URBAN GORILLA

Icon

USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Identities + Differences

“A life in boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one blasé because it agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally cease to react at all”

The city as a leader creates spectacle in a sense that the city is not only seen as an object but rather as a transformation of a place. The city provokes lives through the unique narratives created by itself, the people, and the culture. The spectacle and the phenomenon, or stimulations, relate to the normal and extreme. Tokyo is seen as a conforming society, where everything needs to regenerate in order to keep its set system from collapsing. The rules of engagement are set in place to drive order. No one deviates away from the law to do individual thinking; they simply just follow it.  The importance of being an individual within a city is to take on the role as an observant. By doing so, a larger understanding can be created through the stimulations. The idea where the blasé can either become more personal but with the consequence of being more conforming to society versus the blasé being less personal but with more room for individualism is solely up to the individual.

In a city like Tokyo, culture takes on a large role in deciphering the evolution of its dynamic. The city does not revolve around one culture but rather the city is a culture.

Within the conformed society, there are subcultures delved within the generic. The white collar business man seen walking to his destination on any given work day blends in among the mass canvas of other identically dressed neighbors packed into the subway station. The Pachinko Gambling centers offer a moment of spectacle where the businessman can create their own worlds within these loud, colorful, ornate alternative havens. Once they obtain their fulfillment they step outside the doors to once again enter the conventional world. The idea of the normal versus the extreme reflects the mental engagement of the individual within society. The Takeashita Dori in Harajuku offers an opportunity for the individual to express their personalities through fashion. Their choice of fashion displays a physical and tangible personal statement giving the opportunity to stray away from the collective. Efforts are made to be different and defy the silent rules set within society.

Attempts are made at simplifying the complexity, in this case the layers of culture. In terms of the generic versus the individual, some cases call for systems where people must be seen as a collective otherwise they will fail. Rules then become the main driver in defining the system as the dynamic evolves. The Ise Shrine located in Ise City, is rebuilt every twenty years where one site is torn down as its neighboring site is built on. The tradition is held neither through writing nor orally, but through the act of building. The heritage is found within the body of the building where the concept of wabi-sabi is implemented; the Shinto belief that death and renewal are temporary. Thus by erecting the shrine, the symbolism of the connection between ancient sacred traditions to the present lives on.

09/10/2013 Paula M Narvaez

Advertisements

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

The Symbiosis Between Information Technology and Cultural Interactions

“While advances like the telephone and automobile clearly had wide-ranging impacts on the twentieth-century city, the recent wave of information technology promises to prove many more”- Scott Page and Brian Phillips, Urban Interfaces Designing the In-Between

Technology has become so vital in our lives that it facilitates almost everything around us. It allows us to gather information and increase our awareness of different programs as the distribution of communication, interaction and information is constantly morphing on a day-to-day basis. It now holds a greater presence within our lives more than ever.

As cities are shifting towards technology based, the physical city and its inhabitants are relying on the developing network of communication infrastructures. Cities including Tokyo and Seoul have fully immersed into this concept. Tokyo’s transit stations, in particular Shibuya Station, are catering to its population density, entertainment, and commercial intensity. The city has tapped into digital technology resulting in its commercial centrality to reflect human patterns and culture. Seoul has immersed itself into a completely wireless city- regardless of the location within the city, one is guaranteed to have access to a wi-fi network above ground and below ground (ie. metro subways). The web presence is substantial, unlike any other city I have visited. Upon landing into the ICN Airport, I was immediately connected to the internet via iPhone. I had no network data yet the internet allowed me to stay connected- I was “in the network” and I was connected up until my departure one week later.

Information is constantly being created and distributed. Heavily influenced by “the perspectives of media, speed, and personal perception”, the representation of our world impacts the way in which we design (61). The evolution of technology affects the way we conceptualize design. With vertical and horizontal connections, the vertical builds upwards as the horizontal allows information technology to spread among the landscape through infrastructure.

Connections are formed between networks of the urban fabric or physical beings such as social networks. Formed communities via the web have created spatial constraints as they manipulate the manner in which the user desires to be apart of something. The downfall is that physical impacts are decreased which then blurs the distinction between virtual and physical space as location-awareness diminishes. The virtual interface focuses on the particular needs of the individual catering to personal environments. We are influenced by the physical form that acts as a vehicle for “modulating streams of images (62)”. Projected images such as advertisements or entertainment media instill in the user a desire to match what they see. Advertisements for reconstructive surgery were plastered all over Seoul. A city known for its surge in aesthetic surgery clinics, there is a need to perfect the physical form. The persuasive ads to achieve a ‘specific look’ send underlying messages of pressure to cave into the generic. As the city conforms based on economic exchange, this need for personalization overrides the importance of the collective users. The quantity versus the individual places the individual under the generic, simply a number within the population.

