Putting Passion into Practice

Architecture is an occupation full of passionate people. The passion to create, the passion to share, the passion to bring people together, the passion to improve place, are all a part of architects crafting their practice. Last night I had the opportunity to hear from one very passionate talented young architect, Christina Na-heon Cho from Cox Architecture in Brisbane, this year’s AIA National Emerging Architects Award winner.

I love hearing passionate people present about what they do, and how they got here. Christina was brilliant and I left feeling so inspired by her journey. Starting life in South Korea, Christina moved to Brisbane as a youngster, experiencing a contrast of cultures and built form that helped inspire her artistic pursuits, along with her creative genes. (She’s a third generation architect – incredible!)

Christina touched on a few different issues during her talk. It was quite inspiring to see a young, overseas-born, female architect as a director of one of Australia’s biggest architecture firms. Christina noted the big changes Cox have gone through in recent years, increasing its gender equity amongst the leadership of the firm. And also visualising their architectural values, by renovating their incredibly beautiful heritage office space, which has increaded the culture of collaboration by increasing the quantum of spaces where this can occur. They have also achieved a reduction of waste by two-thirds and a reduction of electricity use by half, which is an incredible commitment to living your values (and of course a very productive economic decision).

With others, Christina set up and ran Pecha Kucha in Brisbane, one of the only cities in the world to run regular free PK events. It was amazing to see how big these events were here, and what a great format to give Brisbane creatives the opportunity to present and share. These impacts make an incredible impact on the culture of a city and the network of Pecha Kucha around the world is such an important conduit for doing this. As Christina said ‘countries fight countries, but cities befriend cities.’ This event series has made an incredible impact on the culture of Brisbane, and the team should be so commended for contributing to this in such a significant way.

Another of Christina’s out-of-work pursuits is as part of a team of fellow designers that formed Rice Cake Mafia, an international creative collective undertaking public art installations in urban areas. RCM’s works have been constructed in Tokyo and Brisbane and feature a careful understanding of the human impact of space and place, creating environments for interaction and contemplation. It’s a great skill for public architecture to make you think about your environment while you’re experiencing it, and RCM’s work seems to do this really well.

Amongst all these other pursuits, Christina also completes impressive public and educational architectural projects, during her day-job at Cox. She walked us through some of her recent projects including the new Inner City North vertical school in Brisbane, and at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls School which I actually had the opportunity to go and visit last year as part of LEA’s Regional Day Out. As an education architect, I liked hearing about the initial work with the Department working up an aspirational brief for a vertical school – something that until then had not yet been considered in Brisbane. There is also a lovely placemaking element to this site planning, with a progression of spaces from public to privileged to private within the buildings. This balance between accessibility and security can be difficult on government sites, so it will be interesting to see how this is developed once construction starts next year. Her work has a lovely environmental sensibility and appreciation of the intrinsic reasons we do what we do – to improve the spaces and places that people inhabit, visit and occupy. This appreciation seems to sit within a broader concept of Cox’s generosity of purpose – investing in staff, collaborating with other passionate people and understanding the impact on the users of tomorrow, all of which results in an enrichment of practice.

Sometimes you just wonder how people can fit so many things into their day.. I really appreciated Christina taking the time to talk us through her work; it was really inspiring. Thank you also to AWS and the Institute for bringing this series ‘on the road’ in the last year – it is such a good opportunity to hear from these young ambassadors for architecture, and know that the future of our built environment is in such capable hands.

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