Yi Ling Liao

Cultural Exchange Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco

Master Thesis by: Yi Ling Liao – M.Arch / Thesis Advisor: Maria Paz De Moura Castro 

San Francisco’s Chinatown is a function of its history and residents. Since the nineteen century, Chinese immigrants in the United States have made a significant contribution to the transformation and economy of California through mining, transcontinental railroad construction, and through subsequent generations of active citizenship.

San Francisco’s Chinatown has not changed significantly over the last 30 years. The built fabric and social structure remain as they have been for decades. There are several reasons for this, foremost of which is the city’s effort to preserve this neighborhood as a tourist destination. Making Chinatown more than just a tourist destination and residential living community, the design proposes implementational strategies to celebrate ‘community’.

Cultural Exchange seeks to establish street connections at three locations; creating spaces for art galleries, and cultural attraction to promote interaction between tourists and residents alike. Cultural Exchange will reinforce Chinese culture by integrating an interpretation of cultural elements, establishing spaces of mixed opportunity. The goal is for Chinatown to retain its cultural identity while establishing a progressive public interface for residents and tourists alike.

San Francisco Chinatown has its own culture, which is not identical to traditional or contemporary Chinese culture. Cultural Exchange is not attempting to turn back the old Chinese culture but is focusing on what San Francisco Chinatown’s culture is today. The culture of Chinatown is not the buildings with colorful and superficial decorations. The culture is more about the experience in the street, the sounds and smells in Chinatown. The traditional markets on Stockton Street display the lifestyle of Chinatown residents more authentically, with vendors peddling and the housewives bargaining and gossiping. The street experience is about hospitality.

Cultural Exchange focuses on the experience on the street in Chinatown. How can the older work with the younger generation? Cultural Exchange uses a new method focused on several themes: narrow, density, subtraction, and porosity, deployed to describe the experience of Chinatown. Cultural Exchange is the physical manifestation of the ephemeral experiences, histories, senses and lives of Chinatown.