In the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for CJ Lim’s London-based architectural practice, Studio 8. I came to know about the Studio and Lim through my work with UCLA’s Urban Humanities Institute (graduate research program blending architecture, humanities and urban planning fields) and my research interest in urban imaginaries of London from 18c to the contemporary moment. Lim’s project, London in two and half dimensions is as a collection of “architectural short stories,” a work integrating architectural representation with narrative—a strategy I wanted to study more closely.
In the course of the internship I worked with Lim on the new edition of Smart Cities, a book of Studio 8 design projects responding to briefs linked by the charge to increase the capacities of cities to both withstand disaster and respond to global climate change. Lim was especially interested in reworking the projects so that he could highlight their humanistic value, elaborating and expanding the social, cultural and ecological dimensions of the architectural designs and drawings—moving from resilient structures or plans to designing what he termed as “resilient landscapes.” I was tasked to develop the accompanying prose pieces to the designs. These pieces would elaborate the projects’ affordances beyond the instrumental and technical by examining their contributions in the cultural field. What began as work on two design projects for Lim morphed into an assignment that allowed me to work on almost all of the projects from the the book itself.
During the summer and fall, I collaborated with Lim on the revision of the book through regular discussions about the projects. Smart Cities’ projects were quite diverse, from rooftop gardens in Fargo to climate sensitive housing in Penang, from an earthquake memorial in Tangshan to a reclamation project for derelict spaces created by large scale infrastructure developments like highways and railroad tracks. I developed bibliographies for each project, using skills developed in graduate school to read and write fast and draw connections about the concepts and themes behind each project. I took up leads from Lim from the architectural and design fields, and from here, assembled a wide range of sources from the humanities, arts, social sciences and environmental studies that became an interdisciplinary archive of references— from case studies of urban gardening practices to green utopian imaginaries in science fiction film. The content I developed gave Lim options for rearranging and elaborating the book’s scope, to include for example, an extended epilogue which I helped draft.
For Lim, a key takeaway for the Studio from my work was my ability to offer non-traditional points of view that energized and augmented the designs. He valued the unorthodox connections I brought into the conversations as these enabled what he imagined to be a kind of “renaissance” approach that could challenge what he saw as the conservatism of the architectural profession.
For my part, working in a practice that seemed, at first glance, to be discontinuous with my discipline gave me confidence to forge not-do-obvious connections that turned out to be fruitful and galvanizing when taken up. I learned to what extent the studio sits at the intersection of design and cultural production, and so am better positioned to see how someone like me can not only be useful, but influential, at different times and stages of an architectural project.