The need to regenerate the technological based society means that the system will collapse, it does not have the ability to personalize. It all reverts back to the idea that money is a driver for culture. There is a desire to discover new advanced technology as this has a direct correlation to power. The more information given and known keeps the distribution of communication going tapping into the culture that feeds into this phenomenon.

11/26/2013 Paula M Narvaez

Filed under: Architecture, Culture, Japan, Korea, Tokyo, Urbanism, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Conformity of the Urban

Upon first observation, the citizens living in Tokyo seem self-disciplined to a strict adherence to order and structure. The robust Tokyo transportation system is highly efficient, accurate, and punctual. In an almost ritualistic manner, Tokyo train commuters silently form a line, allow passengers to exit the train, and board the cars with the utmost fluidity. This blasé attitude described by Author Georg Simmel is clearly evident in their behavior. Most train passengers spend their commute staring at the train’s floor or focused on a book. Social interaction between commuters that do not know each other is rare, or even non-existent. After observing the first layer of the psychology of Tokyo’s society it seems that individuals act together as one to create a better society.

Simmel extensively theorizes how the psyche of the modern man has changed with intensification of city life. Simmel describes how the metropolitan man develops a blasé attitude to cope with the amount of stimuli in a city. Furthermore, Simmel argues that as a city grows, calculability as well as the market economy grows in power. These developments are evident in many cities around the world. However, Tokyo seems to incorporate all these elements to create a level of mechanization unique to its urban fabric. In many ways the existence of the complexity found in Tokyo seems only possible through the emergence of mechanization, and the suppression of individuality.

However, as the layers of Tokyo’s society are peeled away to expose the deeper psyche, the yearning for individualism begins to show through. In subtle glimpses and hints, expressions of individuality begin to emerge from a sea of homogeneity. For the most part the society seems to stick to strict social stereotypes, but tucked into the many alleys of the city, vibrant sub-cultures thrive. Many of these subcultures act as an escape, reaction, or even a defiant notion against, the aggressive stereotypes of Japanese society. Some of these subcultures such as pachinko and anime are clearly recognizable around the city, while others stay hidden within the shadows of general Japanese society. Nonetheless, all of these subcultures pale in comparison to the driving force of cultural uniformity.

The emergence of mechanization within the Japanese Society has enabled the creation of the Tokyo metropolis, but sacrifices go hand in hand with the suppression of individuality. In his description of a generic metropolitan man, Simmel writes, “the individual has become a mere cog in an enormous organization of things and powers which tear from his hands all progress, spirituality, and value in order to transform them from their subjective form into the form of a purely objective life” (Simmel 422). The reduction of the individual to their specific duty within society seems very pronounced in Tokyo. However, the worshiping of individual freedom and power in America carries its own weaknesses and sacrifices. The cleanliness and precision of Tokyo unmistakably contrasts with the sprawl, grime, and inefficiencies of Los Angeles. Nonetheless, people around the world strive to make their way to America. Due to the influx of immigrants, the United States boasts one of the highest population growth rates among industrialized nations. In contrast Japan scrambles to find solutions to accommodate a rapidly diminishing population. Furthermore, the empowerment of the American individual may be one of the reasons why America is known for creative and technological innovation. In contrast Japan ranks last among twenty-four industrialized nations for entrepreneurial activity. The urban sprawl of America is unequivocally unsustainable. Many elements of urban development evident in Tokyo could have significant impacts if applied in the US. However, the suppression of individuality in Japan may hamper the ability to innovate creative solutions to human problems. Perhaps both societies can learn from one another in order to reach a greater future potential.

Sam R

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

The Future of China

I am departing Shanghai once again.  This is my second time visiting this great city, but this time with 3 months of travelling in between analyzing Asian cities.  I will be leaving with a different knowledge of Shanghai than with my first departure–  my first exeperience in Shanghai gave me a familiarity, while this one allowed me to appreciate the “real” Shanghai beyond the cliche and realize the beauty of the everyday.

Making an impromptu decision to visit Hangzhou, I decided to take the high speed CRH Chinese High Speed Rail.  Just recently, CRH set the world record speed of high speed rail trains and I wanted to compare this experience to the Shinaksen in Japan.  Once I arrived at the platform looking at the aerodynamic nose of the CRH train, I was overcome with the same excitement that I had months ago in Japan riding the Shinkansen.  Though my emotions were the same, the reasons why I had this amazement was completely different.  I was in the People’s Republic of China, a country that has just come out of the Cultural Revolution only 30 years ago.  After a decade of isolation, China has the technology that matches and even exceeds that of Japan, which has developed with constant progress.

