Lately I’ve only had pockets of time to sit down and write in the blog. It would be a pity to stop it now that so much has happened in this past month. No one portion of time is long enough to actually do the whole process of uploading pictures, putting presentations on Issuu, and writing. It’s crazy to think it’s been 19 weeks since our arrival in Shanghai – almost half a year already has gone by!
In one paragraph, here’s what I’ve been up to: I pursued take 6 courses, practice mandarin (and pass the intermediate exam!), teach English on the side, tutor 3 kids, work on portfolio, send resumes, attend conferences, have summer internship interviews, and actually had a pretty good time on top of all that. In other words, I’ve really been trying to squeeze as much out of this experience as possible – nothing short of just really enjoying being here. As such, writing on the blog gets put to the side when I get incredibly busy.
Rather than recount chronologically all that’s happened I’ll write a reflection to the highlights of the semester:
Design Studio: Our design project was the renovation of an old Hutong-style house in Pudong (the east bank of the Huangpu River). Cheryl (my teammate) and I decided that we would fit a high-end hostel and a karaoke/music interaction space. Our thought process to this project revolved around the idea of combining these two seemingly different programs as a challenge for development. While on one hand you have the sleeping space, where occupants have a low metabolic rate, the karaoke space is one where occupants have an incredibly high metabolic rate. Therefore, we need to find both active and passive solutions that satisfy both programmatic elements under one roof. To make matters more complicated, we took on regional strategies – natural ventilation or thermal massing for example – and remodeled the house such that it blends well with the programmatic elements, Furthermore, we’ve had to deal with issues regarding structure (we’re including these noise cancelling “pods” inside the space) and acoustics to really make this project at least somewhat believable. Finally, we’ve looked at how this prototype (titled KTVacation) can be implemented in a neighborhood scale, as well as looked at the target revenue this prototype could bring on a yearly basis. In all, it’s a very inclusive project – enough to say that it will hopefully be an good portfolio piece once done.
Drawing on trace!
Model of the house
The roof came off
The experience with the instructors in this course has had its ups and downs. On one hand, I feel that our studio instructors were torn as to whether they liked or disliked our idea. Based on our critique (a mighty good one) we learned that we could have pushed the envelope a little further had we considered potentially housing other programs with similar discrepancies in metabolic rates and tested if our design solutions actually lived up to the challenge (think Ice-bar meets hot yoga). Another critique related to the idea that we were playing right at the line between pretend-developer and architect, usually a line that is not frequently mentioned in a design project (I guess I picked up some skills from project development in Weimar). Thirdly, our instructors were torn between the notion of injecting such a modern-feeling program into a traditional house, which sparked the discussion of the challenge between cultural heritage versus modernization, a challenge that is faced everywhere around the globe.
Our final presentation panels
More models and the crit space
Model (not ours)
Urban Housing Forms: Prior to arriving in Shanghai, the first thought that occurred to me was the soaring image of skyscrapers dwarfing the people like demigods. The Pudong New District, to use an example, is of an ideal world that looks picture-perfect, with the rest of the city trying it’s hardest to use this space as a premonition of what is yet to come. To me, this was my original impression of the “essence” of Shanghainese culture. However, after 5 months since my arrival, I feel that this is the Shanghai that Shanghai wants me to believe. But somewhere under all these stalagmites of concrete there’s also a Shanghai of low-rise neighborhoods where there is no such thing as picture-perfect anymore. In fact, it’s where most Chinese people live their day to day lives in. These neighborhoods, characterized by narrow alleyways (called Lilongs in Chinese) are a dying breed. In a Master Thesis conducted by Qian Guan from McGill University, she discovered that by 1949 60% of all Shanghai families lived in the Shikumen dwelling units. By the mid-90’s, the number had already decreased by 40%, suggesting the rise of the apartment compound morphology. (you can get her dissertation at the McGill SOA website).
Based on my observations I witnessed 9 different strategies that take into account the future of the Lilong Housing Typologies, from the least intrusive to the most intrusive: 1) do nothing, 2) total preservation, 3) partial preservation/restoration, 4) renovation, 5) relocation, 6) modernization, 7) material reuse, 8) formal replication, and 9) demolition. Obviously none of these are mutually exclusive, and a design solution can pick out elements from each and every one of these alternatives.
