The passport that I got for my SOM travels just expired after its tenth year. It is a precious document to me, nearly every page filled with entry and exit visas, particularly from the year of travel. It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed; there is probably not a day that goes by when I do not think of that magical journey. My topic of research was ostensibly the study in counterpoint of the work of Alvar Aalto and Aldo Rossi, and their respective relationships to the language of classicism and the manufacturing of culture- but mostly my goal was to experience in sight and sensation just about every architectural space I could reasonably get to. In six months of travel, I trekked the European continent, from Finland to Turkey, stopping at just about every country in between, including longer research stays in Italy, Greece, Germany Spain , the Netherlands, as well as second trip to Finland to experience it in mid-winter. In addition to the Alvar/Aldo piece, I got very interested in the work of Hans Scharoun, and visited many of his projects. I spent the last of my journey working for OMA, the office of Rem Koolhaas, and then flew to Los Angeles as my final stop (during my travels, someone at James Stirling’s office warned me that I would be confused for about two years after my travels, and they were probably right.) Notwithstanding, I am profoundly indebted to the Foundation for allowing em to discover not only what architecture is, but what it should mean in my own work.
Returning to the Harvard Graduate School of Design to complete my education wasn’t particularly easy in my state of saturated confusion, but it was an exciting time at the school with Rafael Moneo’s chairmanship and much of the new scholarship coming into the school was strongly reinforcing of my travel experiences. During my thesis year, I won a national competition with my fellow classmate, Ann Wills Marshall, and I was to spend the next five years realizing that project, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
Once you’ve tasted responsibility and independence, it’s hard to go back. Ever since I licensed in 1991 I’ve been doing work of my own. In 1992 I moved from New York City to Amherst Massachusetts, establishing my ‘country’ office, RK studio. I see architecture as both an art and a service, and I harbor the naive ideal that I can bring both to a middle-class market. Although I work those dreaded long architect hours, it has been tremendously enjoyable and productive.
With all of this, it is clear to me that the SOM Fellowship was a turning point in my life...The knowledge and experience I gained from the travel allowed me to think about professional independence much earlier than I might have otherwise dared. But even more than that, it allowed me to steep myself in buildings, spaces and cities that enhance the body, mind and spirit and to understand that there is an intellectual basis for design that is not disengaged from the physical senses, that can guide contemporary architectural production.
On a more direct level, the knowledge from my fellowship travel has served me incredibly well this year in my new teaching position (at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst). In addition to design studios, I teach a graduate-level seminar on advanced topics in design. Much of my current research and thinking clearly has its origins in the work I was just beginning during my travels.
- Ray Kinoshita
From a letter dated 25 June 1996