Perhaps in Japan, my amazement came from this first sight of the great and majestic Shinkansen.  Japan was the first country to effecitvely utilize high speed rail by alleviating the congested and overloaded roads and rail lines between Osaka and Tokyo.  Now, the Shinkansen connects cities like Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, Yokohama, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.  As the bullet train arrived in Tokyo station for a few short minutes, I saw its long, aerodynamically shaped nose that reminded me of a duck or platypus.  When the train reached this as its termius, I wanted to ride the train right away as the passengers got off.  However, I had to wait because the workers were preparing the train to head the other way.  I was easily amused by the automatic turning of the chairs as the train prepared itself for the new wave of passengers heading towards another destination.  I loved watching window washers meticulously cleaning to keep the prisitine apperance of the train.  When I was finally allowed in, I waited for the food cart lady to come by, not because of the snacks on it, but to see her bow before she exited each car.  Everyone had their belongings neatly stacked on the overhead storage area or in the back of the cabin.  A man would eventually walk by to check our tickets recording it in his book, and sometimes stamping it with a purple insignia that was handed back to me with two hands and a quick bow.

That was in Japan, and now I am in China.  I arrive in a large atrium space after purchasing my ticket to ride the bullet train to Hangzhou.  I blinked my eyes like I was in a dream because I was in disbelief that that China is capable of having this major transportation hub and have high speed rail connceting major cities right underneath after a period of global isolation.  However, I was upset because I couldn’t see the arrival and preparation ritual of the train for its next journey like in Japan.  I didn’t even know if there was one given the fact that China neglects the maintenence of things.  As I reached the platform, everyone quickly rushed to their cars, while I deliberately walked to the end of the train to see the nose of the bullet train.  Not quite as cool looking as Japan, but it can still hold its own in speed.  The workers looked at me funny because my peers and I were the only ones who were taking pictures in the chill, while everyone was already comfy and cozy in the train.  Once inside, there were many migrant workers who stuffed many of their belongings unorganized on top of the bars.  People were eating and constantly talking especially if they had companions sitting next to them.  There were also sliding doors that people never closed because it became and inconvenience for both the stewardness and the people walking to the bathroom.  I was anticipating a cart lady to come by, but instead I was sent the food zone that all passengers could visit.  There was no man to check my ticket because the turnstile had registered it.  The service aspect was completely removed and everyone was in their own self contained bubble within the confines of their seats.

I dare not to say that I did not have a journey to Hangzhou, but rather it made me reflect on my rides on the Shinkansen.  Within the contained vessel of the bullet train cabin, I was able to get two different experiences.  It was the Japanese perfection of the job at hand versus the loud talking, spitting [not on the floor thankfully], and space hogging people.

Even looking at the city morphology pass by when travelling from the city center to the outskirts back to the city center, I noticed the differences with Shanghai and Japan’s urban condition.  Because of the limited amount of land in Japan, most of the density is centered within the city and as you move toward the outsikts, there are few dispersed patches of civilization.  Shanghai’s sprawl was apparent from the cabin as I saw a continuous fabric of clustered developments that eventually transitioned into fields of farmland.

Riding in the high speed rail in two different countries made this trip come full circle in multiple scales.  Zoomed in, I can make observations of the collective.  By zooming out just a little bit, I can see the urban strategies of sprawl and densification.  Zooming out and looking at Japan and China, I can conclude that each country is at different levels of development.  While Japan is connecting the already extablished and propogating cities, China is using high speed rail to link cities that are still growing.  This fascination and excitement for both China and Japan have variations sets of factors giving each other the tension and an opportunity for me to spot these differences.

Joyce

Filed under: China, everyday, Hangzhou, high speed rail, Japan, News, Shinkansen, Tokyo, Transportation,

The Sleeping Giant

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with terrible resolve.”

-General Isoroku Yamamoto after the bombing of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941.

The Harvard-educated Yamamoto, quoted above, accurately predicted the insurmountable awakening of the United States industrial machine as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II and forever altered the international power structure of the 20th century. For the rest of the century, the United States would be the benchmark by which the rest of the world measured itself, in regards to economics, politics, infrastructure, and industrial might. That was then. This is now. At the dawn of the 21st century, the sleeping giant that was awakened by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor is asleep once again, sedated by complacency on the world stage. While the rising stars of China and India work steadfastly day and night to reach the plateau currently occupied by the red, white, and blue, the Lone Superpower nation squabbles within its ranks, letting the partisan politics of its Republic keep its eye within itself, not on the world around it.

