I formally started working at JINA Architects on September 1, as an Associate Partner.
After a 9 year hiatus, I am back in architecture. Well not quite. It’s urbanism. JINA Architects is a more than a design studio. It’s currently has about 140 staff, a huge growth from having just over 30 a decade ago. Under the management of Eliot Bu (blog / mostly in Korean), it has transformed from just another architecture studio, doing mostly commercial and academic buildings, to now consulting for local and international government clients on urban design issues.
The key to its success? Design Knowledge. With any consulting practice, the key is consolidating and managing knowledge. In the case of JINA, knowledge enables the analysis of legal codes and policy that govern urban design practice. Corporations and architectural practices see the building code as a constraint they have to “deal with”. The government see the building code as a tool for regulating the quantity and quality development. And hence the lack of communication between the two. When you have a deep knowledge of codes then you can act as a medium between the two seemingly opposing entities, and the role that JINA has carved out for itself.
In the US and Europe, non-profits function to collect, analyze data and consolidate knowledge. These non-profits provide politically neutral facts that both businesses and policy makers have equal access to. Korea hasn’t reached that stage yet, with knowledge being held in closed government institution or corporate think tanks. Yet, this is one of the ultimate goals of JINA – to create a non-profit: to collect, analyze and provide access to urban design knowledge and through it to influence the quality of life and in turn, and as corny as it sounds, to change the world.
What is my role in all this? Eliot invited me to join JINA to head the project to develop the Master Urban Plan for the Expanded Hanoi Capital which they were finally officially awarded Sept 23.
Am I qualified? My lack of urban design experience surely would pose a handicap. In the words of Eliot, this is the exact reason I was offered the job, apparently. Urbanism is more than engineering and construction. It’s about the lives of people and hence more infinitely complex, and in dire need of a new approach. He wanted an outsider, untainted by ingrained urban design practices to seek a new approach that incorporates the wide range of expertise that have typically been left out.
For the Hanoi project we have experts in energy policy, international affairs, marketing, sustainability, urban sociology, cultural studies, clean energy development, Vietnam legal system in addition to local experts providing their perspective on how a city should be developed.
This a new approach to urbanism that hasn’t been attempted before and I am caught between fear and dread and shear excitement and optimism that I have been lucky enough to have been offered the opportunity to participate in such a history event of developing a master plan for a city.
We will be changing the lives of the millions in Hanoi. And I know already that Hanoi is a city that will change my life. I have to believe it is a calling, and I am humbled.
I won’t be moving to Vietnam as the title might suggest. But I will be making frequent visits to Hanoi. The title’s just a play on the last time I posted about a new job, New City, New Job. That time, I found a city and then found a new job. This time I found a new job which found a city.