ALUMNI PROFILE: Architecture for TogethernessProfile
by Ja Kim, AADipl(Hons) 2013
03 April 2019
Ansan, South Korea
This Spring, the AA Gallery will host an exhibition by Amnesty International to showcase their investigation into the impact of conflict on civilians in Raqqa, Syria – the most destroyed city in the world. Related to the theme of this exhibition, AA Conversations is publishing a series of interviews with alumni who have challenged or dealt with the topics of urgency and conflict through their student work or in their current practice.
Ja Kim graduated from the AA in 2013. Since graduating, she has taught architecture and design at Hanyang University Erica Campus in Ansan (South Korea) where she also established her design practice, Ondo Project Architects. Focussed on finding social meaning through architecture and in designing quality public spaces for the city, Ja works on projects for the government, social enterprises and individuals.
[caption id="attachment_8014" align="alignnone" width="360"] Ja Kim, Seungyoub Lee, Jongwon Choi, Monolith_9.81 Park, Jeju Island, South Korea, 2015–19[/caption]
How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
To me, the AA is akin to an academic playground rather than a form of education. It revealed to me the infinite possibilities of architecture through an immensely enjoyable journey of learning and experimentation. The AA provided a framework to see architecture in many different ways. This was especially true while studying in Diploma 5, which dealt with a notion of ‘public’ through every project. There, we had to respond to an urgent social problem: that public spaces in our cities were disappearing at alarming rates, which forced us to question how we could design new types of spaces which satisfy urgent needs within communities. It was only later that I realised how formative this experience was, when observing that previous and ongoing projects in our practice started with the same concerns for public space and the public realm.
Our projects such as ‘Monolith’, a 140,000-square-metre theme park on Jeju Island, comprised of race tracks for gravity racing; and ‘Banana House’, a five-household housing project, are examples that showcase the ambitious motto of our practice: ‘architecture for togetherness’. As always, I hope for ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ and try to realise this through our work– just as I learnt at the AA. There was a constant interest in public space and the AA enabled me to experiment in various ways, using different methods, and across a variety of scales.
In my current practice, I work with similar tools and methods, tackling projects through a practical or theoretical approach towards large and small public space projects in a South Korean context.
What role does urgency/conflict play in shaping your practice?
Right now Korea is in the midst of a crisis around single-person housing. The number of senior citizens is soaring, and young people are rejecting the standardised societal norms of coupledom, family living and marriage. Due to this, many sociologists, businessmen and architects are considering solutions to this crisis from a variety of angles.
[caption id="attachment_8013" align="alignnone" width="360"] Ja Kim, Seungyoub Lee, Jongwon Choi, Monolith_9.81 Park, Jeju Island, South Korea, 2015–19[/caption]
We as a studio are developing single-person dwellings, as well as the public spaces that exist between these individual dwellings. These types of spaces are not usually taken into account since they can't be considered as residential rental income or as sales revenue. They are absorbed into the residential space as small spaces which are as narrow as possible. But once we think of the public spaces that exist, whether in housing projects or public projects, we can then research and analyse housing patterns developed in a one-person residential format in terms of how they are made and how they begin to shape social trends. It is apparent that the common type of single-person housing is of a really low standard. A 16-square-metre space with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, with all rooms designed as cramped spaces is just not enough.
I think it’s important to talk to people about the importance of a shared space. Although it is not easy to design shared spaces of a higher quality, due to architectural laws and capitalist logic, we work with a sense of optimism that the research we are undertaking might suggest and create some alternatives.
[caption id="attachment_8015" align="alignnone" width="360"] Ja Kim, Seungyoub Lee, Jongwon Choi, Banana House, Segok-dong, Seoul, South Korea, 2015–16[/caption]
What role does the architect play in solving urgent problems?
While studying at the AA I thought of Seoul as an energetic city. I really wanted to come back and create exciting projects here. However, when I came back to Seoul, I faced the realities of the city: experiencing the extremely high price of land, and housing infested with concrete apartments coupled with the capitalist real estate market. Rather than caring about people’s lives and how that manifests in public space, landlords prioritised maximising the development’s size to increase their rental income.
As a result, many tenants live in poorly designed spaces. Many young architects struggle to suggest better spaces to improve people’s quality of life, since if they fail to meet the volume rate set by developers of filling the space, their proposals are ignored. Therefore, Korean architects need to play a dual role in suggesting both the number of building blocks to satisfy developers as well as designing better spaces for tenants and the public at the same time.
I also think that architecture in practice is a continuous process of problem solving, with conflict as part, as well as outside, of the architectural team. Conflict is one of the defining features of
the industry, but it is also the road to transformation. As a studio, we tend to have more conversations whenever any problem occurs because we are aware of the importance of communication– it is key in being one step closer to the solution that best fits the context.
What topics do you consider to be of vital importance and urgency in contemporary architectural practice?
It is very difficult to answer this question because I still haven’t found a clear answer to it. Architects have long experimented with space in a variety of ways and are interested in doing this through many perspectives. As architects, our job a lot of the time is to act as a coordinator. But as economic growth slows, and land prices and construction costs continue to rise, the agency of the architect is stifled and eventually, the building market will limit how much we can be involved in the design of well-designed, useful and inhabitable spaces.
Therefore, young Korean architects today are evolving in various ways, expanding into other areas and roles. For example, architectural practices now operate hotels, and design everything from buildings to small goods. Architects have expanded their overall business to include both design and spatial branding as a way to reach a wider audience of clients. Architects in Korea cannot survive if they rely solely on architecture so we need to expand into other related fields.
[caption id="attachment_8016" align="alignnone" width="360"] Ja Kim, Seungyoub Lee, Jongwon Choi, Banana House, Segok-dong, Seoul, South Korea, 2015–16[/caption]
What advice would you give to current students?
The central theme of an AA education is that there is a search for adventure, experience and meaning, and this makes architecture worth exploring. The AA will leave you with answers, which you never considered, to your broad set of questions, and it will leave you with a new set of meaningful questions too.
I wish all of your academic experiences to be filled with those great values - “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” (Ulysses: Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
[caption id="attachment_8018" align="alignnone" width="360"] Ja Kim, Seungyoub Lee, Jongwon Choi, Monolith_9.81 Park, Jeju Island, South Korea, 2015–19[/caption]
For more information:
Discover the work of Ondo Project
Follow Ondo Project on Instagram
Read more about Ja Kim’s AA Honours project
See Ja Kim's work on Projects Review 2013
Read the full set of profiles by visiting our Alumni Portfolio