The encapsulation of the nations current predicament can be seen in the topic of high-speed rail development. At present, China, amongst other top economies in the Asia, have, are developing various high-speed rail systems in order to lay a solid infrastructural foundation that is needed for their growing countries. This is not an Asian phenomenon though. Western Europe famously has one of the most thorough and efficient rail-networks in the world. Once one is in a European country, they have unlimited access to the rest of the continent by train, instead of by plane. It is cheaper and more efficient to move by train.

The U.S., however, has seen little logic or appeal for this infrastructure layer of high-speed rail. Why take a high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco when one of the many airlines can offer a relatively low price?

O, let me count the ways.

For examples-sake, let’s imagine that you are flying out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for a business meeting in San Francisco. There’s no problem, the flight is only about an hour long, much faster than using any high-speed rail that would take about two hours and forty minutes (according to California High-Speed Rail Authority Development). But wait, there is that transit time just to get to LAX and then security, and knowing that there is guaranteed to be traffic in route, so you have to give yourself at least two hours just to get to the airport. So, in all, we are talking about three hours just to get to San Francisco International Airport, where you will then have to arrange for another travel means of getting to your business meeting inside the city, and not twenty minutes south of the city where the airport is. Then again, if you took the high-speed rail, not only could you have gotten to the Bay Area more quickly, but also then transferred to the efficient Bay Area Rapid Transit train system that would have brought you even closer to your destination. Not only is the high-speed rail connecting the major urban nodes of San Francisco to Los Angeles, but it is also connecting the two cities micro-transit systems.

::Poking the sleeping giant::

O.K., American Public, you are still not impressed with the fact that you would save more time and possibly money by taking the high-speed rail. A high-speed rail development would also boost the economic growth along the entire rail network. We are in a recession are we not? Imagine being able two live in central California and be able to work in either the San Francisco or Los Angeles area, without paying the often-outrageous living and property costs. It might take you an hour to get to work, but what’s the difference between spending an hour on the train and an hour stuck in traffic on the 405 Freeway. We have already seen the economic impact of Japan’s bullet train. According to the Shanghai Daily, the Shinkansen, connecting Tokyo and Osaka (two of Japan’s largest cities) has “rejuvenated rural towns that would otherwise be too distant from major cities.” Not only are “living costs lower [in the in-between areas], but residents can commute to either city while the city’s own business will be developed.” This practice has also been put into use in China, where a high-speed rail planned between Shanghai and Hangzhou will, according to article in the Shanghai Daily, “eventually integrate the cities and force Hangzhou businesses to become more competitive.”

This is known as the Dumbell Effect. You’ve seen it already, America, every time you go to your local malls. Have you not noticed how your Nordstrom’s, and your Macys chains anchor the ends of the mall, with smaller retailers in between? The larger retailers act as the points that draw you, the shopper, through the mall from one end to the other, with the in-between smaller retailers benefiting from this movement. Imagine that on more macro-scale, such as California.

::Poking the sleeping giant::

Are we starting to get the picture?

“No,” replies the airline industry, “the high-speed rail would kill our already fragile industry. We couldn’t take that competition.” Competition. Capitalism. Is that not what this country thrived on for so many decades? Competition not only with the rest of the world, but within ourselves, has made our country better as a whole. We live in an era of globalization, where not only are the world’s economies connecting with one another through trade and technology, but everything is shared, most of all information. We are living in an era of supermodernism, where our cities are growing similarly and facing the same problems as well. The sprawl of Los Angeles and the issues it is facing are some of the same ones that Beijing and Madrid are facing as well. There is bumper-to-bumper traffic on the streets alongside Tiananmen Square just as there is gridlock on the streets alongside Pershing Square.

::Punching the sleeping giant::

“O, China is a developing country. Of course they are going to have those types of problems.”

Then what is our excuse for having those problems? We are the Long Superpower! Even worse, what is our reason for doing little or nothing about it? Partisan, partisan, partisan. Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green Party, Tea Party: everyone wants to do it their way, or no way at all.

Randai O’Toole writes in his USA TODAY article “We can’t afford the luxury of high-speed rail,” about how the enormous cost of implementing a high-speed rail system is too high and not worth the cost. He writes how the $500 billion cost of President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail proposal is comparable to the $450 billion paid to the Interstate Highway System, “which provides more than 4,000 miles of passenger travel for every American, miles that Americans were not traveling before the system was built. Mr. O’Toole, when was the Interstate Highway system put in place? If my memory serves me correctly, it was after World War II. You’re going to sit there and write that an infrastructural system over half a century old is still serving our country adequately, even in a new century? Please tell that to millions of Los Angeles citizens who spend hundreds of hour in gridlock every year. And no, adding another lane to the 605 freeway is not going to alleviate traffic congestion enough so there is not traffic grid-lock seven days a week.

::Kicking the giant::

Mr. O’Toole goes on to make the claim the high-speed rail would only serve the urban elite.

