All posts by Suheng Li

Humanism Based Approach to Urbanization

Suheng Li, Chin Hsu


Periodical: Urban Omnibus

Characteristics: Urbanism, Urban Planning, and Humanism

Thesis: To achieve a foresighted approach of urbanization, we should value humanism as the most essential element rather than in negligence of people and culture.


Population growth and the acceleration of urbanization lead to increasing needs for new buildings. However, due to the unconsciousness of the importance of humanitarian architecture, and the lack of conservation policy, designers sometimes focusing more on profit instead of taking people’s needs as the most essential principle when they build. This action puts the cart before the horses because cities’ growth relies more on human activities rather than buildings. Therefore, the buildings should be celebrating humanism, which in this case, consists of the preservation of heritage, the fulfillment of people’s daily needs, and the improvement of life quality. Building in humanism way is a more natural and foresighted approach to urbanization.


Mentioning about humanitarian architecture, the first thing comes to one’s mind might be cultural heritages. They play an indispensable role in the city because they witness the history and the process of urbanization. However, old buildings may be obstacles for city development due to their antiquated styles and weaker functionality comparing to modern buildings. In recent years, China has demolished a large amount of old districts in order to develop new neighborhoods that better serve the cities. Such actions caused the loss of historic properties and conflicts between government and residents; people’s discontent has been fueled. A method that better considers people’s feelings is demanded. As a result, the government decided to reinvent old buildings and fit them into modern city.


Tian-Zi-Fang, a famous old neighborhood formed by “Nongtang” (a type of traditional alley in Shanghai), is one of the most famous projects. The site is located on Tai-kang St, Shanghai, where was once a marketplace. The roads were muddy and the stone facades have nothing in common with those glass or concrete ones. Due to the rapid development of surrounding area, concordance between old and new needs to be achieved (Zhang, 2011). Instead of simply rebuilding the whole area, a new neighborhood form called creative industry precinct was explored. The existing buildings were all kept. Factories were reinvented into design studios where young people gathered to realize their art dreams. The residents do not need to move out of the building. Instead, they rented the first floor and live on the second floor or above.  The first floor on which was passageway and courtyards became stylistic café and art galleries (Chen, 2010).  Thousands of visitors are attracted to the area every day to experience the combination of SOHO style and vintage Shanghai style. It produces the fund for maintaining the district and extra income for the residents. The roads were fixed as well during the reinvention making people’s lives more convenient. Such example shows us one way to minimize the bad influence on residents during the city development.


credit to : Jssd .


From the project of Tian-Zi-Fang, it’s not hard to realize that urbanization should be an action that is appreciated by people. However, nowadays, instead of considering serving people as the primary purpose, some developers regard people as a tool for making money. In some projects, the designer did not take in the consideration of the coordination between buildings and urban planning, nor did them provide enough facilities for the users. Therefore, people would not be living in such places because they don’t feel being served by the buildings, and the buildings are instead plain inconvenience in relation to the surroundings. That is why in a lot of Asian country, even though some of the cities has such high density of population, you can still find a lot of empty houses that no one lives in. For example, Taiwan, as such a tiny island with a large population, should have had a high occupancy on residences. Nevertheless, a great number of unused houses and apartments are appearing and even more building apartments are being built. These houses are called “ghost buildings”, they were bought only for estate speculation (Pingguo, 2015). Due to the fact that the developers and construction companies in Taiwan come up with the urban plan with the strong intention of making profits but not thinking deeply enough about people’s needs, the prices of the house has been increased in a incredibly high ratio in the past ten years, while the buildings are glutted (Su, 2014). Moreover, due to the developer’s’ preference of developing rural area or fully deconstruct the old buildings, the nature environment on the island was hurt. The constructions that are happening all around the city made people’s lives inconvenient. The whole atmosphere of urbanization is very “inhumane” and it is really necessary now to remind architects and city planners of their duty of thinking ahead about the urban planning. They are sometimes lost because of being affected too much by the clients. What developers want is a city with prosperous economy and modern skyscrapers, but what most residents want is a place where people could communicate and enjoy their lives easily. Therefore, a lot of Taiwanese architects started to set goals to save the future. In capital city of Taiwan, Taipei, there are more and more old districts appeared to be nearly abandoned, architects started to care more about the them by trying to redesign the structure based on its local culture. Instead of constructing new buildings, reinvention saves more money and time, and the architects are able to add more personal design aspects to the buildings. They realized that a highlighting on cultural elements well be more meaningful on such an island with strong national style. It gives people more feeling of home than skyscrapers. Design involves all sorts of aspects, but buildings based only on profits create concrete forest while architecture with regional characteristics give life to the city.


