Creative MVP 2016: Joyce Hwang

Joyce Hwang

Joyce Hwang is creating in architecture.  

Joyce Hwang, AIA, NCARB, is the Director of Ants of the Prairie, an office of architectural practice and research that focuses on confronting contemporary ecological conditions through creative means, and an Associate Professor of Architecture at the State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Architecture and Planning. She is a recipient of the Architectural League Emerging Voices Award (2014), the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship (2013), the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Independent Project Grant (2013, 2008), and the MacDowell Colony Fellowship (2016, 2011).

Her projects and writing have been featured in international and national publications including Good, Curbed, Praxis, Azure Magazine, Architect Magazine, Green Building and Design, AV Proyectos, Bracket, MONU, Volume Magazine, and Next Nature. She is a co-editor of the book Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice, published by Actar.

Joyce is a registered architect in New York State, and has practiced professionally with offices in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Barcelona. She received a post-professional Master of Architecture degree from Princeton University and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University, where she received the Charles Goodwin Sands Memorial Bronze Medal.

What are you creating?
Currently I am developing a series of projects that incorporate wildlife habitats into constructed environments. Recent projects include “Bat Tower,” “Bat Cloud,” and “Habitat Wall.” I am also working on a number of projects that address the interfaces between animals and buildings. Along these lines, I have been developing a series of design projects, such as a recent installations “No Crash Zone” and “Bower,” to help prevent bird-window collisions.

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by many, many things, places, and people, but if I had to choose three qualities that are particularly inspirational to me, they are: Poignancy, Intensity, and Courage. Works of art and architecture are especially powerful when these qualities resonate within them. Federico Garcia Lorca’s discussion of the “duende” – something that can be roughly translated as an intense, emotion-evoking “soul” – perhaps comes closest to describing this combination of qualities.

Buildings that I have been particularly moved by, to name just a few, include: The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba (Cordoba), the Sagrada Familia (Barcelona), San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Rome), and the Berlin Philharmonic (Berlin). I am also very much inspired by cities and landscapes that evoke this sensation. Living in Rome as a student studying abroad in 1995, and later working in Barcelona in 2000-2001 were some of the most inspiring periods during my formative years as an architect.

Who has influenced your creative journey? 
Again, I find it difficult to narrow down the list of who has influenced my creativity. Many architects and artists have specifically impacted how I am now shaping my work. I constantly look at the work of other architects, and there are too many to even single out a few as more significant than others.

Perhaps more fundamentally influential are two primary groups of people who have affected me very deeply and sometimes in surprising ways: First, my classmates and friends from Cornell, where I studied architecture as an undergraduate student, and second, my fellow artists at the MacDowell Colony, where I was in residence in 2011 and again this year, in 2016. Within both of these collectives, I’ve experienced a genuine sense of intensity, poignancy, and courage (and duende) that I described in the previous question.

Also, my husband Sergio, who is also an architect and professor, has influenced me profoundly. He is both an intense and sensitive thinker, whose brilliance and perspective on architecture has urged me to take more risks in my own work and discover facets about my creative process that I had yet to explore.

What’s been the biggest surprise?
Living in Buffalo has been a big surprise. When I first moved to this city, I did not expect that I would stay for as long as I have (11 years). Prior to relocating here, I was certain that I would end up in a place like New York City or Los Angeles, especially after having lived and worked in much larger, more “cosmopolitan” cities in the past. The fact of living and working in a post-industrial city marked by a declining population and economy has shaped quite a lot of my work and research.

An important lesson that I have learned is that there are incredible gems in places and situations where you might not expect them. It is critical to enable yourself to look at the potential of things that are overlooked. What I’ve also learned in Buffalo is that it is unproductive to feel the need to be defined by a place; rather, you can start to redefine a place by making an impact through your actions.

How do you define success?
There are three points that are important for me in defining success: first, exceeding what you thought you could do and challenging your own perceived potential; second, making a positive or profound impact on others; and third, doing all of this with integrity, kindness, and empathy.

Explore Joyce’s work on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram.

Photo by Mahan Mehrvarz

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