USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Producing the City

China has proposed to build a multitude of cities during the present decade. The process for the vast majority of all those cities has been relatively similar. A slick video is usually created at Tongji University showing a multitude of buildings rising out of beautiful green fields. These videos are usually used to gain foreign direct investment with are displayed next to extraordinary growth figures and flashy power point presentations. Once investment is gathered the cities are built at an incredibly rapid pace. Architectural models are mass produced in factory like settings where even the model makers are becoming tired of the repetition of their work.  The resulting cities are usually successful for the developers. However, their final appearance greatly differs from the initial renderings. The new cities often stand in stark juxtaposition to their surroundings. Sometimes the juxtaposition is a set of pink tombstone apartment buildings next to agrarian villages. Other times the new cities appear as European style villas with factory smokestacks looming as their backdrop. Sometimes the cities evolve into vibrant communities driving business, and culture. Other times the new cities lay empty, although fully purchased, and slowly disintegrate into China’s postindustrial landscape.

A group of residential towers under construction near Shanghai

The mass production of the urban space in China raises questions about its impact. French philosopher Henri Lefebvre critiqued the creation of urban space saying that, “space is a product […] the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action […] in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination of power.” This critique begs to ask the questions who are the producers and user of urban space in China, and how will it benefit the greatest amount of people? Ultimately the answer to that question may be presently unclear, and will probably not be fully answered until the new Chinese cities can be studied a few generations in the future. However, certain elements of this city making can be analyzed in the present.

One crucial aspect of Chinese Urbanization has been the villagers, who most often become the end users of the development. Rural villagers receive considerable compensation for their land that is developed into a modern apartment block or shiny office campus. The villager compensation system is sometimes a rag to riches story. A family that previously had relatively nothing could receive housing and income in the form of rental payments through compensation. This income contains the potential to support several generations. Other times the compensation received by the villagers is of little value when compared to the destruction of their home and business that they had worked to develop from the ground up. While the villagers may be the final end user of the urban space, they are often disconnected from the producers.

If the production of space is thought of a product it becomes essential to understand who is responsible for the production of that product. Initially foreign architects held a large amount of influence over architecture in China. Iconic projects such the National Theatre, National Stadium, and Beijing International Airport were all designed by foreign architects. Xintiandi, a Shanghai development that has created a model for adaptive reuse of existing architecture was also developed by foreign architects and has been reproduced throughout China. However, Chinese architects are increasingly playing a role in the creation of cities within their own country. URBANUS, a Shenzhen based architectural practice has designed many urban areas around China and functions at a highly critical and analytical level. The practice of city making in China also gains increased importance as Chinese developers seek out opportunities around the world. Developer China Vanke has developments in Hong Kong, Singapore, and America, while Dalian Wanda has begun to develop in International cities such as London.

All of these factors build upon one another to spread insight into the nature of Chinese urbanization. While the users and producers of Chinese Urbanization functions as two very different groups, they have the potential to work together to create effective space. Only time will tell if the production of urban space China acts more as a tool of control, or of opportunity.


Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , ,

To Plan Efficiently is to Plan Proactively

Adjusting to China has taken some time, to say the least there are some deep nostalgic feelings longing to return to Tokyo. From personal observations, Shanghai is not as uniform as Tokyo in a sense of having a clear manner of going about the everyday, yet the city as a whole works as a cohesive unit. There is an existing chaotic order that allows the city to function everyday. The bottom up agenda gives lead way for a loose mindset, meaning that there are no set rules, but rather there is much more responsibility for the individual to conclude each and every decision. When crossing the street, oncoming cars are not scared to challenge the pedestrian, whereas in the States, it is law that pedestrians have the right of way. Interestingly, the city facilitates people’s way of life.

