Dong Kim was in his first year of college as a physics major when he pulled his high school yearbook off the shelf. Flipping through the pages, he read an inscription from a classmate that said, I see you making models in art class. You’ll be an awesome architect. A light went on, and nine months into his physics program, he completely switched majors, changing the trajectory of his whole life. His family, though surprised, wasn’t unsupportive. As he pursued his dream, he came to find that his father had unrequited dreams of becoming an architect. He had always wanted to go to school for architecture.
He takes incredible pride in his public sector work and wants to impact his community. One of his favorite projects in the Oakland Unified School District was designing a school-based health center. What truly made that project special for him was the moment of reaction when a student first saw the project and the room was filled with light; the student said, “that really makes you feel better.” It is bringing light to a dark world that seems to be his unintentional mission. He brings this positive energy humbly and graciously, and his designs and the response to them are reflected in the way people react to him. He was surprised when he visited a center he designed, and the center director brought him back a gift of food from his trip to New Orleans. He doesn’t expect anything in return for just doing a good job and authentically caring about people.
Dong is selfless and is surprised at the response to his goodwill and positive energy. His dream projects include Community Centers, Elementary Schools, and Libraries. Projects that create community, “making the connection to celebrate people.” That desire for connection and relationships is why he joined AIA East Bay. “I think it’s the relationship I’m building with other design professionals that’s probably the most important reason I joined.”
When he is not forging new relationships in architecture and celebrating his community through his outstanding work, he has become a barbecue pitmaster. It began before the pandemic, but his love of barbecuing expanded while sheltering in place. He did a 14-pound 12-and-a-half-hour cook of brisket, leaving little room for his wife to put anything else in the fridge. He also loves tinkering with mechanical things like cool cars and taking the time to slow down and take long walks with his dog and his family.