Into Other Realms

Seeing a project from inception to reality is something Danny Duong really takes pride in. Heʻs uplifted when he gets to work with a client that has vision and gusto, and extremely conscious of making sure it is realized properly — every single step of the way.

When I first meet Duong he is wearing glasses, a tailored blue button-up, and black Nikes. He is level-headed, deliberate, and appears to be thriving as a senior associate of SO-ILʻs 20-member studio. Hand-built models take up a lot of table and shelf space in the bright, airy 2nd floor space that SO-IL occupies, and Duong lights up when he gets to explain what has gone into a very diverse array of buildings.

The studio is serious and yet playful, and Doung says they approach everything “with open hearts and open minds.”

Danny Duong in SO-IL studio. Image by Marianne Hanoun.

Duongʻs passion for architecture stems from the joy and satisfaction of making. A native of Chicago, he obtained his degree in architecture from University of Illinois and worked largely on sustainable building systems, with projects in Europe and Asia, even developing his own innovative digital design tool. This is a man astutely observant of everything from brick details on buildings (that influence projects) to the way the feel of neighborhoods change every few minutes walking from Chinatown to surrounding areas: “I could be walking down Canal in one minute and then SoHo the next. You donʻt just see it you feel it.”

Though he says he is moved by just being outside and walking through the city, itʻs hard to get a strong emotional reaction from Duong. I try to dig a little into his 6 year journey at SO-IL. “Are there any moments that stand out for you, in particular?” I ask. He stops to think.

He explains a time when he was working with the mason for the Tina Kim Gallery directly and was told by a project manager that the finished space looked exactly like the initial 3-D renderings: “For me, it was a really great moment because thereʻs a lot of disappointment when you see a client project [not live up to its fidelity],” Duong explains. This proud papa moment where the integrity of the project comes to life is what Duong seems to live for.

“Architecture is very much an artifact of a certain point and time.”

In asking the question of whether SO-IL looks to build a new culture with the spaces they create, Duong tells me, “Architecture is very much an artifact of a certain point and time. When we approach a building itʻs never just about the building.” He says there are climates economically, politically, and culturally that have to be taken into account, but no one factor truly influences.

Iʻm reminded of the Japanese ensō symbol, a circular brushstroke that embodies nonduality—where both absolute enlightenment and the infinite void can reside. Duong goes on, “I would say that we oscillate a little bit between accepting [culture] and rejecting it.”

So what is Dannyʻs personal dream project? “A performance hall. An opera house would be really great to do because I think architecture has the power to transport people to different places, and thereʻs this renaissance, this mise-en-scène idea where every part of the senses are engaged and [a person] is literally taken from one place to another.”

He does that kind of work in museums, he says, “but through a lens of flexibility. Art can take many different shapes and forms so we need to make these buildings that can accommodate.” I would be eager to see his love of making nuanced spaces translated into a place for performance, an opera house of subtle ʻtransportation,ʻ a portal into other realms.

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For more information about SO-IL please visit http://so-il.org/

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