Davin Hong, AIA, LEED® AP
Founder and Principal
Living Design Lab
Davin Hong was the lead architect and planner for the Cherry Hill Vision Plan, one of the NDC Community Design Works projects.
Davin is the Founder and Principal Designer of Living Design Lab which applies architecture, interior design, planning, and urban design to holistically solve social, economic and environmental problems. The firm was established in 2013 and has since become recognized for its thought leadership, design excellence and public advocacy. Recently their first major project, The Chrysalis, a park pavilion and performance stage in Columbia, Maryland, was featured on the cover of Architect Magazine.
How long have you been in the Baltimore/DC area?
I grew up in Maryland. I went to school out of state, but I came back after grad school at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and I’ve been in Baltimore since 2003. In the middle of that I was in North Carolina for four years, but I’ve been here for probably a good 11 years.
How did you get into design?
The way I got into architecture school was because I had been in an AP art class in high school, and I didn’t know about architecture or anything, but my teacher Mr. Oroon Barnes was a really strong advocate for his students and he individually placed them at major institutions around the country through his network of contacts. He basically said to me you would be perfect for the school of architecture at Rice University. He knew the program there, he knew the people and he recommended that I apply. I did and I liked it, the rest is history. It turned out to be a real perfect fit.
What motivates you to volunteer with NDC?
I was previously principal at RTKL and I was one of the design leaders there so I worked on design projects of various scales. A lot of them were really huge, like cities, so everything from planning to commercial to institutional projects. And then I went through this program called Leadership Baltimore. It’s a ten month program of the Greater Baltimore Committee that introduces people to issues in the city. The experience made me rethink my career and think about how to utilize my skill set to impact the social and economic and environmental realities of the city. And that’s when I decided to start my own practice. So at the Living Design Lab we are trying to be a nontraditional design firm where we look at how to execute projects not just by bringing ideas, which are important, but by forming partnerships. Also, being ahead of the game and being involved in all of the decisions made by community government and developers that lead to projects.
Our vision is for design excellence which we define as design innovation and social impact. This intersection of innovation and social impact is what we are interested in. So we do traditional design work, but I think the difference is that we are more engaged in the world around us and things that architects don’t really get involved in. From there I would say that with NDC, I definitely love what they are doing and want to support them with certain projects, I help out when I can. I did the Cherry Hill Vision Plan, one of the facade program projects and am currently leading a team to help the KIPP Academy develop a vision plan.
I like the idea of helping make things happen, and I do think there is a gap out there of needs to be figured out. NDC fits a good role in filling that void and making things happen. I like being involved (with NDC) in that way.
What do you find most rewarding about your work with NDC?
I believe in the mission of NDC and I think making design accessible to people, to be catalytic and transformative, is really important. I can’t isolate one part of the process, I think it’s just the whole thing is good. I mean, it’s not easy to do these projects because it’s volunteer-based, and working with other volunteers is not easy because everyone is busy, but in the end I like getting to know the people who live in the community and what their needs are and giving them ideas.
What is inspiring your work now?
I can’t identify one thing, but what I am interested in this whole social design movement. I think it is a really interesting trend and I hope it is going to be more the future of design with people thinking bigger and more impactfully. I know I come from the whole pedagogy that sees design as about beautiful objects , but I think that is a real problem in my profession. Architects are too concerned about intellectual ideas behind architecture that have to do with all the theory behind architecture, but often don’t intersect with the social realm very much. This is why I’ve started to do a lot more city planning, thinking about the spaces around buildings or between building as much as the building themselves and considering the relationship of the built environment on humanity. There used to be this modernist tradition of design and it is all very important I just think we need to step out of that and reach out to other disciplines and be able to understand how the world works and be more engaged in it. Fundamentally, architecture is socially impactful, but I don’t think we think about it like that enough in our profession.