“Since most high-speed rail stations will be in downtowns, the main users will be downtown workers such as lawyers, bankers, and government officials. Yet less than 8% of American jobs are in central city downtowns, meaning all Americans will subsidize trains used by only a small urban elite.”

So, Mr. O’Tool, are you saying that only the urban elite of New York utilizes the cities subway and commuter rail transit systems? Or how about how the upper class is the main user group on the Los Angeles metro lines everyday during rush hour? Recheck the demographics of public transportation user groups and you will find that fair majority of its users are of the lower and middle class.

“High-speed trains in Europe and Asia may be a boon to American tourists, but they haven’t proved transformational in those regions either. France and Japan have the world’s most extensive high-speed rail networks, yet their average residents ride the high-speed trains less than 400 miles a year.”

“Haven’t transformed those regions either.” Is Japan, along with the United States, one of the top economies in the world? Have you been to Tokyo, Mr. O’Toole? Perhaps one of the reasons that the average resident rides the high-speed train less than 400 miles a year is because the geographic area of Japan is only 145, 925 square miles with a population of 127 million people (that’s 873 people per square mile), compared that to the United States, with an area of 9.8 million square miles with a population of 310 million (83 people per square mile). It is also perhaps that more often than not, the average Japanese person’s home and work is often in close vicinity because of the country’s small area. And if they do not live in close proximity to their work, Japan’s metro and commuter transit system is one of the most widely used and efficient means by which to travel. In the United States, where the average American might work in the city but live in the suburbs, the conceptual framework for the argument changes.

As for high-speed rail not transforming regions, look at the high-speed rail being put into place between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, two Chinese cities with populations of fifteen and seven million respectively. An hour drive separates the two cities, but will soon be connected by a high-speed rail that will move users from one city to the other in 14 minutes. 14 minutes. It is estimated that the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Metropolis will be amongst the largest metropolises in the world, containing a population of over 20 million people. America’s largest city is New York City, a mere eight million. How’s that for transforming a region, Mr. O’Toole?

::Dropped piano on the sleeping giant::

Come on, America, you can’t afford not to wake up.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: American mall, BART, Bay Area, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Beijing, California, Dumbell Effect, economic growth, Economics, Globalization, high speed rail, Hong Kong, Infrastructure, Interstate Highway System, japan, Los Angeles, lower class, middle class, Osaka, partisan, Pearl Harbor, Politics, President Barrack Obama, randai o'toole, rural, san francisco, Shenzhen, Shinkansen, sleeping giant, supermodernism, Tokyo, traffic, Uncategorized, upper class, urban areas, usa today, World War II, Yamamoto,

The bitter mote…of a soul?

Ever since the first computers, there have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?

As an architect, you have the power to control everything. As an architect, you lack the power to control anything. That is the lesson I am discovering on this leg of our journey through Hong Kong and Shenzhen. We have visited countless architecture works by architects from Ando to Ito to Koolhaas to Foster and yet, no matter how star-studded and acclaimed these architects may be, I argue that not a single one can design a building where they control every surface and every interaction that occurs within its realm. We encountered an unexpected programmatic use on the ground floor of Norman Foster’s Hongkong and Shanghai Bank on a Sunday (if you visit, it has to be a Sunday!). There, blanketing the ground floor that powerful bank executives cross everyday during the week, are hundreds of Filipino women and children, sitting down, playing cards, and taking in the Sunday relaxation. You could look around the grounds for a sign designating the area Sunday Picnic Space but you would never find it. I am reminded of the old architect mantra “build it and they will come.” No offense to Lord Foster, I do not believe he anticipated the use of his ground floor for leisure rather than business. Instead, we witness a fascinating parasitic weekly occurrence. The building acts as a “host” to the people, who utilize the space for short periods of during the week and then leave. What makes this phenomenon more prodigious is that something of this nature is seldom seen back in the States. The main operating principle of a parasite is that it feeds off of its hosts but never harms it. The ground floor is never left with trash or waste when Sunday ends. How many times has a parking lot outside of a stadium been left spotless after a day of tailgating?

These types of conditions are more closely detailed in Junzo Kuroda’s Made in Tokyo: Guide Book. Kuroda’s guidebook chronicles various urban spatial situations throughout the city of Tokyo that are unique because of odd programmatic groupings. Kuroda labels these situations as Da-me architecture, or not the “architecture of architects.” He observes instances such as a highway department store, roller coaster building, and a graveyard tunnel that are a result of an organic city that breathes, consumes, and produces. As architects, we cannot ignore the fact that often times the city creates where architects or civil engineers do not. We must accept that the city evolves and morphs on its own.

