Urban Mobility and Architecture: Designing Small, Approachable Infrastructures of Transportation in China

Gasoline stations have been objects of interest in the fields of architecture and urban studies for decades. Frank Lloyd Wright completed the R. W. Lindholm Service Station in 1958. The design of this building foresaw the role of filling stations as part of the aesthetic condition of cities in the 20th century. In this project, Wright positioned the car at the core of urban life; automobiles were treated as an extension of the built environment. In 1963, Ed Ruscha published the seminal artist’s book Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations. Ruscha reproduced twenty-six photographs of gasoline stations next to captions indicating their trademark and location along the highway between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. Ruscha’s work was highly influential to urban theorists such as Reyner Banham, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi (Schwartz, 2010). His books incorporate the representation of ubiquitous yet overlooked spaces of urban life. More recently -in 2007, we can find expressive examples such as the Helios House, a gasoline station in Los Angeles, and the charging station for electric vehicles called Tower of Power, built in Vienna in 2017

Movement needs space, which means that our constant displacement in cities requires static objects. The transit across urban and rural habitats produces multiple architectural expressions in the built environment. Those spaces not only facilitate modern life,but also construct a series of atmospheres that shape the everyday life of contemporary cities and towns. As Rania Ghosn mentions in Energy as a Spatial Project (2009) tangible infrastructures have internal and external implications in the formation of human settlements. She comments that infrastructures such as oil pipelines, dams, solar panels, nuclear plants, and wind parks deploy space, capital, and technology to construct their geographies of power and inscribe their technological order as a mode of organization of social, economic, and political relations (Ghosn 2009, 7).

Carola Hein in the text Global landscapes of oil (2009) reflects that the oil industry has effectively created an international scenery that is visible in concrete developments, and it has implemented plans and visionary projects in the everyday life around the world. Hein comments:

Oil extraction, production, and resale all depend on business and national governments, creating multiple transnational linkages and friction points. Different landscapes of oil are visible in the transformation of rural and urban landscapes, monumental and ordinary buildings, and urban forms around the world. The structures erected are expressions of vast culture of oil. These landscapes have established links across the world, influenced our reading of the built environment, and even our movement through it. (Hein 2009, 42)

How can we, as architects, help to modify the culture of mobility in the 21st century? Just like cars, also bicycles, e-bike, and electric motorcycles need thoughtfully designed infrastructure. If we aspire to amend the mobility patterns in our cities and towns, we need to create an infrastructural framework of transport that is less dependent on oil combustion. I have examined this motivation along with undergrad students in China, particularly in course Urban Mobility and Architecture (2020). The purpose of the studio was to re-design an existing parking station for electric motorcycles, e-bikes, and bicycles in the campus of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts (SIVA). Here is an example of a prototype that seeks to improve the experience of mobility in China.


Ivy     宋虹影, Cara 袁孜祺, Tico   王宇濛, Viola  王雨鑫, Wey   魏真如

Advisor: Dr Ernesto Valero Thomas

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