Small Firm - Global Reach
As a relatively small business with clients, consultants, and contractors spread across 14 time zones, Tai Soo Kim Partners recognized early on the benefits of using digital technology to communicate and collaborate with a far-flung team through all project phases.
The firm was among the first to distribute designs, drawings, and specifications via e-mail, often in multiple languages. It is now engaging in Web-based collaborative design with remote consultants in real time.
Founding partner Tai Soo Kim, FAIA, is also quick to point out that the management efficiencies gained by digital collaboration have permitted the partners to continue concentrating their energies on the detailed attention to design that clients expect when they hire the firm.
This reputation for high-quality design, in combination with the firm's success operating both internationally and in the public sector, led to a commission for the recently designed U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. The success of this project has resulted in another commission for a new embassy in Damascus, Syria. The firm's projects now span 22 time zones.
Design with a Personal Touch
The architecture of Tai Soo Kim Partners is distinctly modern, but the gentle austerity of the work has its roots in Kim's personal instinct. This, in turn, has its origins in both the simplicity of traditional Korean architecture and his graduate training at Yale in the 1960s under Paul Rudolph.
The Kum Ho Art Gallery in Seoul nicely encapsulates many of these design principles. It is a distinctly modern building that quietly respects its physical and cultural context without losing its own identity and dignity.
The form and scale of the building are very much in keeping with its institutional and corporate neighbors, but the material palette is drawn literally and symbolically from the architecture of the old Imperial Palace across the street.
The split-faced granite that encloses the steel-framed building is similar to that found in the walls of the palace. The lead-coated copper cladding used around the upper band of windows abstractly references the traditional gabled capping of stone walls with dark clay tiles.
This sensitive abstraction of architectural context is highly compatible with the functional austerity of traditional New England architecture; the firm has had great success serving the needs of small liberal arts colleges in the region.
For example, Persson Hall and the Olin Life Science Center at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, are composed of simple, native, blue stone forms, and limestone belt courses organize functionally positioned white-framed windows.
Partner Whitcomb Iglehart, AIA, usually directs the firm's college and university projects. The design of these buildings also reflects his own fondness for how the work of architects such as Edwin Lutyens responded to local and regional context.
Restoring an Atheneum
While many of their projects are in South Korea and other overseas locations, Tai Soo Kim Partners also have a passionate desire to improve their local community.
In 1900, Hartford was the wealthiest city per capita in the United States. It still possesses a rich cultural legacy, including the Wadsworth Atheneum, the country's oldest public art museum.
The oldest portion of the Wadsworth Atheneum was built in 1842. The original internal organization of this gothic building mimicked that of a church.
It featured a large central "nave" and clerestory with three floors of galleries stacked in the two "side aisles." In the 1960s, however, the interior of this building was completely gutted and the "nave" was filled in with additional exhibit space.
Tai Soo Kim Partners was commissioned to remove these galleries and recreate the grandeur of the original space while also providing links between the galleries on either side above.
The architect accomplished this without cluttering the entrance hall or blocking natural light from the clerestory by designing delicate sandblasted steel structures that support translucent glass bridges and stairs at the north and south ends of the space.
Artist Sol Lewitt created large, colorful murals on the east and west walls of the new space, which is named The Helen and Harry Gray Court after the couple who funded the project.
While Tai Soo Kim Partners is proud of its contribution to Hartford's cultural institutions, the firm's commitment to its community extends far beyond serving private clients.
Over the past few decades, large portions of the city have suffered from economic decline and are now among the poorest urban areas in the United States. Recognizing that high quality public education is essential to turn around disadvantaged neighborhoods, the firm is committed to designing state-of-the-art educational facilities.
This effort is led by partner Ryszard Szczypek, who is an expert in the design of public educational facilities and was responsible for Hartford's Moylan Elementary School project.
This commitment to urban renewal is also evident in the firm's leading role in The Learning Corridor project, a new $110 million, 16-acre (6.4-hectare) public educational campus designed to reverse a cycle of decline and increasing violence in the city's "Frog Hollow" neighborhood.
The Learning Corridor project began when the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (SINA), which represents Trinity College, The Institute of Living, Hartford Hospital, The Connecticut Children's Medical Center, and Connecticut Public Television & Radio, announced a vision to redevelop the area in collaboration with the City of Hartford.
The central idea was for the public and private sectors to join forces and invest in this neighborhood on a scale that would catalyze the re-creation of a community in which people can live, work, and learn.
In response to SINA's vision, four architecture firms—Tai Soo Kim Partners, Smith Edwards, Jeter Cook & Jepson, and Clarke/Tamaccio—formed a collaborative organization named "The Hartford Team," which was hired to complete the entire project.
The Learning Corridor includes five separate buildings, large public plazas and green spaces, and a parking garage. Tai Soo Kim Partners designed the master plan and were also responsible for coordinating the design of the individual facilities.
The firm also designed a new community theater, the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, and the Greater Hartford Academy of Math & Science. A Montessori Magnet School was designed by Smith Edwards, and the Hartford Magnet Middle School by Jeter Cook & Jepson.
Clearly, Tai Soo Kim Partners sets an example for how a mid-sized architecture firm can reach across markets and around the world while remaining actively engaged in their local community and sensitive to the cultural context in which they are designing.
Kevin Rotheroe is an architect and the founder of Freeform, a CAD/CAM research studio in New York. Before completing doctoral studies at Harvard, he was a project architect with Tai Soo Kim Partners and was responsible for the Wadsworth Atheneum.