The film quote above is by a scientist discussing the artificial intelligence of robots and the possibility of a machine having a soul. Why is it that when [programs] are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? I witnessed one instance of this along one stretch of street in Hong Kong. As we traveled on the tram, we passed dry-fruit stand after dry-fruit stand, all lined up next to each other. Then it would change to light store after light store. Groupings of similar program change as the fabric did. Is this by coincidence or the act of architect or engineer? Did the entire dry-fruit stand owner population get together and decide to post up their shops next to each other?

Rather, there is anintelligence at work. An intelligence that seeks to counter the “void phobia,” as Kuroda describes it, that the city of Tokyo combats by filling every available space, even the smallest amount of space that can be filled by a vending machine. This void phobia exists over streets in Hong Kong, with signs stretching over and past one another, fighting to gain leverage over the other. This intelligence is everywhere. You only have to look.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: code, cross programming, da-me architecture, ghosts in the machine, Hong Kong, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, intelligence, Junzo Kuroda, koolhaas, Made in Tokyo, mote of a soul, signage, sunday picnic, Tokyo, Uncategorized, unexpected protocol, Urban, void phobia,

“The Ants Go Marching”

Prior to arriving in Tokyo, I have this preconceived image of what Japan will be. Clips from Blade Runner and The Fifth Element feed the growing sense of intimidation with which I expect to soon be faced. Zooming around skyscrapers in flying vehicles with her bright orange hair and strappy outfit, Milla Jovovich somehow comes to represent what I will find here.

The ride on the limousine bus from Narita Airport to Park Hotel is reassuring. Aside from the foreign vegetation growing on the side of the road and the fact that we are driving on the left lane of the highway, things aren’t looking too extraordinary. We arrive, check in, and head out for dinner. Nothing crazy.

It isn’t until we enter the subway system that it hits me. This city is alive.

The network of subterranean stations seems too good to be true. Layers upon layers of trains and tracks worm their way beneath the bustling city. Crowds of daily commuters board and exit as if following their own invisible network of tracks with tunnel vision. As densely packed as these stations are, everyone knows where they are going and how to arrive at their destinations. Efficiency is key, and nothing is an afterthought. It also helps that when a train is scheduled to arrive at 11:23am, it actually arrives at 11:23am.

Beyond the station checkpoints, seemingly endless networks of stairs and escalators carve away at the ground and ceiling, giving a glimpse of light above and routes that lead even deeper into the earth. Shops and skylights enticingly line the path from one platform to another, suppressing the instinctive urge to break the surface for a gulp of air.

Even when one does emerge from below, the connection to this underground network remains very much intact. Rising through the levels of a building, there is a constant reference to stations found beneath the horizon of skyscrapers. It feels as if the city protrudes directly from the ground with a thin skin draped over its back, manifested in what we perceive as simply architecture.

Peering down from the uppermost levels reveals the grander scheme being carried out. Lights and shadows delineate meticulously choreographed paths. As I choose a pair of headlights to follow, I am reminded of the times when I observed ants crawling along the edge of a sidewalk, easily dodging pebbles and puddles. Of course at that time I also held a magnifying glass in my hand, waiting to catch the right angles of light so I could burn holes into leaves and fry the little critters. For those that escaped my childish curiosity there likely awaited a series of tunnels and chambers at their destination.

Suddenly Tokyo is no longer just a city.

It is a collection of void-filled mounds occupied by a group of organisms living and working for the greater good. Specific roles are delegated and carried out in a manner that allows the collective to function as a single entity. There is a sense of reluctance to step out of line and express individuality, in much the same way that ants avoid straying from the group. The one who wanders likely finds itself under a hot spotlight.

– alfredo

Filed under: Anthill, japan, Tokyo, Uncategorized,

Grasping Zen

During our two weeks in Japan we were able to make many correlations between the highly disciplined nature of Japanese culture and the refined complexity of their urban planning and architecture.   It was obvious that the social ideology of the Japanese people manifested itself in the streets they walk down, the metros they ride and the buildings they inhabit.  Every element of the city works harmoniously to uphold this social system that has been embodied in its people for generations, long before the city itself existed.  However, in our quest to critically observe, analyze and draw conclusions from the urban conditions we experienced in Japan, there was one crucial element that was never comprehensively discussed – the concept of Zen.

Zen, as a metaphysical construct of Buddhism, is in fact the antithesis of Japan’s contemporary social condition.  The Japanese people are ritualistically self-conscious and live in a perpetual state of anxiety concerning self-image and objective status.  John Clammer in Aesthetics of the Self, reiterates this point when he states, “…it is in Tokyo that the consumer culture of modern Japan has reached its apotheosis, it has done so in the context of a society in which both conformity and aestheticism have reached high levels.”  Such high levels in cultural cohesiveness were achieved through a social system reliant on the individual consumer’s ability to maintain self-control.  From the mundane day-to-day tasks to the distinctive tea ceremony ritual, every act must be performed with the utmost discipline and self-awareness, resulting in a culture characterized by anxiety.  This can only be relieved by leveraging Zen as an outlet for this pressure to perform appropriately.

