Jinhee Park introduced her practice and discussed their interest in micro urbanism during the final UQ Architecture lecture series event for 2014.

In Brisbane for the first time straight off a flight from Korea, Jinhee began her lecture by introducing the practice she founded with her partner John Hong, Single Speed Design (SsD).

Working across two continents the firm has offices in Boston, New York and Seoul. These ‘micro offices’ allow the firm to have local knowledge and expand the scope of their work while still remaining a small firm and maintaining architectural integrity. The three offices work separately and together depending on the project, and with the different time zones involved can effectively run their practice 24 hours a day.

Jinhee described how the conventional approach to issues faced by architects such as structure, society and sustainability involves an objective approach where one problem is solved at a time. Finding that this approach produces a lot of redundancy, SsD instead use a ‘convergent’ approach in their work, discussing all potential issues at the start of a project and working through them together.

This idea of convergence is one that has flowed through into their research interests. In 2012 Jinhee and John released a book called ‘Convergent Flux–Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism in Korea’. Heavily influenced by her Korean upbringing, Jinhee is a strong supporter of Korean design and has a keen interest in the topic of micro urbanism.

As a firm, SsD see micro urbanism as a new model of operation with the ability to change the way we live and work. Jinhee explained “the micro here is not about the absolute size, but about the relative scale of programming preceding and operating in a built environment”. For Jinhee it is about questioning the very elements of architecture.

Sharing examples of their work, Jinhee outlined some of the aspects of micro urbanism, starting with the notion of ‘physical verses perceptual’. ‘Infinite box’, a project they completed for the Gwangju Biennale toyed with this concept with a physical 2 metre by 2 metre by 2 metre white box containing a seemingly infinite space of reflections inside.

‘Owning versus sharing’ was an aspect they explored in the HBNY Manhattan loft project. Three families approached them to create an apartment they could all occupy at different times. SsD designed the space for sharing and aimed to increase occupancy through operable walls and custom furniture that allowed each family to customise the space to their needs.

In researching the project they found that the issue of occupation and density was actually quite common, especially in big cities like New York where people’s nomadic lifestyles meant density seemed high, while occupation was actually quite low. Jinhee explained “if you expand this idea to [the] urban scale, there is a perception of high density, but then there is actual occupancy, and if you densify by making sharable space, then you get open space that may be used for a public library, or a public park even”.

Apart from the physical aspects of micro urbanism, SsD also consider the issue of ‘timing verses programming’. Selected to design an apartment building in the new city of Ordos in the Inner Mongolian desert, SsD had to look at potential users for context. “There’s no such thing that we can call a context, basically just desert… Without context… we looked at the potential user of the space” said Jinhee.

The result was ‘Eight Towers’, a series of programed towers based on the potential user and their daily life. Towers for cooking, sleeping, working out and dining can all be ‘turned off’ to save energy, shifting occupancy across the building throughout the day.

For a project on a very small lot in Oregon SsD explored ‘Division versus continuity’, creating a manifesto for living in small places to help change the way people think. In a project for the Clover restaurant in Cambridge they looked at ‘local versus national’ and creating transparency around the local nature of the food through the architecture of the space.

‘Diversity versus density’ was a notion tested in the ‘White Block Gallery’ near the border of North Korea. With strict height restrictions in place, SsD had to provide a solution that provided diversity of space while maximising limited floor space. In another cultural project SsD explored ‘surveillance versus amenity’ through ‘Cloud’, a sound and light sculpture that responded to movement and changes in weather captured through sensors and concealed surveillance cameras.

Finally Jinhee shared how all of these elements informed their current ‘Songpa Micro-Housing’ project which has just been completed in Seoul. Based on the analogy of ‘tapioca’, each space has a hard core of private space and a soft gel that becomes the buffer to the private space. Units are very small at just 12 square metres each, the buffer spaces allowing for shared dining, socialising and work. Jinhee explained how she sees cities changing and how systems like Songpa create a type of flexible architecture that can accommodate these social and lifestyle changes.

Silvia Micheli and Antony Moulis from UQ joined Jinhee on stage to further discuss the cultural differences between SsD’s locations and how this has affected their work and practice.

Eden Platell

Image: Photo by Becky Strong
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