is in my opinion a mistake, but I would have to argue that there are freedoms within a city in which man can rightfully claim. The individual comes out in the culture of the city, the charm that gives the city its character and personality. If every city ran strictly on numbers then every city would have the same aura, which I would argue is not the current case.

On the other hand if Industrialization keeps pushing forward, and we discredit the individual throughout the process, cities may become more uniform with one another and the corporate counterpart may strip the individuality from the city. Using Hong Kong as an example, the city’s street life is an important element that represents Hong Kong’s culture. We typically see groupings of street food, vendors, and traditional gift shops parasitically controlling the street territory. This element still exists throughout Hong Kong, but the A to B mentality has started to have serious affects on Street life in the area. Subways taking people off of the street has started to choke these smaller shops, which will deprive Hong Kong of its cultural identity.

Personally I think this struggle is represented in Hong Kong’s urban fabric. There is a series of perspectives in which you can view Hong Kong. By starting on top and looking down over the sea of buildings the reading is very uniform and one collective being. Buildings start meshing into one another creating this over whelming collage of windows and structure. As you start to focus though, the details of the city start to reveal themselves. In some instances each unit of the building is carefully articulated, or the street life is vibrant in contrast to what towers above it. This overlaying of individuality on top of the urban fabric starts to demonstrate the role of the individual within the collective whole. From afar we look at Hong Kong as a single entity, but as we take a closer look identity of the city becomes more apparent. It is through these glimpses of individuality that I can argue that the individual is still very prevalent in the urban fabric, and although his role may be small, it still impacts the way people experience and stand out in the urban environment.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: Architecture, China, Culture, Density, Hong, Identity, Individual, Industry, kong, Life, Renjilian, Ross, Street, Urbanism, Urbansim, ,

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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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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