USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Wisdom in Footsteps

In modern society any person will most likely pass through many cities before their death, and each one imprints a specific memory of place unto the person’s mind. A traveler’s memories may be small glimpses of buildings, or streets. Perhaps a person might remember their experience of a specific monument or cultural institution. However, if a person has spent a significant amount of time in a city their memories most likely will be different. They’re more likely tied to the significant parts of their lives that took place in the city. Perhaps it’s a specific place a person shared times with family or a loved one. Perhaps they’re strongest memory is of a place a friendship grew, or a place they experienced pain loneliness or anguish. The importance of these memories come not from the only the physical surroundings, but instead it is derived from an essential relationship between life, and the physical environment.

Throughout the time I have spent in Shanghai, my conscious memory of the city has grown slowly, but now seems to have created a small network of memory associations, and systems of personal knowledge. The knowledge of city can grow before a person ever touches foot in it. My knowledge of Shanghai grew first from a series of maps, historical events, and series of architectural elements. This information started building a timeline of physical morphology. My understanding grew about how the city evolved from a series of economic and political forces. Geographical elements such as the Yangtze River or political events such as the concession to the French and Mao’s revolution all have left a physical legacy on the city. The timeline created static glimpses, almost like snapshots, of the city historically up to the present day. The time in-between the snapshots was subconsciously filled in with assumption made from my personal understandings. However, the minute someone steps foot within the city, they begin to gain an understanding of the true knowledge of place. It is an understanding of how life infiltrates between the systems of roads, subway, and buildings. It is a dynamic knowledge that has a relationship to the static physical context, and thus it also has a relationship to history. The only way to gain insight into the knowledge of space is through immersion into the city. However, the knowledge of place is continuously changing. It is constantly evolving and being shaped by both local and global forces. The knowledge of place is concerned not with the specific nature of singularities, but instead by relationships and hybrids of space. It is from these relationships that the knowledge of place gains importance for architects and urbanists.

For an architect or an urbanist to successfully design for a city they must have knowledge of both physicality of a city, and the anthropological element of the city. The value of the anthropological element of the city comes from the understanding of the way people interact with the systems of the city as a whole. In Shanghai, city life tends to spill out of buildings on to the sidewalks. For an architect to design to the full potential, they must have an understanding of this anthropological instance. However, the physicality of a city still plays an important role. The grid of the streets, transit routes, and program dispersion are have important impacts on the city, however they gain true intelligence when those concepts are merged with anthropological elements.


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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.



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