Image courtesy SsD /© Chang Kyun Kim


Cambridge, MA/New York City/Seoul

Jinhee Park and John Hong take on an age of austerity with a collection of carefully crafted projects that don't skimp on aesthetics.

By Asad Syrkett

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Don't let the name fool you—Single Speed Design (SsD)'s architectural approach is more like a 10-speed bicycle than a fixed-gear model, with principals Jinhee Park, 40, and John Hong, 43, shifting their approach with each new project. “For us, design is a process of negotiation,” says Hong. The twosome took the name of the firm from the kind of transportation they used to zip around Cambridge, Massachusetts, where each earned an M.Arch. from Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD). Though today the firm's principals shuttle between their three offices in Cambridge, New York, and Park's native South Korea via grander modes of transit, bicycles—with their handsome utility and simplicity—seem an apt parallel for SsD's body of work.

Before the couple established SsD in 2003, the American-born Hong worked with two partners in New York at a commercial interiors firm the three had established, while Park completed her M.Arch. Their first major collaboration as SsD was on the Valentine Houses, a trio of townhouses in Cambridge. It was then that Hong decided to leave the firm he'd founded in New York to work with Park. “The Valentine Houses project had a roof on it,” Hong jokes, explaining the move. SsD has since garnered acclaim for its small- and medium-scale work, from several installations to a newly christened, 16,145-square-foot art center—the elegant, ghostly White Block Gallery—in South Korea's trendy Heyri Art Valley. Through serendipitous circumstances, Park and Hong have clinched a series of commissions from developers who've heard about their work. The White Block's owner, for example, invited SsD to submit a scheme for the gallery after seeing the firm's work in 2009, when Park won the AIA's Young Architects Award.

The user experience is paramount to SsD, most evident in its psychedelic Infinite Box and the audiovisual installation Cloud. Infinite Box, which the duo crafted for South Korea's Gwangju Design Biennale in 2009, is a six-and-a-half-foot cube, though its mirrored interior walls give visitors who step inside it the illusion of a much larger space. Cloud is similarly interactive, toying with visitors' sensory perception by tracking movement beneath the LED-lit canopy to modify light and sound levels. “A small space is only small in dimension,” says Park.

A stripped-down aesthetic is a common thread in SsD's work. For its 2006 Big Dig House, a private residence for a contractor associated with the Boston infrastructure project, the firm recycled some of the industrial refuse generated by the Big Dig. “All of our projects are guided by structural-engineering principles,” says Park, explaining that the firm takes a cross-disciplinary tack that's crucial in the steadily changing—and broadening—profession. At the beginning of their careers, “there were a series of projects that we were lucky to have but were doing just because we could,” says Hong. “Now we're designing with more conceptual clarity,” adds Park.

As their practice gains speed, Park and Hong aim to continue to blur the boundaries between architecture, engineering, and fine art, and hope to expand their international practice. A microhousing project in South Korea, consisting of 120-square-foot apartments, is one of several SsD projects planned there. This and others in the works aren't necessarily glamorous, Park and Hong say, but answer a real and growing need in South Korea and other densely populated regions of the world. Because they address concepts, rather than aesthetic moves, “a lot of our projects aren't single-picture, magazine-friendly,” says Hong. “It's about the space and experience. You have to be there.”




Jinhee Park, John Hong
Photo courtesy SsD
Jinhee Park, John Hong



PRINCIPALS: Jinhee Park, John Hong

EDUCATION: Park: Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), M.Arch., 2002; Seoul National University, B.F.A., 1995. Hong: Harvard GSD, M.Arch., 1996; University of Virginia, B.A., 1993.

KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS:  Cloud, Heyri, South Korea, 2012; White Block Gallery, Heyri, 2011; Clover Restaurant Holyoke, Cambridge, Mass., 2011; Braver House, Newton, Mass., 2011; Big Dig House, Lexington, Mass., 2006

KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Songpa Micro-Housing, Seoul, 2013; Novartis Cambridge Campus, Cambridge, Mass., 2015




December 2012
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