Joongsub Kim Named to AIA College of Fellows

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), one of the discipline’s most prestigious organizations, earlier this year announced the elevation of Professor Joongsub Kim, Lawrence Technological University Professor of Architecture, to its College of Fellows, which honors architects who have made significant contributions to the profession. Dr. Kim’s election to the College of Fellows adds to an impressive list of achievements in an already distinguished career at LTU, beginning in 2000 when Dr. Kim joined the faculty.

As Kim’s LTU profile notes, he received dual master’s degrees in city planning and architecture studies from MIT and a Ph.D. in environment and behavior from the University of Michigan. He focuses on engaged scholarship rooted in community engagement and applied research, and has received numerous honors and grants in addition to the AIA Fellowship.

The AIA announcement noted that election to fellowship honors, among other accomplishments, “the advancement of the living standards of people through their improved environment” and advancing “the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of architectural education and training.”

The following discussion with Professor Kim has been edited for length.

Can you talk about your connection to the American Institute of Architects and its value to the industry?

In 2009, I revived the dormant Urban Priorities Committee (UPC) of the American Institute of Architects Detroit Chapter and served as its chair for several years, working with volunteer architects for nearly 10 years. The mission of the UPC is to improve local neighborhoods, encourage design-thinking, and build connections and relationships. The UPC is a volunteer-driven committee. Its vision is to impact the sustainable development of Detroit by partnering with civic, business, and community leaders.

I also served on the AIA National Committee on Regional and Urban Design (RUDC) for several years.

The AIA’s value to the industry lies partly in the fact that various volunteer-driven committees like the UPC exist in AIA and contribute to the profession by creating replicable and catalytic models for improvement, illustrating the capacity for design-oriented solutions to make real impact in a community, and sparking dialogue about a design community, architecture, and urban environments.

Image Description

Joongsub Kim, PhD, FAIA, RA, AICP

What does achieving an AIA Fellowship mean to you personally and professionally?

First of all, I am deeply honored by the AIA national jury committee’s recognition of my contribution to the profession through the Detroit Studio’s student-based and community-centered work, as well as my scholarship and publications in urban design, urban planning, and community development. In the increasingly fragmented environment we live in, the role of the architect as a place-cultivator-facilitator is valuable and timely. Through the Detroit Studio and my community development work, community partners have increased the scope and impact of their initiatives critical to Detroit’s revitalization. My peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters in urban design, planning, health, and community development have reached tens of thousands of readers worldwide, validating my urban and community-centered work.

What is the role of technology in contemporary architecture and design?

Technology can play a significant role in contemporary architecture and design in promoting equity and justice in urban development. By facilitating community engagement, improving accessibility, promoting sustainability, implementing smart infrastructure, and providing affordable housing, technology can help create more equitable and just cities for all citizens. For example, technology can facilitate community engagement in the design process through virtual reality simulations. Technology can improve accessibility for all citizens through digital wayfinding systems. Technology can also promote sustainability. In a similar vein, smart infrastructure technologies such as sensors are used to improve the efficiency of urban systems, including water and energy management. Technology can develop affordable housing through modular construction techniques to reduce costs and achieve affordability.

Image Description

Professor Joongsub Kim was elevated to a fellow of American Institute of Architects (AIA) and honored by AIA College of Fellows Chancellor and AIA National President at the 2023 AIA National Conference, San Francisco.
Credit: Chloe Jackman Photography.

How have the disciplines of Architecture and Design fared in terms of DEI issues?

Many authors, including myself, have written extensively about a longstanding lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in architecture. The architecture profession paid close attention to inclusion and diversity by responding to the Great Recession and the shrinking city phenomenon, but it was only after George Floyd’s tragic death and COVID-19 when the profession and academic community began to consider DEI more seriously by engaging in public debate, self-reflection, and policy deliberation. Practitioners of community-based design, democratic design, socially responsible design, and public interest design have been active in promoting DEI in various ways, even if not quite mainstream practices. Those practices give us hope that our future cities will be more equitable and just.

What has been the impact of your involvement with community members in your courses?

A common misconception widely held among designers and students alike is that the active involvement of community residents in the design process is likely to undermine the quality of design or delay the whole process. This persistent view is easily proven wrong by world-renowned educators-practitioners or activist designers, such as Nabeel Hamdi, Henry Sanoff, Samuel Mockbee, and many others. It is difficult to emulate their legendary work in my community-based courses, but our students learn community participation helps make design richer, more diverse, and more relevant; numerous national grants and awards our studio has received serve as partial evidence to support that participatory design works and contributes greatly.

Can you speak to the relevance of a degree in Architecture or Design in today’s society?

A series of recent studies by social, economic, and political scientists at Harvard and other universities critique an increasing social and political phenomenon called “the calcification of difference” between rural, suburban, and urban areas, which is problematic, especially in the face of the climate change crisis, and requires collaboration between different regions to overcome geographical barriers. Our students learn how to use the urban transect as an analytical tool to understand ecological systems and their sustainability. In this regard, a degree in architecture is valuable, but today’s society challenges architects to work with experts and leaders in other fields to address the calcification of difference and regional divides.

What do you see as the potential for Architecture and Design going forward?

In a recent interview published in the MIT Technology Review February 2023 issue, former key IDEO designer George Aye stated that working with non-profit organizations through his new design firm, he “tries to elevate what’s already being created by a local community, advocate for its members to get the resources they need, and then ‘get out of the way’; … centering the people on the ground, not profit-centered design.” His approach is categorized as an architect-facilitator model included in a book chapter I wrote for Routledge Press a few years ago. In that chapter, I presented nine alternative practice models in architecture. These practices require switching from a mindset of a project director (e.g., place- taker, place-maker) to that of a project facilitator (place-cultivator). Such a transition will not be easy because the former is what schools trained architects to be. Nevertheless, those nine models are glimpses of the potential for architecture and design going forward, informed by a fast-growing body of literature on other ways of conducting architecture.

What are your thoughts about Lawrence Tech as an educational institution?

I was drawn to Lawrence Tech’s motto, “Theory and Practice,” due in part to my exposure to the concepts of reflective practice and reflection in action developed by Donald Schön, a U.S. philosopher and a recognized theorist of organizational learning, and action research by Melvin King, the “father of community development” in Boston, both of whom I had as professors in the MIT Urban Studies and Planning Department. Treating the real world merely as a “living lab” mainly to “test our theory” is too limiting, irresponsible, and risky. My theory of learning has been influenced by those educators and other “engaged” thinkers, such as Paul Davidoff and John Forester, leading proponents of advocacy planning and deliberative practitioner. They teach us that the real world is not a lab but a fragmented and divided place that requires participatory action research and practical deliberation. In response, there has been an enduring call for “engaged scholarship” in academia, informed by scholars such as Boyer and Mitgang, since the 90s. Learning from these practices, I ensure in my Detroit Studio that students gain real-world experience through responsible application of data, story, value, and action in practical, hands-on, participatory service-learning projects.

By Paul Hall

Questions or Comments about this story?  We’d like to hear from you.

We’d like to hear from you.