Arthur F. Wright
“The Cosmology of the Chinese City,” in Skinner, ed., The City in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977.
1.) The Ancient Chinese City as a Cosmo-magical Symbol
Wright notes the significance of the ancient Chinese emperor as a leading power towards the conversion of a profane (hostile) space into sacred (propitious, habitual) space. When we think of sacred space today, we think of spaces affected by tragedy, political, social or cultural events that transform the space from what was once profane and insignificant. An example is the World Trade Center in New York City which was once an icon of world trade and was transformed into a sacred place as a result of a tragedy. Can sacred space be designed in a modern city and still achieve the same affect it had on the ancient Chinese citizens? Or have we lost the power to evoke scariness artificially (without any natural occurrence) in modern times?
2.) In ancient Chinese cities the walls were the first architectural features to be built. They held a fine prominence in the city as they were built to be the tallest structure in the city, higher than the royal palace. This observation means that the frame and internal ordering of the ancient Chinese city tended to be fixed. It is hard to draw a boundary around the cities today (like Cleveland) unless you look on a map. City boundaries are not as significant as they used to be. In fact, when you are driving long distances very rarely do you recognize what city you are driving through. We have lost the ability to differentiate cities. Aspects that define a certain city are mimicked in other cities. As a result, they seem to merge into one another rather than establish their own identity.
3.) The New Downtown
It is obvious from this reading that the shift from downtown to the strip was a result of personal mobility. Spatial order was redefined and shopping centers began appearing in suburban communities. Rybozynski notes the effect that shopping centers had on the community: they became urban places, accommodating more than just retailers; they now functioned like a city. The question immediately becomes quite clear: Rather than relocate the city, in a sense, to new areas of suburban influence, why not redefine the existing city? The answer lies in the fact that people want to feel the benefits of an urban setting without going through the hassle of driving to the city and engaging it entirely. What does this image of the shopping center tell us about the way we should design cities to satisfy the needs of the people?
4.) There is a fine line between an established “downtown” area and a shopping center developed as a “new downtown.” Shopping centers are catered towards the middle-class. They are managed places- strictly policed, regularly cleaned, properly maintained and kept vacant-free- as well as convenient places- they provide you with all your needs in one place- washrooms, food, entertainment and amusement can all be satisfied. Cities, on the other hand, are harder to mage- buildings are left vacant, streets and sidewalks are left dirty, crime is higher and parking is harder to find and usually expensive, and the list goes on. It is no wonder why shopping centers are more attractive. Must cities become more catered towards the middle class in order to achieve the success that shopping centers have been able to maintain?
5.) A Theory of Good City Form
In the case of Boston, transformation from the city to the suburbs is motivated by a variety of factors including the notion of “the control of space in order to control the productive process and its participants.” Cul de sacs, gated communities, walls, gates and the like are aimed at allowing residents to control their space and protect it from outsiders. Again this issue of security comes up in the public realm. We all want to feel the protection of containment- bounded by the walls of our house and the distance from our neighbors. How can we design public spaces while still maintaining some degree of control to satisfy this feeling of containment and thus satisfy the needs of the individuals?
Brandon E. Young