“I’m an architect with capital A. Being a woman has nothing to do with it.”- Chloethiel Woodard Smith

Architecture is an age-old profession practised by men and women alike. Yet, the arguments of gender parity and lack of recognition of women in architecture are as prevalent today as they were fifty years ago. Women have not only broken free from stereotypes but also excelled at what they set out to do. They are fearless, inspirational, pioneers, and are changing the world with their influential ideologies and methods. In this article, we will discuss the growth and achievements of one such exceptional female architect, Mikyoung Kim

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Mikyoung Kim; Source: ©Boston Magazine

Born to Korean parents in Connecticut, Mikyoung was a pianist since 6 years of age. She continued her passion by studying sculpture and music at Oberlin College and performing the piano at Oberlin Conservatory. Little did she know then that life had other plans for her. Whilst in her early twenties, she developed tendonitis which forced her to reexamine her career. She thereby studied landscape architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design along with exhibiting sculptures, artwork, and videos at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.   

After graduating, she commenced her practice called Mikyoung Kim Design in Boston. With her backdrop in both art and music, Kim’s work is an amalgamation of the art of design with the science of resiliency, seamlessly generating human-centred spaces. In a period of a little over twenty years, this women-headed landscape and urban design firm have managed to generate an extraordinary body of work designing culturally significant projects while at the same time addressing pertinent environmental and social issues. The firm has won copious accolades on international platforms commemorating its innovation and contribution to the world of landscape architecture.  

 

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Mikyoung Kim at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design

Kim’s prior experiences as a sculptor and classical training in music have enabled her out-of-the-box thinking and unearthing novel ways to communicate her ideas. Her designs are a depiction of how landscape architecture can be a poetic art, promote a sense of playfulness while also discussing pressing issues, and instigating deep thinking. 

The award-winning architect believes in the importance of “resiliency, restoration, and creative thinking“(Mikyoung Kim, 2018). Her firm seeks to discover the identity of the project rather than focusing on the end product. They work through a collaborative process, involving the inputs of the client, the relevant environmental issues, the process of designing, and consistent engagement with the community. In Kim’s own words,” It’s important to me that with our designs we create communities where people who don’t know each other can start conversations.” (Mikyoung Kim, 2019). Each of her projects aims to strike a balance between novelty and innovation, addressing resiliency issues and creating an iconic or memorable piece of work. 

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Mikyoung Kim Design Team at the presentation of a design competition; Source: ©James Carpenter Design Associates Inc.

One of her most notable projects is the ChonGae Canal restoration in Seoul, South Korea. Kim won this transformative project through an international design competition. The main requirement of the project was to restore seven miles of Seoul’s historic waterways which had been covered with a highway since the 1960s. 

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ChonGae Canal Restoration: Highlighting the future reunification of North & South Korea; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design
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ChonGae Canal Restoration: Highlighting the future reunification of North & South Korea; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design
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ChonGae Canal Restoration: Highlighting the future reunification of North & South Korea; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design

The design consisted of a two-tier water feature and served as a public amenity. Though her design of a vibrant public plaza along the canal received worldwide acclaim and appreciation, a few Korean associations criticized the operation for its high costs and no real impact on the ecological health of the city. They contend that the design neither fostered the development of the city nor created a compelling landmark to represent the city, one of the major goals of the Seoul city administration for the project. 

Amidst extensive awareness of the health and wellness benefits of landscape architecture, people nowadays are embracing greenery and rejoicing with nature. In light of this growing appreciation for landscape, Mikyoung Kim and her firm designed the Chicago Botanic Gardens Learning Campus in Chicago, Illinois.  

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Chicago Botanical Gardens: An educational gateway for children to nature & its surroundings; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design
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Chicago Botanical Gardens: An educational gateway for children to nature & its surroundings; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design
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Chicago Botanical Gardens: An educational gateway for children to nature & its surroundings; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design

The project spread over 6 acres of lush green land aimed to create a vibrant community for families and a learning environment for children, boosting multi-sensory engagement. The regenerative horticulture centre braids together multiple landscape taxonomies: an upland play mound area, a fountain fed from an ancient lake, willow tunnels, logs to climb in, and stone water runnel. The campus encourages visitors to converse with the natural world and offers expansive land for revitalizing the mind and body. 

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Exhale, 140 West Plaza: A sculptural fog fountain-cum-public art project; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design
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Exhale, 140 West Plaza: A sculptural fog fountain-cum-public art project; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design
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Exhale, 140 West Plaza: A sculptural fog fountain-cum-public art project; Source: ©Mikyoung Kim Design

Kim’s expertise with sculptural installations came in extremely handy in her design for the Exhale Project at 140 West Plaza. An installation transforming water into a fog-like state was created providing a much needed public forum for play and rejuvenating the town. Based on the concept of stormwater, the design had to deal with the extremely hot climate of the region, during summers. To tackle this problem, an inventive design that “exhales” the water, thereby, lowering the ambient temperature of the surrounding area, is devised. The installation acts as a conversation piece for the visitors, compelling them to sit and watch in awe and wonderment. 

Mikyoung Kim’s multifaceted portfolio of projects depict her voluminous understanding of spaces and the significance of proximity to nature. Each of her designs has a unique characteristic and a copious user base. She is an archetype of someone who broke the glass ceiling and continues to do so every day. 

“Women are the real architects of society.” -Harriet Beacher Stowe

The call is consequently to entrust women breaking the set patriarchal rules, imbue intersectional feminism and empower young oppressed girls aspiring to pursue architecture the world over.

Author

Kavya Jain is an architect by profession with a zest for writing, travelling, reading and eating! She is a young designer trying to use her knowledge for the betterment of the society. She spends her free time pursuing her passion of teaching kids in slums across the city. She is a firm believer of living life one day at a time, because the future will come your way, no matter what anyway!

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