A Young Architect’s Process from Concept to Construction to Cigarette featured in Indian Architect & Builder


Preliminary model of the pavilion (Photo by Karen Chi-Chi Lin)

Preliminary model of the pavilion (Photo by Karen Chi-Chi Lin)

My very first internship was in Bangladesh with Panigram Resort, an eco-boutique resort in a rural farming town outside of Jessore, Bangladesh. I had no idea that it would ignite an insatiable curiosity about South Asia that would lead me back to the region several years later. I arrived in Kerala, India in 2012 not only with the amazing opportunity to return to a similar tropical biome and region, I had also returned to the same hospitality and resort family! Raxa Collective collaborates with Panigram Resort to help train Panigram Resort’s future leadership and staff.

When I was working at Panigram Resort, I was tasked with building a temporary pavilion for hosting potential investor meals and events. It seemed like an uphill battle for me at the time: I was young (19 years old); I was female; and I was a foreigner. Who would listen to me? I recently shared my story and was awarded the Young Designers 2014 Award by the Indian Architects & Builders (IA&B) magazine. I hope you, too, will enjoy my anecdote about the process from concept to construction … and finally, acceptance.

Panigram Resort banquet pavilion from start to finish (Photo by Karen Chi-Chi Lin)

Panigram Resort banquet pavilion from start to finish (Photo by Karen Chi-Chi Lin)

I have never felt more accomplished than when I was handed a cigarette. Of course that requires an explanation. Continue reading

5 Reasons I See India’s Potential to Produce A Stararchitect

Stararchitect” conjures up a cloud of thoughts (Star architecture. Star power. Architecture as a symbol. The North Star for architectural design. Brand. Design. Fame. Architecture prowess. Household name.), but above all, I think of The Pritzker Prize. I feel like the weather channel for  announcing the next “big thing” in architecture is The Pritzker Prize. The weather channel is telling you “you better keep this in mind ’cause you’ll need that umbrella!” The Pritzker Prize is telling you “you better keep this name in mind ’cause you’ll need that knowledge to understand the state of the world you live in.”

Ningbo History Museum by architect Wang Shu

Ningbo History Museum by architect Wang Shu

2012’s Pritzker Prize Laureate was Wang Shu, a Chinese architect famed for his re-use of building rubble in his designs. Expansive facades feature roof tiles and bricks from the demolished village that previously existed on that very site. The Pritzker Prize choice of Wang Shu tells us:

1.) Sustainability is important. The reappropriated construction refuse reminds us of the Three Four Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It also reminds us that sustaining heritage and history is important.

2.) China is a powerful country with a powerful new identity. This is the first time a Chinese architect has been named. The closest the Pritzker has ever gone to a Chinese architect before was when I.M. Pei was recognized as a Chinese-American architect.

Detail of reused rubble in the facade of the Ningbo History Museum by architect Wang Shu

Detail of reused rubble in the facade of the Ningbo History Museum by architect Wang Shu

It’s rare to see a non-western architect. So I thought, has there been an Indian Pritzker Prize winner before?

The answer is no. (But I wouldn’t be surprised if Indian architecte Charles Correa is a nominee soon!)

While it may still be a long time before we see an Indian Pritzker Prize winner, I feel that India has the potential will definitely produce a stararchitect in the future. Here are 5 reasons why I see India’s potential to produce a starachitect.

Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal by Charles Correa Architects, photographed by José Campos of arqf architectural photography

Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal by Charles Correa Architects, photographed by José Campos of arqf architectural photography

5 Reasons I See India’s Potential to Produce A Stararchitect
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What Makes the Baya Weaver’s Nest a Baya Weaver’s Nest?

“Pick a nest.”

It was the first day of my architectural design studio class and we were told to pick a nest, any nest. I knew this was going to be a great semester: the first assignment was seemingly random, kooky, and just a little ‘out there.’ I was excited! As an architecture student, I love when things are approached in such a non-traditional way.

I know what you must be thinking: aren’t architects supposed to be designing buildings for people? Why are you looking at bird nests?!

I, too, was confused, but I didn’t question it because I had a really cool nest in mind. Because I spent the summer in India with bird-lover and birder extraordinaire, Ben Barkley, the Baya Weaver Bird, who builds its iconic hanging nests around the backwaters of Kerala, was an obvious choice.

Here are my “comprehensive drawings” of the Baya Weaver Bird that attempt to explain the complex relationships the bird maintains with its surroundings.

2nd Draft of Baya Weaver Nest Comprehensive Drawing (By Karen Chi-Chi Lin)

My 2nd draft of Baya Weaver nest comprehensive drawing (Photograph and drawing by Karen Chi-Chi Lin)

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Full Circle

One minute ago, I opened my laptop to begin writing this blogpost, seated at gate 3 in Cochin International Airport.

One hour ago, I was in line waiting to enter the airport without a print out (evidently, an iPhone picture of my flight itinerary is not the same idea).

Two hours ago, I was frantically transcribing my “I miss you” letters in Bangla onto elephant dung paper as I ate my last dinner with the interns. It was chicken and “Indian-style salad.”

Transcribed Letters

Transcribed letters, thank you to Marfy (the F&B Management trainee from Panigram) for the translation!

