Cambridge, Massachusetts, architect Kyu Sung Woo, FAIA, has had an eventful summer. He saw one project, graduate-student housing for Harvard University, completed in a prominent location on the Charles River. On June 12, ground broke for his nearly one-and-a-half-million-square-foot Asian Culture Complex in Gwangju, Korea, a development that will place a series of cultural and research spaces in a sky-lit, subterranean complex covered by what will be one of the city’s largest urban parks.
But of all the milestones the Seoul-born architect has REACHED recently, one of the most significant, he says, was winning the Ho-Am Prize for the arts. It marks the first time in its 17-year history that the award, a $200,000 prize commonly referred to as Korea’s Nobel Prize, has gone to an architect.
Woo moved to the United State in 1967 and completed an MA in architecture at Columbia University before receiving another Master’s—this one in urban design—from Harvard. In 1970, Woo took a position at Sert, Jackson & Associates, and then went on to co-found Woo and Williams in 1979 and his current firm, Kyu Sung Woo Architects, in 1990.
He has completed many acclaimed stateside buildings over his four decades in the US, many of them for academic institutions. Some of the architect’s most renowned work, however, has been built in Korea, where he first drew international attention for his Olympic Village designed for the 1988 games in Seoul. And he defined a style that emphasizes careful interventions attuned to the culture and topography of their sites with the contemplative Whanki Museum (1993), also in the Korean capital.
In a recent conversation, I spoke with Woo about the Asian Culture Complex, as well as his new housing for Harvard. He also shared his thoughts on winning one of the most prestigious awards for the arts in his native country.