Architecture is then what allows Zen to transcend its metaphysical nature and offer a morphological answer to the Japanese consumer culture.  It enables one to release the egocentricity tied to their societal role and be comfortable in that moment in place and time. As observed in the temples of Kyoto and the traditional gardens of Ryaonji, Zen is the basis for which sequential layering of spaces can be determined in order to place the viewer in a “removed” state-of-mind.  Specific room adjacencies, connection of interior to exterior, and material palettes can all be physical instances of Zen. Most notable are instances of pure, uncluttered spaces.  By doing away with the emblems and symbolisms associated with a consumer-based culture, the viewer can focus simply on the self.  In this respect, Zen can be credited with many of the functionalist and minimalist undertones of the Japanese design aesthetic.

Being a somewhat close-minded westerner myself, I often turn to the teachings of Alan Watts, a philosopher who breaks down Eastern philosophy for western audiences.  Above is a video clip of his brief introduction to Buddhism in Japanese Culture along with scenes from our experiences of Tokyo and Kyoto. Scenes in black and white reflect the self-conscious exterior appearance of the city and it’s inhabitants.  When the scenes become saturated with color there are conditions of Zen influence, where symbolisms relating to self-image are removed.

Note: Japan has the 5th largest percentage of Buddhists, with 96% of the population practicing the religion.

Bryn Garrett

http://www.nationmaster.com/country/ja-japan/rel-religion
Video: Alan Watts – Buddhism as Dialogue #2

Filed under: Buddhism, Japan, japan, kyoto, Tokyo,

Micro City in a Macro Metropolis

Tokyo is a city of extreme density, which forces architects to not only consider the x and y plane for circulation, rather they are forced to realize the complexity of the circulation layers found within the city. This has led to atypical design moves that form a more adaptive building typology. The understanding of the base of the building, and I will use the term base for it is not as simple as the ground floor/ bottom, is predominantly given to the public to interact with the urban. By doing so the typological lobby of buildings have been replaced with multi-layered pedestrian streets and mini plazas that have successful businesses and life weaved throughout the spaces. These bases actively engage the many layers of Tokyo’s infrastructure including subways, street fronts, and above ground rail lines.

By stepping back and looking at the larger urban plan, one can start to understand this complex network of bases plugging into the city grid. Each of these bases creating connections in the x, y, and z plane. Series of connections are what allow Tokyo to successfully delaminate their ground plane, which requires the architecture to adapt to its surrounding context.

With all of the above-considered one can start to analyze the urban conditions as a woven fabric. The entire city is connected by built environment. This uniformity typically consists of many small objects being brought together by the series of connections. In most cities circulation is dictated by automobile circulation and these connections typically represent an organizational grid. The voids created with the street grid are divided into separate properties allowing for many smaller objects to occupy the single void. Another way of looking at urban manipulation is creating larger objects that embody smaller programs. This method in some ways looks at creating a micro city coexisting within the larger metropolis.

One example of this methodology is the midtown development in Tokyo. By acquiring multiple properties, SOM (Skidmore Owings & Merrill) was able to demo a larger area of land to replace with a micro city. This urban strategy looks at a hybrid program solution, which incorporates retail, business, residential, hospitality, food, art, and transportation in one complex. The diversity of the program required specific attention to adjacencies and circulation to public and private spaces. Midtown’s solution was to create a complex base plug-in that addresses the complex public domain, and allowing three individual towers to rise out of the base to better support private spaces.

The base system for Tokyo Midtown is focused around a public plaza, which is the predominant driving force for the organization of the different programs. The outdoor plaza provides easy pedestrian access to the major program components from the street level, while providing a core to organize the many pieces. Although the plaza is pulled away from the main street the diversity of programs feeding off of it provide enough foot traffic to keep the space lively throughout the day. Off of the plaza are several lobbies that feed to the towers. These lobbies create thresholds that restrict circulation into the more private spaces. In the Ritz Carlton the ground lobby is predominantly used for vertical circulation, which opens to grand lobby on the 45th floor. Other means of linking the different programs together is a series of underground halls that have been scaled to act as pedestrian streets below street level. These streets are primarily driven by subway transportation, and are lined with street vendor style food and general shops.

On one end of the project the galleria anchors two of the towers, and allows the public to engage with the complex in the z-axis. This sectional manipulation provides more hierarchy and exclusivity to the shops that occupy the space above, giving visitors a more intimate relationship by simply pulling the shops off of the “street level”.

