Tekena Koko, 2021-23 Emerging Scholar in Design

October 15, 2021
Meet Tekena Koko, our 2021-23 Emerging Scholar in Design
Tekena Koko smiles at the camera as he's standing on a balcony that overlooks an urban skyline at dusk

Tekena Koko is the School of Architecture’s 2021-2023 Emerging Scholar in Design Fellow. Working between architecture, arts, and landscape architecture, Tekena is the founder of Tekena Koko Office and was previously a lecturer at the University of Southern California School of Architecture. To introduce Tekena to the School of Architecture community as our newest Emerging Scholar in Design Fellow, we caught up with him to learn about his background, interests, and what he is looking forward to about his time here.

Tell us a bit about your background and your professional trajectory.
I loved cars when I was little and started drawing them when I was about four years old. I was lucky to end up in Los Angeles where the Art Center College of Design is located, so I took a night class in automotive design during my early twenties. Strangely, it was during that class I began to develop a deeper interest in environmental design, so I dropped the class and enrolled in Cal Poly Pomona to study landscape architecture. Later, I studied architecture.  

What are your research and design interests? What drew you to the work you are doing now?
In 2017, I relocated to Germany, and I had a ton of free time so, I was living like a flaneur, roaming the streets and looking at a lot of art. My money began to run out, so I decided to return to Los Angeles a year later. Before I arrived in Los Angeles, I saw a job posting for a media instructor at USC’s MLA program. I figured I had seen enough art to handle a media course, and that was my entry into academia. The result of teaching that first media course morphed into a long-term pursuit. My research focus is on media and representation. I am interested in how aesthetic devices from art practice are applied to architecture and landscape architecture.

Your work strikes a balance between art, architecture, and landscape architecture, and you also have degrees in both architecture and landscape architecture. How does this multifaceted perspective shape your work and teaching? Why do you think it is important to look outside the traditional boundaries of the discipline? 
I am interested in questions concerning where architecture ends (and where everything else begins), this undulating space where things stop being architecture and or becoming architecture, and arts offers the best models to navigate that space. This interest in things that are in transit (and how they move within or exit their respective disciplines) is illuminated in two projects I am currently undertaking. One of which is an installation called Shower Curtain Wall. The other is a paper and series of objects titled TerrafictionsI find it freeing to think about architecture in terms of landscape architecture and vice versa, and even more freeing to think about both fields through frames of thought with origins in the arts. Working laterally across disciplines and media nourishes design ideation in unexpected ways, and this applies to both academia and practice. 

What appealed to you about joining us here at the UT School of Architecture? 
There is an increasing demand for things to have a sort of moral or practical clarity, and, on the surface, my pursuits seem rather decadent and “vague” (as grant committees in the past have characterized it). The fact that UTSOA was on board with my agenda was deeply appealing. The Center for American Architecture and Design was also a huge draw, and I am looking forward to collaborating with the center on projects. Another thing that appealed to me was that there are multiple departments in the school. It is rare to have interior design, architecture, and landscape architecture all under one roof. Beyond the School of Architecture, I was fond of the idea of being in Texas. As a kid (and even now), I was obsessed with America and its culture, and Texas is seemingly more American than America itself. Also, my nickname is ‘Tex,’ so being in Texas somehow felt imminent.

Tell us a bit about what you are teaching this semester. What are you looking forward to during your tenure here?
I am teaching a studio called Performing Objects, Performing Subjects where we are working with a variety of media to develop a building that would house an artist-in-residency program in Austin. Joanna Hogg’s film Exhibition was the starting reference for the studio. We began by unrolling frames of the film into narrative elevations through which a building would emerge. I am most looking forward to interacting with students, bouncing ideas off them, and having stimulating conversations with them alongside the faculty and school staff.

What is something that students and colleagues should know about you?
Back in the day, I was a Registered Nurse, doing hardcore clinical stuff, working the floors, “saving lives.” I have tried many different things, so I am open to all kinds of experiences.

Besides your work, what is something you’re passionate about, or what do you do for fun?
I really like music, and I make mixes. I do a mix series called 'Feeling States.' I also like Liverpool (It is something I inherited from my dad) and I’ve just found out there’s a Liverpool FC supporters’ group in Austin!