credit to:hansioux

As we’ve talked above, clients can affect an architect. At the same time, they may affect by their own misunderstanding on “humanism”.  Some architects decided to deliberately ignore the existing cultural and humanistic elements and establish the “utopian” of their minds. However, culture and humanity are the intelligence and experiences that people gained over time. One can hardly innovate merely by getting rid of them. One famous example is Noisy-le-Grand, a post-modernism architecture complex that locates in the east suburb of Paris. Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill designed the complex during World War II. With the concept of “utopian”, this “city” has the capacity for people from different social classes; it has 610 apartments and looks like a forest of concrete (Wikipedia, 2015). Bofill expected that his project would become a landmark and would work as the reference for other cities (Foster, 2015). However, he did not get his wish. Several failures happened in this project and two of the major ones are both about the negligence of humanity. First of all, the designer established the new city far away from the old one without providing enough facilities for daily life. Bofill focused only on the new form of neighborhood, but he did not pay enough attention to the needs of residents. Although the buildings are well built with innovative style, the supporting facilities such as traffic tools and commercial districts are inadequate. People who live in there still need to come back and forth between Noisy-le-Grand and Paris to fulfill their daily needs such as grocery shopping, entertaining and working. After all, the action of making the site away from the existing city became an encumbrance for residents. The city was not as independent as it supposed to be. The other pity is that the project failed to create an environment that leading people to communicate. Instead of having a sense of harmony in the neighborhood, the large density of apartments makes the space compressed and stressful; people are “trapped” in the fancy concrete boxes and can hardly have the mood for communication. Can’t stand with the inconvenience and the lifeless atmosphere of the “city”, most young residents moved out. Nowadays, only few elderly who feel rejected by the society still live in this deserted space. The similarity between these people and this neighborhood shows flashes of tragedy. As Bofill admitted in an interview after the failure: “Architecture does not change everything.”  (Foster, 2015). This example alerts architects that plans based on conjecture will not last long; people’s needs that exist objectively are the key elements that support the city to live and generate. Negligence of culture and humanity will only retard the development of the city.


credit to: Laurent Kronental

Celebrating humanism, which is, to be more specific, respecting people’s needs and habits, is the key for urbanization. To minimizing bad influence on people and environment, reinvention was used; it creates connection between the old and the new and enables the later generations to track down the development process of the city. Moreover, the full consideration about people’s feeling and their daily needs shows the respect to humanity, people will feel respected by the government and thus supporting the future urbanism. To sum up, people are always the primary purpose for a foresighted approach of urbanization.


Author, Xiaoyi Zhang. (06/05/2011). Tian- Zi- Fang. Baidu Wenku. Retrieved from:


Author, Yongming Chen. (05/01/2010). Tian-Zi-Fang: The Intersection of the Old and the New. Sina Blog. Retrieved from:


Author, James Taylor- Foster. (10/01/2015). A Utopian Dream Stood Still: Ricardo Bofill’s Postmodern Parisian Housing Estate of Noisy-le-Grand. Arch Daily. Retrieved from:


Author, Unknown. (06/26/2015). News: The vacant-house-ratio in Taiwan is rising sharply. Apprle Daily. Retrieved from:


Author, Yanling Su. (11/25/2014). News: The vacant-house-ratio in Taiwan is close to 20%. Housefun. Retrieved from:

DD review for Paige Geldrich

On Wednesday, I had the honor to review Paige Geldrich’s Design Development presentation. Paige’s project has a very strong concept of “bringing old and new together”, it is very interesting and makes lots of sense due to the historical aspect of our site in Brooklyn. In the project, Paige designed a building with two wings that are parallel to the street around the edge of the site, they meet at the corner of the streets where a symbol of collision—- an 80 feet tower stands. To illustrate the concept, Paige decided to use material as the main tool to present the connection between past and future. One of the wings is built in red brick which echoes with the existing old brick buildings on our site. The other one that built by glass refers to the new and the future. It provides a strong contrast with the brick wing and the site.

