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  • Writer's pictureRocio Alonso

Celebrating Asian-American Architects

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Architecture is composed of influences from all-over the world, with much of an architectural education being made up of design and designers from all over. At MEL/ARCH, we celebrate the designers that have come before us, and the influences they have made to the profession. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight some notable Asian-American Architects.

Billie Tsien

Billie Tsien is a Chinese-American Architect, born in Ithaca, NY. She received her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Yale University and her Masters of Architecture from UCLA.

Tsien founded her architecture practice, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, with her husband, Tod Williams, in 1986. The firm’s focus is on institutional work, including museums, schools, and non-profit organizations, with an emphasis on the blending of art and architecture.

The firm has received recognition for several projects, including numerous awards for their design of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, NY and their design for the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, CA, among many others. Tsien, along with Williams, received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2014.

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) is a Japanese-American sculptor and designer, born in Los Angeles, CA. He briefly attended Columbia University and attended evening sculpture classes at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Art under sculptor Onto Ruotolo.

Noguchi’s work is informed and inspired by his extensive travels, drawing upon techniques, materials, and scale observed. Noguchi's work significantly grew in popularity in 1938 when his sculpture symbolizing the freedom of the press was commissioned for the Associated Press Building in Rockefeller Center. Noguchi was motivated by the backlash of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to become a political activist, raising awareness for the patriotism of Japanese Americans by cofounding the Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization. Noguchi collaborated with notable artists and designers including Martha Graham, John Cage, Masatoshi Izumi, and Louis Kahn. Noguchi delved in product design, including a design for a Bakelite intercom for Zenith Radio Corporation, a glass-top table for Herman Miller, and Akari light sculptures.

Noguchi received extensive recognition for his work, including the Edward MacDowell Medal for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to the Arts in 1982, and the Kyoto Prize in Arts in 1986.

Helen Liu Fong

Helen Liu Fong (1927-2005) is a Chinese-American architect and interior designer born in Los Angeles, CA. She received two degrees from the University of California, Berkeley School of Architecture.

Fong’s works with Armet and Davis are known for their iconic mid-century, Googie style. While at the firm, Fong worked on the designs of hundreds of buildings in the Googie style. Her designs highlighted the use of bright, strong colors, large glass fronts, and iconic signage. Her most notable Googie project was the design of the Holiday Bowl in the Crenshaw neighborhood. The design consisted of a cocktail lounge, including a 3-D map of Japan as tribute to the Japanese-American community.

Fong was promoted to associate with Armet and Davis in 1964, taking on the responsibility of client interactions and project management. She continued with the firm until her retirement in the late 1970s. Her legacy remains through her signature interior design style still present at Pann’s and the former Holiday Bowl.

Fong became one of the first women to join the American Institute of Architects.

Kaneji Domoto

Kaneji Domoto (1912-2002) is a Japanese-American landscape architect and architect born in Oakland. CA. Domoto’s family owned the Domoto Brothers Nursery, where Kaneji and his brothers worked, tending to the curing in the greenhouse. His experience in the family nursery was his first exposure to landscape, learning a great deal about the plans during that time. In 1938, Domoto enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley to study Landscape Architecture. Domoto studied under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin for a year in 1941, until his studies were cut short as he was incarcerated in the Granada War Relocation Center during World War II. During this incarceration, Domoto designed a rock and concrete porch for the Boy Scouts of America building near his barrack. This and numerous other camp gardens and landscaping projects called back to gardening traditions and helped foster a sense of community and culture. In 1948 Domoto was selected as one of the architects tasked with designing fire homes in the community of Usonia in Pleasantville, NY.

Domoto’s career spanned a period of over 50 years including projects ranging from residential, commercial, recreational, and educational projects. He received several awards, including the Frederick Law Olmsted Award for his Jackson Park design in Chicago.

Maya Lin

Maya Lin is a Chinese-American designer and sculptor born in Athens, Ohio in 1959. Lin received her Bachelor of Arts in 1981 and Master of Architecture in 1986, both from Yale University. Her work ranges between memorials, public and private buildings, sculptures, and landscapes.

Lin has a passion for environmental activism and bringing attention to environmental issues, informing many of her projects. Lin’s work is focused on creating a balance between natural landscape and the man-made structure.

While a senior at Yale University, Lin won a national design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Her design consisted of a v-shaped black granite wall with the names of the fallen soldiers carved on its face. Lin has since received numerous awards for her work, including the National Medal of Arts and Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

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