Shanghai holds a strong market force driven by solely the economy. Following a westernized marketing strategy where marketing culture has become prominent. Routines are facilitated by the city where there is an awareness of what is happening and done in our daily lives that then facilitate what we do and how we use the city. In Shanghai, there is a chaotic order but there is still no difference in how actions are played out. The generic fabric is dilapidated but this is in due part because Shanghai is a few decades old. The city works the same way here in Asia, but differently in the West. Walking down the street may be an easy task as it does not impact our ability to complete it. For example without using a car for transit, the task at hand can still be done while in Los Angeles, the distance of programs makes it difficult; the systems facilitate the ability to tap into certain programs due to the infrastructure makeup. These programs impact our lives, as the ability to obtain something can be a simple arbitrator. The advanced technology facilitates our mobility as the methods of transit allow to physically and mentally go to another place. To physically experience the act of travel assimilates “the real”.

The importance about programming in a shorter more decentralize way is to keep a sustainable marketing agenda. Here in Shanghai it is possible to make a living on the streets as a street vender. The concept of a mobile program is plausible. Equivalent to the food truck craze in the United States, the theoretical engagement between the behavior of the city and the social prove that there is no need for a required infrastructure. Arguably there is more social and cultural engagement between the vender and customer. This idea of mobile programming allows room for open dialogue between the two also blurring the existing boundaries of the formal and informal infrastructure. The streets are a part of the social infrastructure where the activities begin to blur the public and the private merging the activities. The systems of the social are no spectacle but simply just life.

10/19/2013 Paula M Narvaez

Filed under: China, Shanghai, , , , ,

SHENZHEN: Chasing the Chinese Dream

As a fellow Hong Kong citizen, we view Shenzhen as the “Hong Kong want to be” and never realized that Shenzhen have already surpass Hong Kong economically. My prejudice slightly changed after arriving in Shenzhen after three years hoping that this will change my stereotypical thinking. But unfortunately Shenzhen SEZ (Special Economic Zone) was a disappointment after the four days excursion.

The moment we cross the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, I felt the emotional detachment towards the city. I agree that the rapid growth of Shenzhen is fascinating; I know that economically they are surpassing many other cities but I cannot seem to find their heritage and identity. Twenty years ago Shenzhen was covered with farmlands with mostly local farmers.  Twenty years later it is renamed the “Special Economic Zone” and became an immigration hub within the China province. The authentic Shenzhen locals will soon extinct and demolish by the materialism that drives this experimental city. Some might argue that Shenzhen’s heritage and history is their rapid growth, and they can be remembered as one of most successful Special Economic Zones. In comparison, Hong Kong began as a fisherman’s wharf and through Opium War and World War II it is shaped to be the way it is today. Hong Kong was once a British colony and was heavily influenced by the western world. After the 1997’s handover to China, it was renamed Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) under the Basic Law. The emotional attachment towards Hong Kong will never change because of its heritage and history as a city.

In Simmel’s article “The Metropolis and mental Life” he stated, “Money is concerned only with what is common to all: it ask for exchange value, it reduces all quality and individuality to the question: How much?” Shenzhen not only focuses on the speed of economic growth but transforming Chinese’s materialistic values. Social status became their priority and individualism ruled their minds. Louis Vitton and Gucci handbags became their way of expressing their wealth and class; purchasing Hong Kong real estate became their hobbies. Shenzhen have simply brainwashed most Chinese that money can buy happiness. Simmel later noted, “Cities are first of all, seats of the highest economic division of labor.” In contrast to the American dream during gold rush where Chinese people are seeking for better lives in California.  Shenzhen is the “Chinese dream” where many local Chinese immigrate to Shenzhen for better lives, and to seek opportunities to become wealthy. In their minds, Shenzhen is an experimental city that promises success and wealth and have already surpass Hong Kong to become the highest GDP in China.

Heritage cannot be reproduced, history cannot be rewritten. Shenzhen can only be remembered as Deng Xiao Ping’s experimental master piece, a city that transformed from farmlands to a special economic zone in two decades. Shenzhen will never be emotional attached because most history is wiped out by the growth and development. Shenzhen will only be remembered as the Chinese Dream that once the Chinese seek for wealth and better living.


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Revitalized by Programming

Buildings go through life cycles, a time period in which the use of the building no longer suites its original purpose. Some developers choose to knock down and start over, but others choose a different approach by reprogramming, and creating a new life out of something that flat lined. Here in China, we have seen a couple of precedents that reexamined the potential for old warehouses, by converting them into trendy creative industries.