This class (more like a series of field excursions) gave us the opportunity to see the different “urban housing forms” present in Shanghai. While on one hand we got to experience the traditional Lilong neighborhoods, we also had the chance to bear witness to housing developments that were around 3M Euro/250-300 sq m compounds. All in all, the class was interesting, as we spent most of our class time outside. We had to present a topic related to urban housing forms in China, and followed by a research paper to receive credit for this lecture.
Model of the housing complex we visited at Xinjiangwansheng
Low-rise “luxury” beehives
Model Apartment – Master Bathroom
Model apartment 2 – Kitchen (much better)
The kitchen opened up to the livng room
Inspect on Chinese Modern Architecture: I liked this course the most, to be honest. The trick to this class was to follow the outline the instructor gave us the beginning of the semester. Looking back at it, I can see the professor put a whole ton of thinking into her syllabus, as her class has really shown us the ‘spectrum’ behind doing in-depth analysis in Urban Design – from counting people, observing habits, counting chairs, measuring entrances. While at times it’s annoying to have to spend an hour counting trees, it’s still interesting to quantify these elements, as we can learn how architects made their decisions in designing for public spaces. Therefore, I can say this was one of my favorite classes here at Tongji
Pockets of emptyness
The Bund from our site
More pockets of emptyness
and again….more emptyness
Sustainable Development in China: This course was more of a reflection as to what Sustainability means here in China than an actual lecture course. The lectures were unfortunately poor and unengaging (usually is comprised of only text, and very few graphic statistics to prove their points), but then we were asked to write a series of reflections as to our perceptions from being here were actually like. To be honest, I was a bit frustrated in this course, as I am interested heavily in the subject. I guess I could see lots of room for improvement. After all, the main theme in this course was the development of an eco-civilization – a term coined by social theorist/designer Richard Register – which talks about the need to improve the quality of life of people while simultaneously minimizaing the use of our natural resources. In the words of Mahesh Pradhan, the Head of the Environmental Education and Training Center at the UNEP Headquarters in Kenya, “we must lower our ecological footprint while maximizing our ecological handprint.” It is a pity that this course did not address the challenges and opportunities ahead of us in a clear manner. Rather, it became more of an attendance-based course.
Urban Sociology: Toward the end of the semester we were taught by professor LeGates from San Francisco University. He’s brought in a little bit of what exactly was the method of American pedagogy to China – from the process of watching William Whyte’s “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” which characterizes a few principles (e.g., water, movable chairs, places to sit, water) and how his sociological analysis has affected the design of public spaces in major cities like New York and Chicago. He was able to synthesize the historical approaches of sociology to its counterparts. We talked a little about Kevin Lynch’s the “the image o the city”, Jan Gehl’s “the space between buildings,” and Oldenberg’s “the Third Places.”
For this course, our final project included an analysis presentation titled Urban Social Dynamics – Internal Migration in Shanghai. We managed to draw comparisons and differences with Sao Paulo and Barcelona. The reason we picked this subject was because we discovered that in Shanghai there’s a constant floating population of 5-million that occupies this city which was enlightening to know a little more of from my Chinese partners.
Urban Reading and Design: In the beginning, I thought this class had a ton of potential. But then the instructor decided to give class to whomever was around the Sino-Finnish center without sending a message or an email and then it became clear that it wasn’t meeting frequently enough for me to get much out of it. That being said, we had to analyze a movie and create a mental map of the movie. I chose Charlie Chaplin’s modern times and created a board game where, if you don’t get the correct combination, you always seem to be taking 2 steps forward and 3 steps backward. I thought it was pretty clever considering the assignment – however till this day I do not know whether the instructor got my analysis. Oh well – I ended up dropping the course as it wouldn’t count for either my Tongji or Bauhaus Degree anyway.
Chinese class: my Chinese is getting better, but there’s still a long way to go. Overall, I can still survive with a whole ton of hand gestures and a bit of speaking, but at least when they speak back to me I am getting a whole ton more than when I first got here, so I guess the struggle is worth it. And i passed the exam, so next semester hopefully i’ll go into an even more advanced course!
Conference on Environment and Sustainability
If there is a key highlight for this semester, it was the 2011 International Student Conference on Environment and Sustainability, hosted by the UNEP-Tongji Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development, from June 5-8, 2011. Although it fell at a really bad time (academically-speaking), I must say every ounce of it was worth it. I got to meet people from all around the world as passionate and as interested in the subject I am also passionate and interested about, listen to speakers speak about topics they are also passionate and interested in.
