It's been a few months since the last #Architalk, but our topic this month has to do with each person's career path to where they are now. For me, my career path can be summed up by 'following my heart'. Sometimes you get that tug in your heart and you have to go in a direction that doesn't seem to make sense at first. Be sure to follow that tug to the other blog posts for this #Architalk, but this is my career path:
As mentioned in previous posts, I graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's 5-year Architecture program in the summer of 2008. I thought the whole architectural world was open for me to decide where I wanted to go at the time. I think the majority of us come out of architecture school thinking we can design skyscrapers (or similar) right out of the box.
I spent my summer before thesis year (before my 5th year) in Korea thinking it would be the last extended vacation before going into hard labor. I planned visits to multiple architecture offices and was curious how the practice of architecture was different in Korea. Though I was born in Korea, I immigrated with my parents as a toddler and have always questioned my cultural background and heritage. At one of the offices I visited, I was told (in what I though was a joke or told half-heartedly) that I could work there after graduation since I spoke both English and Korean. The Architect, Byoung Soo Cho, had studied in the US himself at Montana and GSD.
But life went on after gearing back up for 5th year in San Luis Obispo. I spent long hours in the studio working on my thesis project, and come spring, I had multiple offers from firms in San Francisco, not to mention the firm I had interned at previously in San Luis Obispo too. When it came to deciding between my options, I was reminded of my past trip to Korea and the office that extended me an offer to join them. Was he serious? I emailed Byoung, we had a conference call, he gave me an official invitation, and I decided to go to Korea upon graduation. I immediately notified the firms in California that I was headed out of the country.
This turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life for several different reasons, but first, economically. Summer and fall of 2008 presented a market crash and beginning of a recession. Many of my peers, including those that had signed offer sheets in San Francisco and Los Angeles, all of sudden found their offers revoked. I even had a few friends start at a office, only to be let go almost immediately. Meanwhile in Korea, the recession had yet to really hit, and in fact, the economy was only getting stronger with more Silicon Valley tech companies using Korean parts and production, along with Korea's automotive groups taking large chunks of the Japanese market due to various recalls. Although in the midst of things while working in Korea, I was getting exhausted and felt a little under-appreciated at times, it was without a doubt my most memorable job.
After burning out at the office and resigning in 2010 to return back to the states (probably not at the best time since the recession was still in effect), I spend a month picking up the pieces in Korea and eventually followed my now partner and spouse to France. Luck had it that I knew a childhood friend working for an architecture office in Paris and they needed some help putting together a huge model for an exhibition. The timing could not have been more perfect as I was still only 2 years out of school and able to get a student visa (Carte de Séjour) to work as a legit paid intern.
After the exhibition and working additional time in Paris, my other half took the lead to New York for her own internship where I again tagged along. While it was harder to find work so abruptly, I did manage to work for an architect in Manhattan who was working on a penthouse remodel on Park Avenue and put my SketchUp skills to good use.
After her internship ended in NYC, we couldn't afford to stick it out on Manhattan, but as chance would have it, my parents were returning to Korea after my father had been out of a job for a year (still a recession). This opened up our house in California, and we went from the East Coast, to the West Coast. There was a firm in Palo Alto that was doing some interesting work while I was still in school at Cal Poly. I had contacted them almost every break while retuning to Palo Alto and was unable to secure an internship, but this time around, they had a full-time job opening.
I eventually came out of that office to re-connect with the person that had given me my first opportunity to learn what goes on in an architecture office, back when I was in high school. He had nearly closed shop during the recession, but asked if I would be interested in keeping it going. I decided it would be a great learning opportunity to learn how to manage and operate my own projects, let alone a whole office and to this day, am still involved. Palo Alto Design Studio wouldn't be here without his mentoring and encouragement.
A new turn is coming at the end of the year. Palo Alto Design Studio was rather quickly formed and a sole proprietorship. Starting in 2017, my partner and I will transition our latest venture into a new company called "J&K Atelier". We're excited for what's to come, and even more excited to be able to share it with you in the coming months. Follow your heart. I followed mine, and it keeps on beating.
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Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
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