Through gentrification, old warehouse districts have been converted into lofts, studios, galleries, cafes, shops, event spaces, and coffee houses. By tailoring these projects towards artists, collectors, and the public, these districts start to become thriving communities, allowing artists to live and work amongst their clients and other artists. These vibrant settings bring people from all over to appreciate artwork, and also to support the parasitic programs. Through successful gentrification, these creative industries become their own ecosystems that support art and the community.

We had the opportunity to visit a couple creative industries in China, The first one we visited was called OCT in Shenzhen, which was designed by Urbanus. Looking at an old warehouse district they were able to use the shells of the existing buildings, and retrofit them with gallery spaces, creative offices, lofts, and cafes. A steel and glass network of bridges, corridors, and storefronts, parasitically connect and feeds off of the existing fabric. This parasitic network grows through the different warehouses creating a communal public space that connects the multitude of retrofitted loft buildings. This contrast of new and old creates this distinctive texture that allows the two systems to be understood for their individual characteristics, and collectively as a way to create a unique public condition. The project is still under construction, but one could imagine these parasitic connections filled with people actively participating and being a part of the creative industry.

798 district in Beijing, created a creative industry by taking over an old artillery factory that was no longer used for manufacturing. 798’s quaint town atmosphere is created through its different street scales including: a major artery cutting through the district, side streets focusing on a smaller more intimate scale, and pedestrian friendly alleyways full of tiny shops, and art. The streets are lined with galleries marked by intricate entryways that carve into the old fabric, giving a fresh edge and identity to the individual warehouses. As you move from gallery to gallery you pass through a series of vaulted spaces and pristine white walls, contrasting the rough brick and aged wood. This district creates more of an attraction than a community, but the specificity allows the creative industry to be very unique, and engaging to the public. By taking out the sterile atmosphere and high admission fees, 798 creates a completely different setting for art that in my opinion, can become more appealing to a broader range of people. Art museums have their place, but this different setting gives art a new audience and appreciation.

The interesting design element behind these creative industries is the importance of program. These buildings were designed with the intentions of manufacturing, and ended up becoming vibrant creative industries. Instead of the buildings being torn down, the shells of the buildings were recycled and given a new life. The importance of program is not necessarily in the form of the space; rather it is in the strategy of program allocation, and finding a concept that creates stimulating environments. The ability to create culturally rich, and vibrant public spaces, out of something that was once intended for private mass production, demonstrates the importance of program strategy. As architects we may not have control of what happens to our projects when we finish the initial design stages, but if we envision interesting concepts, and strategic program strategies, we will hopefully see our ideas successfully carried on. If not the project may be reprogrammed to better fit its users, and sometimes that is just as exciting too.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: 798, Architecture, Art, Beijing, China, Culture, Districts, Gentrification, OCT, Parasitic, Program, Programming, Renjilian, Renovation, Revitalized, Ross, Shenzhen, Urbanism, Urbanus, , ,

Synthetic Urbanism & Non-Place

The rapid proliferation of mega-structures becomes part of a packaged synthetic urbanism.  The urban cannot exist instantaneously.  Hans Ibelings’ Supermodernism affirms that “a new architecture now seems to be emerging, an architecture for which such postmodernist notions as place, context and identity have largely lost their meaning…To refer to this architecture, a new ‘ism’ is introduced here: supermodernism…it manifests itself chiefly in the way people deal with place and space nowadays.”  Additionally, Aesthetics + Urbanism asserts that architecture is becoming more and more consumer oriented.

According to Supermodernism, “the world is increasingly made up of non-places which are particularly common in the sphere of mobility and consumption.  Airports, hotels, supermarkets, shopping malls, motorway stops…are all places where people occasionally spend varying lengths of time, but the functions of these spaces is quite different from, say, the village square which is the social centre of a community.”  If “place is defined as an area that has acquired meaning as a result of human activities,” then if this place in fact is a non-place, it only supports a temporal population.