To give you a quick breakdown of the conference (with a ton of pictures), here are some key highlights that happened this weekend:
- Listening to Mr. Klaus Toepfer, the former Under Secretary General of the UN, Former director of the UNEP, speak about the challenges that lie ahead in our generation, as well as his experience at the UNEP headquarters in Kenya.
- Listening to Prof. Yushan Ruan was pretty much the master planner of the city of Suzhou, ranked today as one of the best-preserved cities in China.
- Listening to Mr. Mahesh Pradhan, the Head of the Environmental Education and Training Center at the UNEP Headquarters. He spoke about how the UNEP tackles the issues regarding Climate Change, disaster and conflicts, ecosystems management, environmental governance, hazardous waste mitigation, and resource efficiency.
- Our trip to Suzhou. Our day 1 highlights included: Visiting the Pingjiang Historic District, the Shantang Historic Street, a boat trip across the Beijing-Suzhou canal, the superhighway of old Chinese times (and apparently one of China’s greatest engineering wonders).
- An overnight stay at the Suzhou Dongshan Diaohualou Hotel, a villa-like hotel (an old traditional Chinese neighborhood renovated into a high-end hotel). The hotel was actually attached to the Diaohualou Landmark, a high-class villa in the heart of this town.
- A visit to the Luxiang Historic village on the bank of Lake Tai – a AAAA historic town fantastically preserved town with actual people living there and not trying to commercialize it in any way possible.
- A visit to the “New Suzhou” – or the SIP, the Suzhou Industrial Park – a massive R&D space similar to Silicon Valley in CA. It’s a “model unit” of Sustainability in China, and is a cross-collaboration with the Singaporean government. Currently a ghost town – only time will tell if it actually lives up to its expectations.
- Being a part of the discussion groups regarding Eco-Urbanism and Cultural Heritage and the challenges that may arise or have already surfaced in China and the World.
- Discussions on the bus regarding the Declaration on Sustainability. Our bus also was active in playing various games, such as saying sentences in as many languages as possible. It was great meeting people from around the world.
- An overnight stay at Jiading campus, Tongji University’s satellite campus.
- Being an active participant drafting the Youth Declaration on Environment and Sustainability. I learned that 1 a4 sheet of paper is truly hard to write, especially when it comes to a declaration of this kind with 8-10 other people discussing word-for-word each statement. The word on the street is that the resulting declaration will be read out loud in the Rio+20 conference, which would be a huge, huge, deal. It was a huge eye-opener to the world of the UNEP, and perhaps would be worth looking a little deeper into this area. Right now I got a taste and I really liked it.
- Working with group 4 – Heritage Conservation and Eco-Urbanism. Our group was the best – and we clicked really well. We had almost every continent present, which made it incredibly enlightening to learn from people from so many different backgrounds.
- Winning the third-place award for the poster.
- Feeling inspired. I would recommend this conference to everyone and anyone. We had a blast. Here are some pictures of our trip (i apologize in advance for the number of pictures of doors…)
It was raining heavily so we all wore the Chinese ponchos
Doors and windows on the canal
Visiting the teahouse
The stage for the opera
Old city canals
getting ready to take the boat ride
the only water gate into the old city of Suzhou; happens to be near the Beijing-Hangzhou canal
the water gate
Group 4 shot
Taking a picture
our excursion guide
taking pictures of nature
the ornate detail
of this big gate
even more ornate
the hotel we stayed at from the rooftop
the museum next to our hotel
the exterior of the museum
Lu Xiang Village
Doors and Windows
more old stuff
occupant of the village
more of the daily life
and more doors
and more doors
more doors (this one was at the mayor’s house)
lots of food from tai lake
before and after it gets painted over
Suzhou industrial park under construction
gate of arrival
listening in on the lecture
the model that lights up
the “new” Suzhou
The “bird’s nest” of Suzhou
is actually the concert hall
unfortunately it was people-less
and had some kitschy sculptures
like this one
the distances between buildings… come on! say goodbye to pedestrian travel
another view of the model
but it had a ferris wheel
back on the bus!
and we actually did work
and had to present our work
group 4 group shot
Job Interviews, Resume and Portfolio: The past 3-4 weeks I’ve also had the fortunate burden to actually get a portfolio put together, printed, and sent to different firms. Of 12 firms I sent my portfolio, cover letter, and resume to, I received 6 responses. I thought that wasn’t bad at all, however I realized that 1. I have very little experience working at an architectural office (but I have to start somewhere right?), and 2. A heavy academically-oriented resume seems to detract a few companies. Also, I saw that the coverletter I sent had a few grammar problems, of which will NEVER happen again. Note to self: read out loud your cover letter to somebody else before sending it out.
