School of Architecture

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Jinhee Park
Jinhee Park

Jinhee Park, Director Single Speed Design

Jinhee Park received a Master in Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a B.F.A. in Industrial Design from Seoul National University. Her work has been celebrated through numerous awards including a 2012 Architecture Vanguard from Architectural Record, the 2009 AIA Young Architects Award, and the 2007 Young Architects Forum Award from the Architectural League of New York. Since 2009 she has served as Design Critic in Architecture at the Harvard GSD.

Jinhee  is a Visiting Professor in the School of Architecture in the first semester of 2015. She is leading a studio in the ‘Utopian Urbanism’ course in the Master of Architecture that is focused on Pyongyang.

Can you provide some background on your architecture career?

Jinhee Park: I didn’t study architecture to begin with, I studied industrial design. After I graduated from college, I worked for Samsung for one of their leading industrial design labs, and then decided to expand the scale of design to architecture, so I went to the GSD (Graduate School of Design) Harvard. I set up my office relatively early – right after graduation in 2003. And it’s gone on from there.

Your firm is called Single Speed Design. Is there a meaning behind the title?

JP: There are two stories, one is a short answer and the other is the real answer, but I’ll tell you both. The short story is that Single Speed came from the single speed bicycle – a bicycle with only one gear. Such a bike doesn’t have additional or repetitive forms, but reflects function and aesthetics at the same time. And of course the bicycle itself is kind of an emblem of sustainable and smart city design.

The real story is that we had to submit our firm name right away with the idea that we could change it later! We started in a unique way in that we got a project before we had the firm. So there was a time when we had to decide whether we just take the challenge and develop our own practice, or work with some other firm that was already registered. We decided to take a risk but as you know, coming up with an architecture office name is pretty hard, there’s always ego and design philosophy issues. As we were brainstorming, we realised that everybody in our office was riding a single speed bike as Cambridge is a bicycle friendly city.

You received the Best in Show award this year at the American Institute of Architects of New York for your Micro-Housing project in Songpa Korea. What made this project stand out?

JP: The Micro-Housing project started three years ago and finished last year, which was very exciting and received a lot of awards including both an AIA New York Honor Award and the Best in Competition Award. We are exploring this idea of Micro-Urbanism - which includes the studio with UQ’s School of Architecture - and Micro-Housing is one of these ideas within Micro-Urbanism. So the idea is that we are breaking down each element to the micro-scale, and by doing that we can composite it in different ways. The scale of the project can be extremely small to extremely big in order to create this ability to span the whole spectrum of the city while maintaining the quality of space or in program and demographics.

What is the studio of Micro-Urbanism and how did UQ become involved?

JP: I looked around at the architecture of Brisbane and I found the kind of urban setting really interesting, where you have a sort of temperate climate along with a unique topographic condition and natural amenities throughout. In a similar way, Micro-urbanism is a kind of new way to build a city where you don’t have vast empty land, a tabula rasa condition anymore which is what conventional urbanism many times calls for. It looks at how we can build a kind of ‘city-ness’ and bring in a sense of community while meeting political and cultural expectations.

So how do we do that?

We are testing the ideas in the site of Pyongyang, North Korea for the UQ studio. I’ve been teaching studios with a similar theme in many different schools, such as Cornell, Harvard GSD, and also the City College of NY. Every studio has a different site and setup, so as we go along I’m developing the idea further. The reason why I decided upon the Pyongyang site is because it’s a highly built up city with such a low occupancy rate. That is bound to drastically change with a regime shift leading to massive problems that span from health, education, and of course social issues. This ‘programmatic tabula rasa’ condition is not just a problem in Pyongyang, but it’s also the case in other countries with similar ideological or religious issues that have led to isolation from the rest of the world. When the gates open, we have to ask how the urban condition can help harbor progressive change. In this way, this is probably one of the next major fields of study that students will have to face after they graduate.

What are your thoughts on UQ’s Architecture program in comparison to those you might have experienced previously?

JP: I have about 20 students – so compared to my teaching experience in the US, the class is bigger, almost twice the size. In this way, my impression is that they’ve developed very good team work skills and this is crucial to their future professional or teaching careers. I have really enjoyed the discussions and collaborative spirit. The only thing that I hope for them is that they have their own personal desk space, because without it, building up a studio culture could be challenging. A lot of the time, a good idea always happens in the most unexpected moment so I think their individual desk space would allow them to expand upon this in their own unique way and allow them to pin up a record of their ideas and redigest before sharing them with their class mates.

Finally, what do you think of the Australian landscape of Architecture?

JP: It’s quite exciting! Last year I came here as a speaker and gave a talk in Brisbane, Townsville, Sydney and Melbourne but was only able to stay an extremely short time. But I found that in terms of architecture here in Australia there’s a huge variety of buildings, urban spaces and a diversity of ideas. It’s quite a lively situation which is hard to come by in other countries. In many parts of the world, the liveliness and experimental qualities have somewhat died down and replaced with this booming kind of architecture that is more about real estate criteria than elevating design culture. I’d really like to experience more here in Australia and get to know how the architecture scene happens - I’m very curious and positive!