Facades: The building is very impressive. It’s easy to tell that Paige has developed a logical organization in the design process. One of my favorite parts is the glass facade that is divided by the gird of frames and has some brick element at the bottom. It looks neat, responds the concept and interacts well with the method of interior design: using grid as an organized way to define the spaces. On other facades, Paige continued with the method to combine the brick and glass together, however, the way of arranging the blocks of materials could have been more thoughtful. Due to the different characteristic of the two materials, it is necessary to find a hierarchy.  Right now it is a little hard for people to figure out the logic behind the composition.  In the presentation, the guests questioned about the combination of brick and glass. I personally do not agree with that. Around our site, there are some buildings built by bricks and glass. They obviously have developed their tone which is homogeneous but outstanding. So I think Paige’s design totally makes sense.

Form:  The arrangement of the massing is clear in this program. Height is increasing from the end of each wing to the eighty-feet-tall tower which emphasize the importance of the fire station. Moreover, some parts of the volume are cut out to create void spaces. It helps adding up the complexity and diversity of the building form. One thing I would suggest is to add up the height of the tower. Due to the width and the length of the building, the tower does not look as tall as it needs to be. As the building area is already large enough for all the program, adding up a smaller tower as a symbolic element might be a solution.

Programs: As I mentioned before, Paige used specific organizing grid to define the space within the wings. She reserved the brick wing with residential area and lounge area while the glass wing is occupied with the working area where the offices, maintenance area and apparatus bay located. She also came up with a sculptural and unique organization for the space in the tower. I think overall the programing works well, however, the following problems should be taken into consideration: 1. Will the height of the tower influence the speed of fire fighters to reach apparatus bay? 2. The project already has a very strong characteristic, the space inside the tower could be less sculptured, and a more flexible arrangement can make the movement smoother and can help to achieve a higher efficiency.3. Due to the plentiful of the space, the fire stairs and elevators can be set in somewhere reasonable instead of squeezing at the edge of the space.

Landscape: In the project statement, Paige talked about how the form of the buildings creates a frame that, along with the terraces and walk paths, encourages both firemen and other people to the public area along the water. I think her thought is great, however, it is not fulfilled yet in the shown design. The paths and landscape she has now is arbitrary comparing with the logical form of her building. The public space could be more coherent to the fire station and could be more welcoming by adding connections to the main streets.

Board: My favorite part of the board are the axons of the building. They are very detailed and well-made. By showing the shade and shadow, they tell a lot about the form of the building. I wish they could be larger and plays a more important role on board. The elevations and sections are beautiful as well, the line weight is appropriate and the textures are informative. It would be even better if Paige could add shadows as she did in the axons. It will definitely help the audiences better understanding her drawings. Moreover, the function of the area is only labeled on the first floor, to make the plans more clear, more dimensions and labels should be applied.  The text is a little bit too large comparing to the drawings and the project statement is not fitted in an organized way. I believe these are just some tiny flaws that would be fixed next time.

Development: Comparing to the peer review, Paige had a better communication of the tower geometry through the models. I really appreciate that she put many efforts on her model so it can provides another way for us to better read the design. The other improvement is the site plan, although there are some problems that need to be figure out later, the site plan she had this time is obviously more informative and detailed.

Presentation: Paige was a little nervous at the beginning of the presentation and was not presenting very fluently. However as she kept going she pulled it back together. The presentation was overall clear and to the point. When the guests were critiquing, she was focused and can respond quickly with logic. I think it’s is a very important characteristic for an architect because it should her ability of critical thinking and her own deep understanding to the project.

Conclusion: Paige did a great job in this presentation. I think the challenge for the following month is to figure out the best way to use the two materials. Overall, the project is very interesting and well designed!


Giorgia Aquilar: Evolutionary Landscapes in the age of imperfection

On Wednesday night, 2015 A.E. Bye Fellow Giorgia Aquilar gave us a very interesting lecture on evolutionary landscapes. The lecture was very informative because Giorgia introduced A.E Bye’s ideas in a very organized way and explained them clearly.