The attempt to create a notion of place is dependent on whether this place becomes a place or a non-place.  Does this place or non-place exist as a true urban addition to a city?  Does it interact with its users?  Or does it simply nurture a fabricated environment and become just another synthetic node?

For example, OMA’s CCTV building may serve as more of a spectacle than any other practical function.  Architecture as spectacle is more concerned with being popular than actually being populated.  Without a user, the object building cannot be a place.  Although places become inherently and synthetically urban when populated, the quality of this population must be assessed.

Airports may become the ultimate synthetic mega-structure, with no true population.  People come to the destination with a purpose, but do not stay for any meaningful amount of time.  Temporal destinations are not significantly utilized, and can hardly become part of a true urban environment.

Not only do spectacle buildings have a transient population, but as Supermodernism puts it, “this phenomenon whereby scarcely anything is tied to a particular place any more has long been an economic axiom but is now being seen as a fait accompli in architecture as well.  The same building, with a few site-specific adjustments, can stand anywhere.”  What does it mean if a structure is not innate to its location?  Can it become part of the urban?  The spectacle of CCTV may work in China solely because of the type of architecture being done here.  Object buildings are constructed quickly, even before they are fully programmed.  Although intrinsic to the environment’s spectacular qualities, at the same time it is not fully intrinsic to the site upon which it sits.

The man-made modifications to the urban environment in films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner promote a different class of synthetic urbanism.  By altering the natural urban order, and putting the wealthy living directly above the workers and lower class of the cities represented in the films, this type of urban environment is no longer made up of non-places because these housing blocks are perpetual destinations.

An attempt at urbanism which lacks a lasting population becomes synthetic—it cannot function on a true urban level.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, China, place, 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, ,

Mobility and The Automobile II

CHINA/ united states

China is currently undergoing rapid rates of development. As China becomes stronger as a nation, we are starting to see quantitative data that is truly jaw dropping. Throughout China, within the next twenty years, they are looking at creating 400 new airports to be built throughout the country, and the talk of airports only begins to touch the surface. With each of these airports, come complex connection systems including high-speed rails, local rails, subways, and intense highways connecting automobile and bus networks. All of these connections happening at a single node create the ability to connect these nodes creating a dense network of fluid transportation from city center to city center. This master plan is also being executed at an extraordinary speed, and if successful the ability for people to move from city to city will better promote larger distributions of people and commerce throughout China. With this robust network of public transportation, the role for automobiles in China starts to become almost insignificant. When you can get from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in approximately 14 minutes, why would you travel the hour it takes to get there by car?

The truth is though that the car is still a very important player in China, and this is mostly due to foreign influence and China’s new “capitalistic” business model. The car is still marketed as a luxury item. In china you see a higher distribution of luxury name brands on the road compared to other countries. These high-class automakers have launched their campaigns across China, and China has bought into their luxury model. In order to get a car in China, you not only have to buy the car, but you also have to buy the limited, distributed license plates. It is through this exclusivity that makes the car a luxury item within itself, through the basic principals of supply and demand. The role of the car in China is not necessarily driven based on transportation needs; rather it is based on image, wealth, and social standing.

These ideas of social standing through materialistic objects are demonstrated in the film “Beijing Bicycle”. The film focused on lower, middle, and upper classes of Beijing, and the tensions that exist amongst the three classes. The story’s true protagonist was actually a bicycle, which literally was passed back and forth through the different social classes. Guie’s character represented the lower class, where he was currently stuck. Guie was the first to obtain this shiny, new mountain bike that allowed him to experience and work for a middle class life. It was through this material object where he literally saw a better future for himself, in which other characters commented on how this Bike will truly raise him out of poverty. On the other hand, Jian represented the middle class in Beijing, and he also obtained the same bike for duration of the film. The bike was used as a way to blend in with his classmates. When the bike was out of Jian’s possession he immediately felt insignificant, and alienated himself from his peers. This contrast on the importance of a single bike to two completely different people and classes shows the power behind materialistic objects in China.

