Photo: Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
Two young architects, Eric Höweler and J. Meejin Yoon, stepped into the architectural limelight in 2004 not with a building but an interactive LED light installation, created for the Athens Olympics. White Noise/White Light, constructed of hand-fabricated fiber-optic fixtures, was installed on the side of the Acropolis only for 30 days, but long enough for the Boston-based firm to be noticed by architectural aficionados. In May 2005, the designers mounted the installation at MIT'where they both teach'for a week for the inauguration of the new president, Susan Hockfield. Soon a private developer in Washington, D.C., commissioned them to create a signage, light, and sound installation, Lo Rez Hi Fi, for an office building's street front and lobby [RECORD, November 2007, page 190].
In their architectural work, Höweler and Yoon seek to unite—and blur boundaries between—architecture, art, and landscape in a way that takes advantage of new electronic media. The two met in the early 1990s in the B.Arch. program at Cornell, a school known for teaching students to draw and to solve functional problems based on a strong morphological analysis. This is a long way from working with computational fabrication tools, CAD/CAM, and basic electronics for sound and light installations. "I never thought we’d be do-it-yourselfers in terms of electronics and fabrication," says Yoon. The path to digital landscape was not direct. Yoon, who was born in Seoul, Korea, entered Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in 1995 after Cornell. Höweler stayed at Cornell to take his M.Arch., before decamping in 2005 for New York and a job at Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF). As a result of his work with the firm's high-rise tower design in Asia, Höweler wrote Skyscrapers: Vertical Now (Universe), in 2003.
Yoon had spent time in the New York office of Dean Wolf Architects in 1998 before teaching positions lured her away, first to the University of Toronto, and then to MIT. At MIT, Yoon discovered the thrill of experimentation with digital media when she took a course at the media lab. 'MIT taught me fearlessness,' she says. By 2001, Yoon had formed her own office, MY Studio, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had begun investigating the intersection between electronics and architecture.
Höweler, still in New York, and Yoon, in Cambridge, married in 2002, the year Höweler left KPF to work at Diller Scofidio + Renfro. "That office provided an intellectual framework for architectural practice. It was so intense and exciting," he says'"and hard to leave." But by 2005, it was time to join forces with Yoon: "If you're going to work 20-hour days, seven days a week, you soon want to spend that energy on your own projects," Höweler points out.
Since then, the two have taken on work typical of young offices, such as renovations, interiors, and houses. The scale of the commissions is not a problem for Yoon, who, at Dean Wolf, discovered she likes being involved in small-scale, custom-design work. Höweler, however, notes that going from skyscrapers and other large-scale projects to houses was a shock. Yet he values the advantages of a hands-on approach and collective brainstorming possible with an office this size. At this point, the two still seek a convergence between electronic and architectural projects and don't want to neglect one field for the other. Similarly, they hope for the same convergence to take place between the small-scale work and larger projects.