South Korea's equivalent of the Nobel Prize is known as the Ho-Am Prize. It's never been awarded to an architect before—until now. Kyu Sung Woo, FAIA, who was born in Seoul and practices in Cambridge, Mass., has been named the 2008 winner of the Ho-Am Prize in the Arts category. He was honored at an awards ceremony in Seoul on June 3, where he received a gold medal and a $200,000 prize.
Woo is best known in the United States for his lyrical work on college campuses. His first student housing project, at Bennington College in 2001, ended up on the cover of Architectural Record, and he's followed it with a host of equally strong dormitory and other campus projects. "Each institution has a very different mission," he says. "What I like about architecture is that it's a mission-based art form. The mission is not necessarily a constraint, but it adds another dimension." Woo has also designed museums and private houses in the U.S. and South Korea, as well as the Seoul Olympic Village for the 1988 Olympics. He's currently working on his own vacation house in Putney, Vt., and—on a very different scale—the 1.4 million-square-foot Asian Culture Complex in Gwangju, South Korea.
His architectural style can't be pigeonholed as particularly American or Asian; it's a combination of both, just like him. "I think I work very specifically to the culture," he says. "My work in the States is very different from what I'm doing in Korea." As for the honor of receiving the Ho-Am Prize, he's not yet sure what kind of impact it will have on his 40-person firm. "It takes a long time to see the effects of something like this, so we'll see," he says.