Car transportation for the complex is underplayed, and more geared for the wealthier clientele. Side streets provide access to the complex and are predominantly used by the Ritz-Carlton and private residences. This environment follows through to the garage where it is broken up into several small lobbies for valet service for each program component.

The green space is wrapped around the other side of the complex creating public walkways. Setting it off to the side and creating few circulation connections from the main complex, allows the space to maintain a semi private feel creating an oasis in the larger urban context. Towards the back of the complex is an expansive green space that allows for larger events and crowds to enjoy the open sky.

Delaminating the circulation paths in combination with clustering different programmatic elements together helps create a series of diverse sectional environments. The complex has many qualities of a larger ecosystem, which mocks the urban lifestyle. Most of these conditions are represented in the base of the project, which acts as a larger base that plugs into Tokyo’s urban fabric. This different urban strategy so far has proven to be successful, and has been a model for other urban developments including LA Live in Los Angels and The City Center in Las Vegas. With the lack of transportation networks in The United States it will be interesting to see if the complexes maintain their popularity and vitality. In contrast, Midtown has the advantage of plugging into a larger system that has been prevalent in Tokyo for quite some time. The different developments share similar programmatic overlaps, but I would argue that Midtown’s success is largely in part of it’s well thought out arrangement of public spaces and it’s connections to it’s surrounding contexts. When a development successfully connects urban infrastructure and its surrounding context the single project becomes a piece of the collective metropolis.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, City, Fabric, Metropois, Micro, Midtown, Renjilian, Ross, SOM, Tokyo, Uncategorized, Urban, ,

collective attributes

“Do your attributes really belong to you?”

This is a question posed by Masahiko Sato’s “The Definition of Self” exhibit at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo.  The aim of the exhibit is to demonstrate that one’s physical attributes, such as fingerprint, iris, height, and weight make one easily identifiable within a society.  Without these characteristics, one would not exist.  Sato states that one will realize “your existence is not even worth paying attention to” through the exhibit.

This makes one question whether or not true individuality is a tangible objective.  Can an object truly be  a unique entity when the exact same components make up each “unique” object?  Are objects which are made up different combinations of the same matter identical or incongruous?  Attributes are aesthetically different, yet are intrinsically alike.  Each individual has a fingerprint.  The only difference between these fingerprints is the way in which the grooves appear.  Although an iris scan can identify an individual, the differences between one’s iris from another is miniscule.  Features which make one an individual are identifying characteristics, but do not necessarily set one apart from others because these attributes are universal.

Physical and social attributes are not one of the same.  John Clammer discusses  how individuals strive for a self-identity which is socially visible.  This sense of social individuality is displayed through material items such as clothing and accessories.    One has the ability to appear as an individual socially.  However, in Japan, most do not stray far from how it is socially acceptable to appear.  The streets of Tokyo are constantly littered with businessmen wearing identical dark suit pants and white collared shirts.  Taxi drivers effortlessly line themselves up into neatly organized grids while awaiting passengers.  These individuals appear to be part of a cult—moving through the city as one giant mass.

In Tokyo not only do individuals present themselves socially in similar manners, but they also move through spaces as if they are one collective whole.  The movement patterns are similar to a current, which follows a trajectory with no visible markers.  From above, people appear as ants, marching through set paths in their white button-downs.

These paths never cross, nor do the individuals following them ever run into one another.  There is some sort of order which is inherently part of each individual, allowing one to move with a group as fluidly and smoothly as possible.  Amidst the chaos of a Tokyo metro station, the overflowing amount of people know exactly where they are going, as well as the most efficient way to get there, without ever straying from this route.  People appear as cars on marked streets, walking in their lane and adhering to all traffic laws.

Without individuality and the ability to think for oneself, movement as a whole would not be possible.  Individuals must contemplate their movement.  However, do they deliberate over each move or are they just following the pack?  Is this a taught ability or an instinct?  Either way, Masahiko Sato’s argument prevails.  Although attributes differ slightly on a micro level, each individual is ultimately composed of the same attributes, just with a slightly different coding.  One’s existence becomes very small when all social elements are removed.

Individuals are essentially the same, the ability to think sets one apart from others.  While physical attributes are primarily the same for each individual, Tokyo exhibits the extreme where in addition to these physical attributes, social attributes are also very uniform.  Homogenous dress and collective movement display how a culture thinks and behaves.  Both molecularly and superficially, little is left to identify an individual.  The ability to change is all that is left to establish one as an individual.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, attributes, Collectivism, Identity, individuality, japan, self, Tokyo, Uncategorized, ,

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.

CATEGORIES

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