The end of “Beijing Bicycle” framed a street view, and the power of this image really summed up the complexity material objects have in China. The streetscape seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for Beijing. The difference was the filter that the film set up to view this scene. After watching the impact one bicycle had on two completely different people, demonstrated the power of material objects in Chinese culture. The streetscape then took the idea of the bike and applied it to the automobile. The street was busy with car traffic up and down the center of the streets, and pushed off to the side was another lane of strictly bicycle traffic. This image addressed the idea on how severe social issues are in China, and how obtaining material items for transportation has become one of the key players in determining social standing.

The automobile plays significant roles not only in America, but also in China. In America the idea of necessity plays a crucial part on why we have so much dependence on the automobile. In Contrast, China could technically function without cars, but the idea of luxury plays a larger role in why cars have become so widely accepted. When the car gets put up on a pedestal, as the glorified form of transportation there is no doubt that it will create the desire to obtain one. With China pumping out more and more licenses every day, soon supply will meet demand, and we will start to see the car becoming more obtainable to the Chinese people, very much how the car became more obtainable to the American People. With China’s extreme infatuation with the intrinsic properties of materialistic objects, I question how far off they are from becoming another form of a congested America? With their new market driven economy the idea of ego will take larger precedent than with the ideas of a functioning society. Will the automobile become the new bicycle? If this does become the situation, then China will greater influence a two-tiered society, in which the car will act as one of the greater obstacles for the lower and middle class to overcome.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, Automobile, Beijing, Bicycle, Car, China, Circulation, Congestion, Public, Renjilian, Ross, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urbanism, , , ,

Horizontal Stacking

Extreme proximity plays a major role in China’s culture.

Girls are seen walking hand in hand or with linked arms. People keep pushing their way into subway cars crushed between the subway door and the person behind them. Those few who are lucky enough to procure a seat on the subway sit shoulder to shoulder. In a queue of people, there is essentially no room between any two people.

Not only is this proximity apparent in personal space, but it also reflected by building proximities.

Buildings at times have less than a meter separating them from the adjacent structure. This small space becomes a shared public space for the occupants of the buildings. This space becomes multi-functional, laundry is hung here, meals take place here, and this is also where neighbors converse. The way the city is built encourages the absence of personal space apparent in its society.

Compared to Japan’s vertically stacked shop houses, which while are still apparent in China, are much less frequent, China is much more horizontally stacked.

While this notion of horizontal stacking is clearly seen in terms of building proximities, this stacking also exists within the buildings themselves. Layers upon layers are created within spaces. The further one ventures into a space, the more one discovers. For example, small alleyways branch of of most roads, filled with more shops and people. Past the display shelves in a DVD store, one finds a doorway leading to an enclosed room where the pirated DVDs are created. In the Xintiandi antique district, stalls full of knockoff antiques border the roads so tightly that the stores with real antiques inside behind are masked by their faux counterparts. Through the tiny storefronts belonging to street food vendors, one can see that they live behind their place of business. In Suzhou, there is an abundance of gentlemen’s “massage parlors,” featuring a woman sitting in the front window, with multiple bedrooms through a door in the back.

In Guy Debord’s Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere, he states that “a new division of tasks occurs within the specialized thought of the spectacular system in response to the new problems presented by the perfecting of this system itself: in the first place modern sociology undertakes a spectacular critique of the spectacle, studying separation with the sole aid of separation’s own conceptual and material tools.”

China has perfected its system in a way to most efficiently utilize space. In order to produce room for a surplus of inhabitants, China has created a super high density environment. In an attempt to perfect the system, one must figure out the problem of how to organize this severe density. The organizational syntax used begins to separate itself from what is in fact a comfortable and efficient environment for the users. Are China’s building proximities the reason for lagging cultural and social development? Essentially the entire community is used to this lack of space due to horizontal stacking. Although this may be seen as an adverse affect on the social development of the culture, one must adapt to the surroundings given to them.

An efficient layout of space is not necessarily congruous with space that a user may use efficiently.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, China, Culture, proximity, ,

Reproductions and Representations

A reproduction of an object is an exact replica.  If this reproduction is given a different context and environment, is it still an exact replica?  A reproduction of an entity taken out of context is no longer a reproduction, but a representation of the original.  Furthermore, an exact reproduction is impossible to come by.