Three years ago, I was in the same position. I was in South Asia, I had just finished an internship at an eco resort, and I was already contemplating how I would come back. I sat in Bangladesh’s major international airport thinking about how my past two months at Panigram (which, coincidentally is being developed and will be operated by La Paz Group, the organization responsible for Raxa Collective) were so wonderful, enriching, eye-opening, and everything in between and that I had to come back to see the boutique resort completed.  Would it be just an emotional return? Maybe getting a tattoo in Bangla script? Would I come back for my “I’m done with undergrad” senior trip?

Spending two months in Bangladesh with three hotelies afforded me everlasting friendships and a fondness for South Asia. Jonathon and I, specifically, tag-teamed each other around the world. We would meet in exotic cities all around the globe, any city was fine, just not Jessore, Bangladesh. We had a pact for that: “we’re going back to Panigram together, okay?”

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A Learning Laboratory (Stop Motion Video!)

Yesterday, Jonathon, Siobhan, Milo, and I moved into one of the new Raxa Collective properties under development. As the four of us huddled silently under our covers, the backwaters of Kerala’s nighttime accompanied Jonathon’s ghost stories…

Instead of spooky tales, though, today I want to share with you another story Jonathon narrates, Raxa Collective presents “A Learning Laboratory.” It’s a short video, Jonathon (narrator), Sunnie (illustrator), Siobhan (director), and I (producer) put together with the help of all the staff and summer interns to highlight some of the best anecdotes of how Raxa Collective’s Cardamom County ecolodge has acted as a “learning laboratory” for its staff, international trainees, and summer interns.


Top 3 Words to Avoid When Talking Shop with Architects

We are working in Cochin and sometimes I feel like I am speaking two different languages. I’m not talking about struggling with mixing English and Malayalam. I’m not talking about scratching my head each time I encounter an Indian head shake/nod (“Wait- was that a yes or a no?”). I’m talking about the client’s language vs. the architect’s language.

This internship really is a “living laboratory.” I am getting a chance to sit on the client side and discuss ideas with the architects that will push Raxa Collective’s vision forward. Crist and Amie have worked with the design team side by side on each project and I am starting to understand how they think, how to make sure my drawings, renderings, and presentations can be clearer, and more. Sitting in on these design meetings in which the architect and clients discuss, propose, discuss, present, discuss, discuss, and discuss some more, I realize…

It’s like talking shop at an auto repair.

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5 Lenses For Every Vacation

Hey guys,

All of us photobugs and travel-junkies have struggled with the age-old question: which lens should I bring on my River Escapes backwaters adventure or my Roman holiday or my trip to the moon?

As a casual photographer, I’m not crazy about specs. I don’t get the numbers and technical terms! JUST TELL IT TO ME STRAIGHT! I know there are people out there who are like me, so Ben, Milo, and I will make it as easy as possible to understand which lens YOU need to bring on your next vacation! We’d also love to know what YOU brought on your last vacation!

See which of description fits you best:

  1. I’m out to shoot wildlife. Tell me what I need to know.
  2. I love architecture and the built world. What should I bring with me?
  3. I’m a tourist who’s going to stick out like a sore thumb, but I really want to capture candid portraits of interesting people– help!
  4. I’m going to a naturey place filled with dust/humidity/dirt/whatever and I don’t want to constantly change my lens. What’s the best daily walk-around lens?
  5. I’m going on a service trip and I’ll be working on a construction site. How do I make it look epic?
Here’s what we’ll be introducing from our private collections today:
  1. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM with 2x extender
  2. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
  3. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8
  4. Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
  5. Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS


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“I found love when I was 6”: A Story of Tattoos and Love

There are many things I could have named this blog post, but I decided it should sound scandalous, it should sound crazy, it should sound epic. I mean, what is more scandalous, more crazy, and more epic than falling in love when you’re is only 6 years old?

Getting a tattoo? No.

Getting a tatttoo at 6? No.

Getting a tattoo of your true love at 6? Now that, my friends, is crazy.

Kamal's Tattoo of his wife's name, Meena

Kamal’s Tattoo of his wife’s name, Meena

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Kaiser the Puppy and the Rising Middle Class in India

Three days ago, we pulled up in front of an art deco gate and half-abandoned mansion on the property of a soon-to-be new RAXA Collective resort. By ‘we’ I mean the design team comprising of an architecture student (me, Chi-Chi), a landscape architecture student (Rania), a hotelie-turned-interior architecture student (Jonathon), and an engineering student (Siobhan). We were told to get a feel of the property.

Trusty Guard at Marari Beach

We, the interns, walked around the property with Amie and the trusty guard. The bamboo stick to protect against rumored snakes on the beach.

We found: ‘objects’ (modest fishermen’s homes); an endless, unobstructed beach with marbled sand and black waves; and our new favorite hangout spot, a nearby internet café.

Exploring the ObjectsRania Inspects a Decorative Statement Wall

Guard and us exploring the roofline

Exploring the roofline of an abandoned wealthy fisherman’s house with the guard.

Kaiser found: two Indian security guards; their next-door-neighbor friend; our cook Manu; and us.

Kaiser is a tiny mixed puppy who arrived on site only an hour before we did. As a dog-lover and all-around “everything happens for a reason” believer, I KNEW KAISER WAS A SIGN. A sign for what, I don’t really know, but he was a very cute and very small sign, so I immediately focused all my down-time obsessing and fussing over Kaiser.

Kaiser the Puppy

This is Kaiser.

I think Kaiser gave me more insight to Indian attitudes. It’s very difficult to converse with someone about abstract ideas without a common language, but if you throw a dog in the mix, it becomes a lot easier.

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