Architectural Simulacra: Translation in Space, Time, and Medium
4: Picturing the City of Others: Chinatown as Architecture of Displacement
Sunday, March 27, 2022
9:00am – 10:30am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 323A
University of California, Berkeley, United States
Chinatown makes a bewildering subject. On the one hand, it is a panoply of formal features, easily recognizable and readily reproducible on architectural exteriors across time and space. As historical entities, however, Chinatowns partook in wider socio-historical forces, their lives—if one may be allowed to think of buildings as sentient subjects—often masked by their unchanging surfaces. To understand Chinatown, therefore, would require the juggling of discrete methodological commitments that never quite meet in the middle. In my paper, I argue this conundrum, this difficulty of bridging the formal and the sociological, is precisely what defines Chinatown as an architectural typology onto its own. To do so I draw from recent scholarship in fields as diverse as modern architecture and Asian American literary studies that emphasize the social production of the built environment. This paper is a preliminary attempt to theorize what I call the architecture of displacement through close readings of early 20th-century photography of San Francisco, Wayne Wang’s noir film mystery Chan is Missing (1982), Charles Yu’s s satirical novel Interior Chinatown (2020), and, as an informative outlier, William Gibson’s post-apocalypse Oakland of Virtual Light (1993).