The Shanghai World Expo removes each represented country from its original context.  This creates a small entity of the original country in Shanghai.  This entity is neither a true representation of the country, nor an exact representation.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Walter Benjamin states that “the uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition.  This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable.  An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol.  Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.”  Both the Greeks and the clerics of the Middle Ages revered the statue of Venus, yet in different ways.  An object is viewed in contrasting perspectives when given different surroundings and context, although it is the same object.

Benjamin also points out that “one’s social function removed from the field of vision.  Nothing guarantees that a portraitist of today, when painting a famous surgeon at the breakfast table in the midst of his family, depicts his social function more precisely than a painter of the 17th century who portrayed his medical doctors as representing this profession, like Rembrandt in his ‘Anatomy Lesson.’”  It does not matter if the surgeon is represented practicing his craft, or at breakfast, it is still the same surgeon.  The surgeon’s surroundings do not matter, the surgeon remains as the same person, no matter where he is currently located.  Although, when depicted at breakfast with his family, this surgeon is not identifiable as a surgeon, and rather, is just a man having breakfast with his family.

On the other hand, when a representation of an original is given a new context, where this representation would inherently never occur, the same fact does not hold true.

The representations of each country at the Shanghai Expo are not authentic.  Because taken out of context, these reproductions become false representations of the countries rather than genuine reproductions.  What do these reproductions then become?  What does this mean for the viewers who believe that these reproductions are true representations?

The countries present at the Shanghai Expo are then portrayed falsely because of the distorted context.  The viewer then interacts with these fabricated conditions, and believes that they are a true representation of the country.  For example, after visiting the Macau pavilion, at first glance, the visitor is almost meant to believe that bunnies are a large part of Macau’s identity because of the Macau pavilion’s physical appearance.

If a viewer believes they are viewing an authentic representation, then it becomes authentic for the viewer.  The viewer is then left with a false truth about the country they have just “visited” by way of the Shanghai Expo.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, Authenticity, China, Expo, Shanghai,

Art for the Few

Does art lose its value when it is readily available to the public?

Art that is easily mass produced is often no longer viewed as art in today’s society.  Copious amounts of a work of art takes away its value.  Many times posters and books are no longer even considered to be works of art because of their mass production.

How readily available should art be?  And to whom?

Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction states that, “mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.  The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.  The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert.  Such fusion is of great social significance.  The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public.  The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion.”

What happens when a mass amount of viewers view a singular work?  Although the piece may not be mass produced, it is still being viewed by masses.  The social significance of the piece changes.  With more viewers, the piece is no longer being criticized and analyzed, it is merely being enjoyed by the observers.

Benjamin also points out that “mass reproduction is aided especially by the reproduction of masses.”

The visitors to the Shanghai World Expo may not necessarily be visiting the Expo for its social and educational value.  Rather, the Expo is seen as a spectacle to many Chinese visitors.  Most are more preoccupied with obtaining a stamp from every pavilion in the Expo rather than learning about each country.  Taking pictures next to what looks aesthetically compelling at many times appears to be more important to the Chinese visitors than the actual content inside the pavilions.

What happens when art becomes a neglected spectacle instead of a valued exhibition?

What does this say about a society as a whole?  Is the fact that society does not see value in the exhibitions a problem with the society, or a problem with the fact that these exhibitions are too readily available?

Mass accessibility devalues art.  The art remains the same, with the same content, yet this content is overlooked when put into an overly inhabited environment.  The few that still critically analyze the work exist within this mass, but at the same time are unable to be completely critical of the work because of the chaotic backdrop surrounding it.

Would the Shanghai World Expo be more successful in terms of its educational value if placed in a different location?  The Expo would have been more successful in a pedagogical sense if the amount of visitors was limited.  However, by limiting the number of viewers, the masses would not have a chance to attempt to experience all that the Expo has to offer, whether or not they can overlook the spectacle aspect and see the Expo for what it truly is.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, Art, China, Expo, mass production, Shanghai,


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