November 7, 2014 | Source: biz

People who make Hawaii work: Ma Ry Kim

Ma Ry Kim was recently named principal and design director at Group 70 International. Kim, 41, a former design director with Gensler Europe, will help Group 70 grow its international practice and expand its services. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Kim grew up in Hawaii, graduating from Kailua High School before attending the University of Southern California, where she received a bachelor’s degree in architecture. She has also holds a post-graduate diploma from the Architectural Association London and has studied at the Centre D’Etude d’Architecture et du Urbanisme in France.

If not from Hawaii, what brought you here? My parents moved to Hawaii when I was 2 years old. I left for college when I was 17 and only moved back home after more than 20 years. I have five children, and the youngest are extraordinary twins. Born at full term, one weighed a healthy six pounds, and the other was only one pound. We lived in London where the cold and damp weather is no place for a small baby. I brought them home to give him the best chance at survival, and he has absolutely thrived.

What community service/activities are you involved in? The most intriguing community service project at the moment is “LIFT,” the redesign of decommissioned buses to serve as innovative shelters for living, showering, and learning, for a community of people who normally don’t have free or easy access to such facilities. The director of housing, under Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office, proposed the challenge a few months ago, and we’re off and running now. The buses have been donated and the design is under way. If you happen to be in the building industry, you’ll likely be getting a call from us for help soon.

Why I took this job: I have always wanted to find a firm that was incredibly evolved in every way. Group 70 and I share the same goals and both of our philosophies are deeply rooted in the human side of design. We have a mutual desire to build communities that represent and respect the people, and help to fundamentally improve lives.

Like most about the job: Early in my career, I used to think that architects simply had to love the act of building. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. You have to love the act of understanding places, designing things for them, putting them out in the world, and watching the amazing catalytic change that happens, in both small and massive ways. I like to believe that we can impact positive change in the broader context of many different kinds of places by offering new levels of meaning and purpose. Group 70 embodies this spirit of total commitment to communities, and to designing with the intent of leaving places uplifted and more robust. They “transcend” in many ways, and that’s what I love most about the job.

Like least about the job: I have to park in a basement across the street. But, other than that, life is pretty good!

Immediate priority: I have spent the last 20 years practicing overseas in weird and wonderful places, and being home is both comforting and new. The immediate priority is to learn. The most critical thing is to understand, observe, question, feel, absorb. I am always searching for the sweet spot between global experience and local upbringing … where a bit of magic just might live.

Long-term challenge: I think the challenge for all design firms is to keep up with the pace of the ever progressing technology of our industry, and to try to always stay ahead of the wave. Even more pressing is the need to understand the evolving state of our world and our collective lifestyles so that we can mediate the transitions between people and place appropriately. Hawaii is particularly sensitive to the impacts of change and progress that happens too quickly. Drawing an understanding of the present from knowledge of our past is critical.

Strategy to overcome challenge: Watch, listen, and learn. Then respond.

Biggest challenges in my industry: Bridging the gap between the way we used to work, and the way we need to work to sustain the challenges the future will bring. I have great interest and passion in mentoring the next generation of architects. Group 70 has an amazing group of “next generation” designers who have immense energy and talent. I am drawn to their optimistic and fresh views on the world.

Five-year vision for the industry: I dream about sustainability being such a common mindset that we no longer need the term. About a world where social status does not determine value so much. About cities having green space in abundance for my kids to play in. About design that is compassionate to all members of society, not just the agile. Perhaps I’m a bit of an idealist, but I believe that our industry can make great leaps in even five years.

Essential business philosophy: Love who you are, not who you think you should be. That’s what builds true confidence.

Best way to keep a competitive edge: Read. And travel. And share stories. Staying competitive as an architect comes from collective memories that trickle in ephemeral and unexpected ways onto the paper.

Best business decision: Diversifying.

Worst business decision: Trying to design in a new culture and marketplace without first spending time there as a person, not an architect.

Biggest risk taken in my career: Giving up a position overnight as a principal and design director with one of the world’s largest design firms for my children.

Smartest move taken in my career: Taking a two-year sabbatical from practice to be a full-time professor. It feels like a gift that life offered me, and the perspective gained is immeasurable.

What I value in my employees: Authenticity.

Most important lesson learned: Don’t try to understand or predict exactly where the balls will land. Sometimes, you just have to throw them up and take delight in the one that just keeps bouncing. Half the battle won in solving the puzzle is the confidence in firmly believing that the answer is there somewhere.

Most overrated secret to success: Reading. All five of my children are dyslexic. Each one has learned the important tool of decoding traditional words into a more digestible language.

Most overlooked secret to success: Also reading. Learn to compensate and turn your challenges into gifts.

One rule I live by: Grow up to be proud of who you are. No matter if you are 9 or 90!

Issue that keeps me up at night: How to keep my twins from arguing so much!

Most important mentor: My grandmother, who was born a generation too soon.

I’m inspired by: The cloudless Koolau Range everytime I can see its entire profile. Or, the constant dialogue between human and nature when nature always has the last word.

Favorite stress reducer: A long swim out to the Mokes in Kailua. However, I was trailed by a 15-foot shark last month while doing that. Not so stress-free! Ok, new answer. A long PADDLE out to the Mokes! In a very wide boat. That has a motor!

Favorite way to spend free time: What’s free time?

Best place I’ve traveled to: Siberia. Honestly.

When I was little I wanted to be: An architect.

Book by my bedside: Iggy Peck. I am usually reading to my kids. Then I fall asleep myself, all tangled up in their little limbs. Life’s good!

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