Overall, I’ve had quite a spectrum of quality when it comes to the interviewing process. I went to an interview where I was required to sit and watch the interviewer speak to his girlfriend over the phone for 25+ minutes, as I’ve had interviews with firms with only 2 people in the firm, to interviews that lasted a good 4 minutes, to a phone interview where the connection kept breaking and seemed as if I was cutting her off every sentence, one random encounter with HR from a firm at a bar on a Friday-night, to one in a fancy Landmark Tower (which I got and will start there the 11th of July!). In all, it’s been actually fun to discover Shanghai’s creative corners with a helmet other than that of a tourist or of an academic. This time I’m living the role of a working professional, something that requires a whole ton of time by itself. I guess I’m just craving some non-academic experience right now, to be honest.
Hosting the 48-Hour Film Project Film Screening: This was perhaps one of the randomest things I’ve done here in Shanghai. Basically, the story goes like this: I met a girl at a party that happened to be the organizer of the 48-Hour Film Project. A couple of days later, she contacted me and asked if I wanted to be a short film festival host. I agreed by mail, and then got the opportunity to go to a heritage building and present the 48-Hour Film Project. Here’s a little bit as to what I had to say at the 48FP:
“Let me give you a brief introduction to the 48 Hour Film Project. The 48 Hour Film Project is a worldwide event with over 90 participating cities. Basically, it’s a wild and sleepless weekend in which teams make a movie—write, shoot, edit and score it—in just 48 hours. Last Friday night, they got a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue, all required to be included in each movie. 48 hours later, the team leaders had to submit the fruit of their hard labor. On May 22, a few minutes before the deadline, filmmakers, operating on heavy doses of caffeine and loads of adrenaline, rushed to turn their films in.”
This was the type of stuff I was saying to an audience of over250. I guess this was good prep as I had to speak about sustainability to over 150 people at the sustainability conference.
and here’s your host and our translator!
the film directors
Having some sort of normal 20-something-year-old life: looking back at the month of may/june, I can honestly say it’s been a whirlwind of excitement. Almost too much so. Every ounce of the experience was worth it, and yes, my mind, body, and soul is tired (and now I am going to Guilin, 19-some hours away by train for a vacation!) . But I do have fun and the friends I’ve managed to make so far have been supportive and awesome in these endeavors.
Lately, the new trend seems to be club-hopping on Huashan Lu on the weekends, where nights tend to end up between Zapata’s and Beaver, not the classiest of places. I’ve found Sugar, a rooftop bar that plays Brazilian music bimonthly – but the drinks are pricey but the crowd is great. I’ve managed to dine at excellent Mexican, Korean, or even American restaurants (still doing the Malone’s Monday’s deal, of course). I tried being vegetarian for a couple of weeks, and successfully concluded that I am 100% non-vegetarian (although the sanitation of meat slightly frightens me especially during the Shanghai summertime).
This is the type of energy that being in this city has given me (sorry Weimar). It’s similar to the energy I had in Berlin, but this time it’s really more about trying to ‘make it’ rather than live in the routine of the language school. It’s not that one is better than the other; both experiences are just so different. In all, I can honestly say I made the right decision coming here to China, despite the fact I just miss the non-Chinese world. Being in China is really about being in a whole new world, and it’s this thrill that makes every day exciting. With that in mind, here are some other highlights as to what I’ve been up to in recent months:
the museum of glass
the main hall with artwork from different installation artists
every question mark was an interactive door that told you how glass is used
a cool house of glass
sculptures (there were some from Chihuly)
Moganshan Lu – the artists neighborhood
the entire neighborhood is filled with art studios
the main plaza
nextdoor, Shanghai’s booming highrise economy
the first graffiti I’ve seen in a while
The Midi Music Festival in Shanghai
the electronic music stage
the main stage
the main event on saturday – some lady from Beijing
And finally, here are some Chinaisms for you:
after the festival we went to a restaurant that mixes kung fu with noodles
first-year architecture design projects
going to a dance competition
view from the apartment
yu yuan garden – old and new
dancing in the street
the very first metro line of line 10
Seeing infrastructure like this everyday blows my mind (metro and highway)