Building in the Paris of Asia: architect Paul Q. Davis
By Hellynn Jung
Seoul is the Asian Paris, according to American architect Paul Davis.
“There is a strong cultural content that’s going on right now which is manifested in vibrancy, excitement, music, fashion. We take all that in when we’re building buildings,” said Davis, who runs design atelier DRDS with partner Steve Ryder.
Enthusiastic, crafty and corky, he articulates a million miles per minute with ideas shooting from every crevice of the mind. There’s an exciting and somewhat animated edge about Davis that makes him personable and extremely interesting. So there is no wonder why clients in “the Paris of Asia” have time and again chosen this particular one to design some of the nation’s modern landmarks.
The Milwaukee native’s atelier is based in both Seoul and Los Angeles. Although this “Midwestern-turned-city boy” legally resides in LA, he spends over 100 days a year in Korea, and calls Seoul his second home.
“I love Korea. Working in Korea is more personal,” he explains. “We’re interested in our clients. We want to get to know the people _ we want to know who they are.”
This is very different from the work mentality that a rather large portion of the working population in America possesses. Whereas the “get it done and go home” disposition is prevalent in the Western hemisphere, it’s a whole new ballgame working in Asia. In business, there are various procedures of getting to know each other and engaging in after-work activities.
“There is quite a bit of karaoke,” Davis adds, immediately followed by a five-second rendition of Korea’s famous ballad, “Bogoshipda” by Kim Beom-su.
Korea is famous for endless nights of business outings, including Korean barbecue, soju and other party flavors, and there’s a strong mindset that you have to get close in order to work together, Davis says. He is in the know about the important relationship-building process here and furthermore, very respectful and appreciative of the culture, implementing it into his work.
Engaging with clients and their culture and spending a lot of time working at their offices is pivotal in learning from them to design the buildings that are felicitous to their lifestyle and environment.
DRDS, on the other hand, has derived from large corporate settings and is comprised of serious, hardworking employees who put in 50- to 60-hour workweeks, make frequent trips due to extensive international work, and focus on design and client satisfaction. Yet employees take turns DJ-ing in slippers with their iPods, not to mention “‘board meetings” every Friday that require surfboards.
“We’re a very comfortable bunch,” Davis explains. “We wanted a different kind of lifestyle, not an 8-to-4:30 suit-and-tie thing.”
It is the kind of work environment one would call a professional utopia, one that many Koreans dream of while slaving away in their tiny, claustrophobia-inflicting cubicles. It is no surprise that Davis seems to be married to his work.
“I don’t have any hobbies,” he states, “because I’m always doing architecture.”
He describes his profession as an all-in-one job, entailing travel, art, math, politics, interaction, people skills, marketing, and more.
DRDS has nine projects in Korea currently in progress, two of which will be completed this month (the Aerodome Sports Arena in Ilsan and Hwaseong Sports Complex in Hwaseong). It has designed some eye-catching and sophisticated buildings and sports complexes, some of which have won prestigious awards and recognitions; for instance in 2010, the NHN Building received an LA AIA Award. The Nuritkum Square in Digital Media City has been used as a background in a number of TV commercials and ads.
Although many of them are sleek and modern, there is no distinct style representing Davis’ company because each building is individually tailored to its client’s needs, he says. Mostly a modernist, Davis is rather evasive and hates to be pinned down to one specific concept because his vision is constantly shifting and evolving.
He prefers to stay creatively open and ever-changing without having to define it in any specific term or category. Simply taking advantage of the tools available and creating exciting buildings is what he wants to do, and exactly what he’s doing.
“It’s always experimental and interesting; there is a big gradation of style and culture,” he said with a grin.
Hellynn Jung is a contributing writer for The Korea Times.