The Apiece Apart team have been longtime fans of Erica Kim’s wardrobing videos. From bold pops of color against her iconic brick backdrop, to up-close detail shots, Erica has an art for capturing life’s most meaningful moments. However delighted by her eye-catching images, we were most impressed by Erica’s “day job” as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. We asked Erica to sit down with us and answer a few of our burning questions and came away from our conversation in further awe of @ahistoryofarchitecture and the purpose behind Erica’s work. Read on to discover what Erica finds to be the most gratifying part of teaching, why she often cautions those looking to go into the design and architecture field, and her first memory of Apiece Apart.
Where did you grow up and did your upbringing shape your current career path?
I grew up in Long Beach, California, in a classic postwar suburban house with parks, libraries, and bookstores all within walking distance. I had a lot of independence as a child. This positive experience of the suburbs shaped how I view built landscapes as more than their stereotypes. I think immigrant neighborhoods and overlooked spaces in North America are as equally worth studying as so-called architecture with a capital A.
Whose design or architectural work do you admire the most?
I tend to focus more on ethos and design process rather than the architectural object because buildings and designed spaces are constantly undergoing transformation. In design education, we often talk about participatory or collaborative design, and more recently there have been more conversations about co-authoring. I admire thinkers such as Christopher Alexander and J.B. Jackson for highlighting the emotional power of vernacular design. I also greatly admire Assemble, a collective of makers, designers, architects and philosophers. We still associate design with specific individuals, which perpetuates a labor system that is exploitative, extractive, and often invisible to the general public. I appreciate Assemble’s commitment to an embedded process that creates spaces for public life.
What is your favorite part of being an educator?
I have been an educator for half my life, and the most gratifying part is working alongside students for the entire duration of their program. Teaching is like an apprenticeship, by slowly introducing concepts and techniques, our goal is for students to develop their own working method. It’s such a privilege to witness a student’s development during such formative years, and to know that I have played a role in their education. The relationship between an educator and their students is so special to me. I feel lucky to be able to talk to young people because I learn so much from their unique experiences. There’s nothing better than being challenged to approach a familiar topic in a new way.
How did you discover Apiece Apart?
I was a graduate student living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I remember reading about Apiece Apart in a magazine in 2008. This was before “capsule wardrobe” was a part of our language, and I was very taken with the idea that you could build up your wardrobe slowly and deliberately over the years. I wasn’t able to afford any of the pieces back then, but the message stuck with me.
If you could use three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?
Makeshift, guileless, ardent.
Is there anything about you that people are surprised by when they learn about it?
Although architectural history is in my Instagram handle, people are still surprised that I actually am an architectural historian. They’re also surprised that my account is a hobby and that I spend most of my time teaching, researching, and writing.
What advice would you give to people trying to get into the design and architecture field?
I can’t sugarcoat a profession that has participated in so many harmful practices, from segregation to environmental devastation. Being who I am, I have to be frank with students and anyone interested in becoming a designer or architect. I believe there are other possible ways to practice, but the paths aren’t easy to see from here. I think the most important thing is to develop an understanding of yourself. Read widely, look at everything, talk to people about what is meaningful to them, listen without judgment. As with most things, you have to develop skills of attunement. Does something resonate with you? Can you make minor adjustments to come into balance with other people and forces? Unless you have a strong sense of self, it’s difficult to respond to design challenges with integrity.
What is one piece of clothing in your closet that you couldn’t live without?
The one piece of clothing I can’t live without is my Milena Silvano Moon Vest. Similar to Apiece Apart, I learned about her work years ago. I was finally able to pre-order a vest last fall, and it immediately became my everyday winter layer. The design is so well-considered, it’s reversible and can easily layer over my bulkiest sweaters and even coats, and it’s so cozy belted. I appreciate that it has a very strong aesthetic yet complements nearly everything in my closet. It is also the softest sheepskin that feels so good to wear.