Tag Archives: cities

tradition + tradition, lisboa


the landmark at Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio) and food stalls. tourist hotspots always allow us to see the mixture of old and new traditions – even if you are a strict traditionalist who refuses to accept the new one as a part of tradition. our perception tends to be visually biased: landmarks that lived through centuries tend to dominate our perception of what the culture was. the transient yet possibly dominant and much more practical part of the culture may be easily forgotten or erased completely due to the lack of visual evidences or documentations thriving through the wither and tears of time. what will be the vehicle of our next generations of ‘traditions’? in the last century, at the boom of the digital information sphere, we thrived and fought to stress the importance of usability and the value of understanding the way we live to translate that into our design, in fact, digital or physical. we did start talking about how to make the digital interaction and information more tangible and intuitive to our senses. what will be the new line of efforts to make our intellectual world that largely reside on the digital world be part of our lasting history and tradition?

I spent a few hours in Lisbon on transit to Rio. For someone deprived of any sense of direction, it was a very difficult city to get around. I relied on the classic tram 28 to show me around the city.



geneva – a quicky snapshot

Continued from my previous post, here are a few snapshots of Geneva, Switzerland, from a few hours of my stroll in the city.

Trams are one of the common public transports in the city.

tram lines

tram lines night

Plenty of space – Not only the big roads, which often seemed far broader than the amount of traffic, but also lots of open spaces in the middle of the city that seemed left for ambiguous purposes, ranging from hosting weekend markets to music festivals. A place for a huge red crocodile? No problem.


A strange fountain (Jet d’Eau) that shoots the water really high up – in the lake Geneva.


The central area with the view of alps in the back.

lakeside district

Oversized chess pins and boards in a public park, attracting the local male population.


An oversized chair with three legs in front of UN.

UN chair

Systematic cheese slicing machine.

cheese slicer

The city’s love for the right angle: Many boxy buildings, no jokes.


Almost could-be manifesto of Geneva as a city.


geneva – a pragmatic city with european warmth

I had a chance to visit Geneva, Switzerland for a few days to attend LIFT08 conference. I only had a few hours of sightseeing, but it came across to me as very pragmatic in a way that people have optimized the design of the city for living over time. Here are a few things I noticed from its public space. I didn’t have the luxury of the local’s commentary on my observation, so I would welcome any other thoughts.

The trash collection bin was all metallic and left in the middle of the road, which I found unusual. Cornavin is the area where the central train station is, so this may be an exception.

geneva trash bin

The newspaper dispenser accompanied by a recycling bin.

geneva newspaper distri

An oversized road sign for the school area. This supports our experience in crossing streets. It seemed that pedestrians had the right of way wherever there was a mark for crossing without a traffic light. My colleague and I were honked at because we were waiting for the car to pass us. Having such an overt sign for the school area makes sense if this rule is in any way legalized – in giving the car driver the responsibility for protecting the pedestrians at crossings. This habit was not easy to adopt as it is counter-intuitive in any other countries I have been to. I wondered how residents here coped with this when they went abroad. As a german friend of mine nicely puts it: “I don’t know how many Germans and Swiss people have died because they thought they had right of way in other countries.”

geneva school road sign

Another rare sight was the trash bin combined with the traffic light post, a benefit of being the neutral country.

geneva traffic sign

The typical park signs – dogs and plants.

geneva park sign - dog/flower

I liked the intuitive flushing buttons at the toilet in a restaurant somewhere in the old part of the town – removing the questionable moment of wondering which one to press for number 1 or 2.

geneva flush

A sign that seems to go well with the city.

geneva yes to all

future of urban mega cities?

A couple of weeks ago, I had luck in flying to Seoul’s Kimpo city airport under a great afternoon light. These photos are not of the central Seoul but the neighboring areas around the airport, but show the representative forms of housing in Korea: The giant apartment building blocks.

seoul view 3

Seoul is the 6th most densely populated city in the world with 16,700 people living per square kilometer, after Mumbai, Kolkata (India), Karachi (Pakistan), Lagos (Nigeria), and Shenzhen (China). Considering Tokyo is ranked at 50th and Helsinki 111th, it is the busiest city I ever lived in as well. The housing is probably the most distinctive problem in these densely populated cities with the limited space.

