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Emerging Voices> SsD
A micro-office model allows a small firm to work globally on a variety of project types.
On a lakefront site, the White Block Gallery in Heyri, South Korea can accommodate a variety of experiences and installations, from very large-scale paintings to event space happenings.
Courtesy SsD

The Architectural League’s 30th annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms will deliver a lecture at the Cooper Union's Rose Auditorium at 41 Cooper Square in Manhattan. The next lecture takes place on Friday, March 23 at 7:00 p.m. when Oyler Wu Collaborative and SsD will present their work.

Cambridge, Massachusetts Seoul, Korea New York, New York

Long before the global economy hit the skids, the firm SsD was facing lean times. “We voluntarily plunged ourselves into a recession in 2006,” said SsD co-founder John Hong. After graduating from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Hong and his partner, Jinhee Park, opened a Cambridge office and were in a position that many young architects would envy: designing housing for a local developer who became a repeat client. Those jobs led to similar developer projects, and after a couple of years Hong and Park found themselves busy with work that didn’t necessarily reflect their vision or goals. Realizing they were at a fork in the road, the duo made a series of bold moves: they fired their clients, shrank their Cambridge office down to two people, and started focusing on competitions.

The interior of the White Block Gallery (left) and the Infinite Box installation for the Gwangju Biennale, Korea (right).

Since then, SsD has operated on what Hong calls a “micro-office” model, opening small offices to serve key projects in Seoul and most recently in New York. Despite a change in strategy, the firm’s name—short for “Single-speed Design” and recalling the early days when staff could bike to all the firm’s project sites—still holds true, reflecting a very local, on-the-ground approach. Hong and Park continue to take on residential work, but now it’s on their own terms. “Each project can be a prototype,” said Park, describing how she sees houses as mini versions of civic spaces.

SsD had the opportunity to flex its prototyping muscle in 2010 as one of 100 firms invited to design a house for Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei’s Ordos project in China. In New York, a project for a Chelsea pied-à-terre shared by three families evolved into a study for how to make a residential city block function more efficiently as a community space. Back in Cambridge, SsD is working with the start-up organic food purveyor Clover on a distribution center, food trucks, and a restaurant in the Josep Lluís Sert– designed Holyoke Center in Harvard Square. And in 2011, SsD completed the White Block gallery in the Heyri Art Valley in South Korea, winning an invited competition after demonstrating to the client that a 16,000-square-foot building could offer a multitude of experiences simultaneously. “We wanted to include spaces where a visitor could takle a break from the art—places of relief, contemplative spaces,” said Park.

Molly Heintz


The Cloud installation in Heyri, Korea responds to weather and the movement of passers by (left). For the food company Closer, SsD helped the client not just with design but also distribution strategy (right).