Mr. Bye is a great landscape architect who managed to develop landscape design in a natural and artistic way. I was really impressed by some of his concept because I find them making lots of sense in architecture as well: Bye thinks that landscape is alive and is in motion. He always took natural and human conditions as the universal principles. In his design, he fully respected the landscape heritage: he chose native plants in priority and thought about all of the phenomena of nature. This makes me thinking about the site analysis and material using in architecture. In my second year, we designed a weaver’s dwelling. The site is in Bald Eagle Park. The plants on the site change condition with the season and the river dries for few months every year.”  I considered these characters as a benefit of doing something “site specific”, I used the pattern of the forest on my facades and built a dam in order to keep the water during drought period. However, when looking back after this lecture, I figured that things could have been better if the aim was to respect the site. Instead of deliberately changing the condition of the site,  I could have used the wood from the site and develop the arid area into a wetland.

One thing I cannot totally agree with is that Giorgia mentioned that “unlike architecture, landscape is always evolving, the project is never completed”. From my point of view, architecture is evolving as well, however, it happens in a longer period among varies of buildings. It has its growth and motion in an artificial way. As an art of regret, architecture is always improved from the imperfection of former projects. Maybe in the future,when architecture and landscape become as coherent as mentioned in Biophilic Design, with full respect towards the nature, we will observe an even stronger growth on both of the areas.

DD Project Statement

Our site locates in Greenpoint at Brooklyn, New York. It has NYC’s typical “grid” urban layout and hesitates many industrial elements from the old time. Because of the importance of the fire station, I decided to distinguish it from the existing structures yet still echoes to the environment. The best solution came out of my mind is circle. It will help to let the program emanate from the center of the site towards the whole district. Due to the variety of program, multiple concentric circles are used. Structure wise, all these circles can be used as bearing walls; trusses, as the radius, can be used to adjust the size of each function area in a very organized way. Landscape wise, concentric circles can expand smoothly from the buildings to cover the oversized site, the radius and circles form up a net of pedestrian paths leading people to the museum and deck along the river.

There are two main buildings: The larger one is a two storage building. On the south side of the first floor lays the public lobby which opens up to the direction of the museum. The echo between the two programs can attract more people to the public garden between them.  At the north end locates the educational space and administration area which is connected to the apparatus bay. Residential area is on the second floor of this building, a clear corridor lays around the courtyard in the center of the building.  The courtyard will be used to recycle the rainwater.

Between the two buildings is a corridor that connects the exterior and interior. It leads the visitor going from educational space into apparatus bay which is the other cylinder building. Since there is an obvious height difference between the buildings, terraces are built from the roof of public and residential building to the roof apparatus bay. Greening will be planted and the whole space will be used as a roof garden.

Moreover, curved trusses will be used in reaction of the geometry of the program. The space between the roof and trusses can become a clear story for the natural ventilation.

Better Way for Urbanization


With the visibly growth of population and acceleration of urbanization, people’s need are increased. Architects are devoting on seeking innovative styles and forms for architecture. However, due to the unconsciousness of the importance of humanitarian architecture, and the lack of conservation policy, designers tend to ignore the cultural meaning of the existing buildings and demolish them when a new program is launched. Such actions caused loss on both culture and humanity. To avoid such losses, reinvention should be considered as a main method for urbanization rather than demolition or simply expand the city area and build something new. In this paper, examples will be provided to support this argument.

From many perspective, New York city is one of the most modernized and developed cities on earth. If you ever looked into the urban design of New York, it is easy to tell that all the efficient infrastructures around New York have provided numerous fine connections from district to district. The advised city plan has brought, or still bringing New York better level of economy. However, failure on urban development still happened in this city. There is one example of a project that was abolished later on due the cursoriness to people: the reconstruction did not make to serve people from different social classes, on the contrary, caused people to lose their habitats.  The project is called Bronx expressways which was managed by Robert Moses, the “master builder” of mid-20th century.In this project, Robert Moses accused to his idea of “car culture”. To accelerate the growth of the city, Robert was in favour on building highways instead of subways. To fulfill this task, he planned to demolish a large amount of neighbourhood and supporting facilities, the loss of home causing the residences aggressively antagonistic to the project. The worse thing was that he did not take the conditions of people from different social classes into consideration. Robert Moses neglected that a large amount of citizens could not even afford a car, instead, most of the people actually take subways as their main transportation. his ignorant of people’s habit on transportation caused a huge segregation between the middle and upper class residents to north of Bronx, leaving the rest portion of lower class residents suffering in the south part. Although this project may have benefited the upper class economics, it never worked because of the neglection of the minorities.

