USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Walking Patterns & Mental Carvings

Ants move across the ground one after another, using scent to follow each other’s exact footsteps. When multiple ant trails are present and begin to intersect, the negative space between these pathways becomes defined. From an overhead view, these intersecting trails begin to appear as the streets in a figure field view of a city plan.

Spaces carved out by a mental process can in fact be tangible. Michel de Certeau’s Walking in the City states that, “The ordinary practitioners of the city…are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen… The paths that correspond in this intertwining…elude legibility… The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces.”

These walkers carve out space as they circulate through the city, similar to the movement pattern of ants. The tracks created by people’s walking patterns form barriers around mental objects. These mental pathways do in fact produce physical space. The void between the barriers becomes an object being contained by people. This metaphysical object becomes an obstacle not to be touched. Walkers produce a mental space rather than a physical one. Yet, this space is at the same time a tangible, visible space, which inherently becomes physical.

Japan’s model of creating contained voids through walking patterns is almost an exact replica of an ant’s trail. People follow one another in a set line. Virtually nobody steps out of line, or causes any sort of disturbance to this route. How are these routes determined? And by whom? It is almost as if the people of Japan are robots, following somebody’s master plan.

While the pathways of walking in Japan may be similar to the scrupulous organization of an ant trail, China lacks this control. In China, there are no apparent nor visible routes which walkers automatically fall into. The voids carved out by an ant’s trail become polluted. People, either moving or stagnant begin to dot these previous desolate spaces. These pedestrians move in an unorganized manner, sometimes against the flow of traffic, and sometimes come to a complete stop for no apparent reason. Even when there is an organized line, with barriers, where people are meant to queue, in China people attempt to push ahead. Instead of a single-file line, three or four people are standing side by side trying to get ahead. These attempts at pushing forward simply put pedestrians a whole behind due to a lack of efficiency.

Can the pedestrians of China be considered walkers? Or merely just people who are moving?

Although the well-defined void spaces created by Japan’s walking patterns may appear to be wasted space, Japan’s pedestrian traffic flow is much more efficient than that of China. China’s polluted void space and undefined pathways create almost a completely chaotic atmosphere. This polluted disorganization creates an atmosphere where true walkers cannot exist.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: China, japan, patterns, pedestrians, Uncategorized, walkers,


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