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HOK Designer Katherine Antarikso Uses Poetry and Dance to Bridge Cultures

Katherine Antarikso

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and a time of year that holds special significance for Katherine Antarikso, a project architect in HOK’s Philadelphia studio who tells stories about migration and tradition through literary and performance art.

I was five years old in Indonesia when I started taking traditional dance classes. Music and dance are highly intertwined in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java where I’m from. When graduating from elementary school, for example, students are required to perform a traditional dance. This was my life until the age of 10, when my father began a doctoral program at Penn State University. My family moved from Jakarta to State College, a small university town in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, and it was quite a culture shock. Though my sister and I continued to perform our traditional dances at events in our new hometown, our dancing never developed as the Indonesian community was small. My time in State College was extended as I was accepted to Penn State’s architecture program. Funny enough, I’m now working on a project at Penn State and it’s a real pleasure to come back to my adopted hometown and alma mater.

My dancing lay dormant until I moved to Philadelphia after college and found an Indonesian dance teacher who was starting a traditional dance company. Dancing rekindled nostalgia for my homeland. It’s the thread that keeps me tethered to my place of birth, and I continue to dance with a group that performs regularly throughout Philadelphia.

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Katherine (center right) performs with members of Modero Dance Company at a recent festival in Philadelphia celebrating the city’s Asian American community. 

Dance and architecture have many similarities. Both are art forms that embody a culture’s values and reflect its traditions. Architecture and dance communicate these values to current and future generations, and both can evolve with new interpretations or choreography to tell new stories. When architects design spaces, we are choreographing a person’s movement and experience within that space. So I think what we do as architects and designers is a lot like dance.

Poetry is a tangible version of the stories I tell through dance. It provides me with another voice to express myself. I write about many subjects, but often return to themes of migration, home and displacement—and the conditions that bring about or are created through these displacements. The art collective that I belong to is made up of persons of color with migrant or immigrant backgrounds who are interested in exploring the intersection of craft and migration in poetry. Being part of this collective has given me opportunities to meet and collaborate with artists in Philadelphia, including contributing a poem for a city-wide exhibit by Mural Arts Philadelphia and being published in a local literary magazine.

HOK’s Asian-American history is a story that resonates with me. I learned about HOK and Gyo Obata while I was in architecture school, and his story is truly inspirational. He faced tremendous challenges and barriers but was able to find a welcoming place that allowed him to fulfill his potential and thrive. It showed me that if he could make it through all of those obstacles, I can too. Representation matters, and I would love to see more minority women in architecture. I want to encourage and bolster the next generation of architects. As part of that desire, I have become a mentor at a local university for their Women In Architecture Chapter. I’m thrilled, too, that our mentoring program in the Philadelphia office kicked off this year. I’m looking forward to helping foster a mentoring culture across all our offices.

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