Many first time visitors will be probably very curious about these gigantic apartment blocks, as for some they may be reminiscent of several European communist housing projects. I am no expert in urban planning and history of Korean society, but I understand that these massive residential building blocks have been the main body of urban development and the driving force behind the adoption of broadband internet in Korea.

seoul view 4

seoul view 1
seoul view 2

Over the past decades most of residential neighborhoods in Seoul have been or are waiting to be put under the redevelopment scheme, which means demolishing the old houses in the area and building these apartment blocks instead.

seoul view 5

The size of each building varies greatly but it seems there is no limit to how high they can go, partly thanks to the fact that Korea is not considered as earthquake-prone country, unlike its neighboring country, Japan. My parents live on the 12th floor in a 25-story building, which was built 15 years ago. If your dream is to live in a house with a garden in nature, these apartments in the super artificially built environment may seem like a living in a chicken cage. But many Koreans I know who are born in the city do consider living in a modern apartment to be the best form of housing. There are several benefits. To name a few:

Shared cost of living and delegation
A group of apartment buildings usually form a community of their own, which could be equivalent of a villiage. Such a community usually hires a management team to delegate tasks that are of shared nature for the whole community, including security, garbage disposal, and maintenance of shared facilities like car parking and boilers for central heating. Shown in the picture is the monthly maintenance cost bill of an apartment. It details all the expenditure of the shared maintenance cost. This bill combines electricity, gas, water, central heating, insurance, sewage and garbage disposal cost and the likes shared by the community. Terrestrial and cable TV subscription fee are part of it as well, since most people sign up for these services.

utility bill

Magnetic power of the mass
Because of the large number of residents moving to the area, it can attract many service businesses and even governmental infrastructure such as public transportation network at the same time. This way, these communities can get equipped with all the practical conveniences at hand. This high density of residents also enables for some businesses to provide exceptionally personal services with low cost, especially making the home delivery and pick up service a norm.

Peace of mind being surrounded by people
Urbanites that grew up in these buildings can grow the tendency to feel insecure in areas with low density of people. I have no scientific reference to my point here, but it is all based on my personal experience (with my acquaintances) and observations (of the real estate investment boom in Korea). I have talked to several from the elderly generation of over 60yo who wish to stay in the city despite the lack of nature because they want to stay close to other people. I do observe Korean people enjoying all the bustles of living closely together with others – including all the conflicts, gossips, jokes, encouragements, and competitions alike. It’s not surprising to read a news article about a number of Koreans who had immigrated to New Zealand returned to Korea because they were too peaceful, and too bored.

Dissemination of new infrastructure
The density and the power of the mass together enable easy and fast dissemination of the new infrastructure. This gives Korean companies and government the extra acceleration to implement something new very fast once they are determined to do so. This is the secret behind the fast dissemination of broadband internet in Korea: You install one base station, and the whole building-full of houses get to use it. Aside from the benefits of physical density, the real power of this close-knit communities is probably the ability to share and teach each other the new and the useful. The trend rises and spreads (or die) at a formidable speed in korean society – be it adopting a new internet service or a new tupperware-like container.

I see the popularity of mega residential buildings as a unique by-product of Korea’s fast economic development, urban expansion, and pragmatism. Personally I have been always saddened by the disappearing natural landscapes, replaced and redefined by squads of residential buildings. The practical necessity at hand is too demanding for the community members to reflect upon what these developments will really mean in the future, but it certainly leaves me wondering: How will urban Koreans perceive nature in the future? How about happiness?

Below are photos of Favela Jacarezinho (Rio, Brazil) and Nima market in Accra (Ghana). How will the industrialization and economic development change their preferred forms of living in these communities? Will the urban changes of a big scale be possible without the government’s or big corporations’ push? How will their unique cultural characteristics be reflected to their urban landscape?


nima accra

I remember an interview with a Chinese labor worker: For him, the biggest charm of urban living was easy access to food all year around, despite the harsy living condition. For future urbanites – what would be the charm of leaving the urban living? Would there be necessities strong enough like hunger and employment to drive the phenomenon of mass moves, to reverse the expansion of urban developments?