In order to avoid such conflicts that could happen in the demolition, some architects decided to deliberately ignore the existing cultural and humanistic elements and establish the “utopian” of their minds. However, culture and humanity are the intelligence and experiences that people gained over time. One can hardly innovate merely by getting rid of them. One famous example is Noisy-le-Grand,  a post-modernism architecture complex which locates in the east suburb of Paris. The complex was designed by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill during World War II. With the concept of “utopian”, this “city” has the capacity for people from different social classes, it has 610 apartments and looks like a forest of concrete. He expected that his project would become a landmark and would work as the reference for other cities. However, he did not get his wish. The were several failures that happened in this project. Two of the major ones are about the negligence of humanity. First of all, the designer did not seek for any connection between the project and the old city. Bofill focused only on the new form of neighbourhood without paying attention to the needs of residences. Although the buildings are “well done”, the supporting facilities are inadequate. The residences still need to somehow go back to Paris to fulfill their daily needs. Afterall, even though the project is established away from the existing city, it is not as independent as it supposed to be, instead, it made people’s life harder. The other failure is the lack of communication in among people. Instead of having a sense of harmony in the neighbourhood, the large density of apartments makes the space look compressed and stressful, people are “trapped” in the fancy concrete boxes, the public spaces barely work, the whole place is a backwater. Can’t stand with the inconvenience and the lifeless atmosphere of the “city”, most residences moved out. Nowadays, only few elderly who feel rejected by the society still live in this deserted space. The similarity between these people and this neighbourhood shows flashes of tragedy. As Bofill admitted in an interview after the failure:”architecture does not change everything.” Negligence of culture of humanity is the major reason why the “city” waned.


Photo credit to:Laurent Kronental

On the other hand, there is still some great examples that had successfully incorporated the building into its surrounding atmosphere. Shanghai, as an international modern city, was still determined to maintain its old cultural district. At the same time, they demanded to integrate such districts into the city pace by adding the commercial elements. Tian-Zi-Fang, a famous old neighborhood formed by “Nongtang” (a type of traditional alley in Shanghai), was reinvented successfully. The native residences were all kept, but the first floor was redesigned in to stylistic café and creative groceries. Thousands of visitors are attracted to the area every day, produce the income for maintaining the district. Moreover, the reinvention of the neighbourhood also provides a better life quality for the residence because they were funded to decorate the old house. Such example shows us one possible way to solve the problems that could happen during the city development. For different sites, we can adjust the method, and finally take a humanitarian approach toward the growth of the city. Buildings should be something that people appreciate,  a right way of reinvention can really revive an old city and bring better way of living to people who live there.


Photo credit to:

To Sum up, if we can reinvent old buildings, furthermore figure out the way to fit them into modern urban- planning, the charming connection between the “old” and the “new” will be created.  The heritage of the culture will be kept and it enables the later generations tracking the development process of the city. Moreover, by respecting the culture and humanity, people will feel respected by the government and thus supporting the future urbanism. Negligence of culture and humanity will only retard the development of the city.



Helena L. Jubany. “The Social Responsibility of Architects”, Social Responsibility in Practice. June 29, 2011.

Stewart Brand. Emergence, desire lines and predicting behavior, “All buildings are predictions. All predictions are wrong”. How Buildings Learn, 1994, p. 160-178.

Vikas Shah. Thought Economics, The Role of Architecture in Humanity’s Story, June 2012.

Xusheng Zhang.  Four Modes to Change the old neighbor, June 2010.

Chi-Wei Yang, GuiYangLouShi web, Reinvention of old new building:  great examples, April 2014.

Siliang Fu, STLBEACON, Major Chinese cities face urbanization and demolition, June, 2012.