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16 March 2010

Grace Choi - Architect

Grace Choi - Architect

Grace Choi graduated from the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow where her final master's museum design was awarded the RIAS Sir Rowan Anderson Silver medal and the award for Architecture from the Royal Scottish Academy. For the last 8 years Grace has worked with OMI Architects in Manchester. Her social housing scheme in Rochdale was given an RIBA Housing Design award. 

Recently she moved to London, setting herself up as Grace Choi Architect. In any spare time Grace acts as a trustee for the homeless charity- the Mustard Tree and enjoys running, being mum to her two lovely boys and secretly dreams of being a restaurant critic.


As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a brownie. I grew up in suburbia and was surrounded by what was pretty ordinary middle-classed Britain. I felt odd, being from a South Korean family and a Christian family who had Jesus stickers on the front door of the house! Now that I've grown up I'm enormously grateful for my upbringing, family and pea green Vauxhall Caravanette.

How did you get involved in architecture?

I was always creative and business minded as a teenager, either transforming clothes, selling painted T-shirts at Affleck's Palace or joining the local Young Enterprise club.  I then travelled alone to Paris and the Loire valley when I was 17. I loved the freedom and independence of discovering new cities and started sketching and soaking up the atmospheres. I quickly became totally captivated by these new places and the architecture and began to read, draw and even started to make buildings before applying to universities.

What project are you the most proud of?

My last project: the Creswell Crags Museum and Education Centre. This was a new build museum deep in a Derbyshire gorge. The site was a World Heritage site, Place of Special Scientific Interest, Scheduled Ancient Monument and an Ecologist's heaven. It took 7 years acting as the lead Consultant to find the site, secure lottery funding, get statutory approvals, design and finally build the thing. I've not slept for the last 2 years.

How can architecture contribute to wellbeing in society?

Good architecture can be uplifting, beautiful, exciting and can transform a neglected place into a hub for people. Architecture can create places of discovery and delight, surprises and memories. But in its simplest form architecture is shelter, protection and home- which should be every person's right... but unfortunately isn't.

What design would your like to be commissioned for?

I love crossing cultural boundaries and meeting and learning from people as part of the process. How about a community in the third world or in the inner city, complete with school, homeless shelter, library and corner shop.

I'd also one day love to build our own home on some dodgy disused urban site, complete with studio space we can share/ work from. All welcome.

Which movie character do you most relate to?

I'm a crier when I watch movies, so that probably means I relate to every man and his dog. I even cried at Nemo - and he was a fish!

Martin Luther King Jr had a dream for society. What is yours?

Equality. I firmly believe that Jesus stood for a life of equality that we just don't understand the fullness of.

What is the main hindrance to living the dream?

Our lack of understanding. Not believing in ourselves. Not being bothered to make a difference. Getting used to being comfortable with our lives and not assisting others.

What is your most/least green credential?

The last building had a ground source heat pump, grey water system and was built from locally sourced materials. At home however, two children means we have the washing machine on far too much. We have our own grey water system. The bath water often ends up down the loo!

Best design of the decade is…

The Black and Decker duster buster. I'd be lost without it (or buried under a mountain of crumbs).

What is your most treasured possession?

As boring as it sounds, probably the computer hard drive, as all the baby photographs are stored on this, as well as all my work, drawings and archives.

Who has most influenced your work?

In the early days a tutor at the School of Architecture inspired me to always create something different that pushed the boundaries. I used to paint my ideas before designing buildings! Nowadays, the people and friends around me including my husband keep me going when I've had enough. Matt can be quite a sharp critique of my designs!

Recently, while on a soup run, I stood in the cold talking to a homeless guy who genuinely asked me...'What can you do for me?' The penny dropped that actually I could build him a home. I'm now working out how to help the people that need it most.

I'm encouraged by the fact that Frank Lloyd Wright didn't complete his ground breaking works until he was in his 70's! Life is just beginning...

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?

Probably my two beautiful boys.