J. Meejin Yoon, founding principal of Höweler + Yoon Architecture and currently professor and head of the Department of Architecture at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, has been appointed the Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University. She is the first woman to be named to this position and will begin in January 2019.
Both founding principals of Höweler + Yoon Architecture are graduates from Cornell's architecture program. Yoon earned her Bachelor of Architecture in 1995, before completing her Master of Architecture in Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1997. "Cornell is a very special place. It is where I first encountered architecture and design," recalls Yoon. Höweler earned both his Bachelor of Architecture in 1994 and his Master of Architecture in 1996 at Cornell.
"I am very excited about my new role as Dean at Cornell and look forward to amplifying the agendas already at Cornell AAP that I can contribute to. Cornell has excellent programs in architecture, art, and city and regional planning. As a designer, I have always tried to work in ways that cut across or sit at the intersection between disciplinary boundaries and I find the eco-system of disciplines and expertise at Cornell extremely substantive. I also see tremendous potential for expanding the role of technology within the culture of design at Cornell, from computational design and digital fabrication to data-driven processes in planning to new forms of media in the arts."
Yoon is the current head of the Department of Architecture at MIT, a position she has held since 2014. She is also the first woman to hold the position at MIT. When Yoon joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in 2001, she taught architecture design studios and even enrolled in a course herself, "How to Make (Almost) Anything," taught by Neil Gershenfeld in the MIT Media Lab. The course was her first exposure to micro-controllers, rapid prototyping, and interactive design, and had a profound impact on her architectural explorations and interests. Her project for the course, the Defensible Dress, incorporated sensors into a dress that defined the wearer's personal space with smart material actuated quills and was later exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
"MIT has been an amazing place to teach, but also to learn. My interactions with colleagues in the MIT Media Lab and the School of Architecture and Planning were really influential -- thinking about the role of technologies in architecture, the city, and media affected the direction of my research and my design practice," says Yoon.
In 2004 Yoon won a competition to implement White Noise/White Light, an interactive landscape project for the Athens 2004 Olympics. The design, done in collaboration with MIT Media Lab researcher Matt Reynolds, consisted of 400 individual light and sound elements arrayed in an interactive field. It was a pioneering work of interactive environments and it launched Yoon's design practice.
Yoon founded Höweler + Yoon Architecture, with Eric Höweler, in 2005 and they began work from their live/work studio in Boston. Early projects by Höweler + Yoon Architecture focused on the integration of electronics into spatial environments, and the potential for an interactive and immersive architecture. "Media is a material for architectural speculation," Yoon claims. The studio collaborated with sound composers and electronics engineers to realize a number of projects including: Light Drift 2010, Windscreen 2012, Aviary in 2014, Shadow Play in 2015, and Swing Time in 2016.
In 2009, the Höweler and Yoon published a monograph, Expanded Practice: Höweler + Yoon Architecture/MY Studio with Princeton Architectural Press. In it they argued for an expanded definition of architecture, capable of encompassing a diverse range of projects, including wearables and interactive environments, furniture pieces, landscapes, and lighting design. They are currently working on a new book project, tentatively titled Signal / Noise, that focuses on the studio's more recent projects and research agendas.
Today, Höweler + Yoon Architecture is a studio of 20+ designers and architects working on a range of projects. Current projects include the MIT Museum at Kendall Square in Cambridge, the UVA Memorial for Enslaved Laborers in Charlottesville, Virginia, the FloatLab submersible platform in Philadelphia, several mixed-use residential and commercial buildings in Chengdu, China; as well as two multi-family towers, one in Boston's Bay Village neighborhood, and one in Union Square, Somerville.
"I believe that design is change and that design is for change. It is the application of action in the present in anticipation of a better future. Now more than ever, we need design to address complex challenges across multiple scales. From climate change to rapid urbanization and social strife, design plays an instrumental role in the transformation of cities and cultures. There is an urgency to design to address these critical challenges, and there is an agency to design in enabling instrumental change," says Yoon.
Höweler + Yoon
Cornell, College of Architecture, Art and Planning
MIT Department of Architecture
MIT School of Architecture and Planning
J. Meejin Yoon
Photo: © Andy Ryan