by Alex Melnick
Arts & Life Editor
Amarasri “Marci” Songcharoen seems to embody excellence. A 1995 Millsaps Art History & Studio Art alumnus from Madison, Miss., Songcharoen now directs her London based internationally reaching architectural lighting firm, SEAM Design. It’s the kind of story I’ve come to expect out of people from Mississippi: Person applies themself (the good ol’ American Dream is somehow still possible in Mississippi perhaps that is the only place it could ever be) and person succeeds. Person leaves Mississippi. Person comes back to Mississippi every once in a while when we honor them, and to honor it. Songcharoen came back to Mississippi on Feb. 6 to give a talk on the career her Millsaps art degree launched her on.
Songcharoen’s bio states that “her portfolio includes private residences, restaurants, hotels, corporate interiors, museums, retail and large scale luxury lifestyle developments located in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Marci has taught graduate level architecture studio at Boston Architectural College and at University of Pennsylvania’s summer studio.” She is married to Madison native Emory Smith, and together the two lead SEAM Design in remarkable lighting installations and expertly done architectural plans. The firm is innovative: In 2012, SEAM Design provided the technical support
and lighting design for Snow Words, which is located in Anchorage, Alaska. The sculpture is a code-based series of massive light columns that changes its illumination based on season change, temperature change, and the various changes of light over the course of a year. The firm also aided in the creation of
the “Endless Stairs” in London, which is—as one would expect—a staircase of endless stairs. (No, not an escalator.) The wooden staircase is an Escher-like construct, and is more like a maze or the staircases in Harry Potter. SEAM Design also deals in building lighting, like the 77 story Mahanaokhon Tower in Bangkok, Thailand, and the Beirut City Centre.
Songcharoen is a professional. On her February 3rd talk, she arrived dressed in all black, with solely silver outfit accents. The effect was very futuristic, and thus reflects her work. She was polished and at ease with the diverse audience of community members, faculty, and students who came to her lecture and was so composed that freshmen Carly Ronaldi remarked: “she was like Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels.” Songcharoen, who was in town to accept her high school alma mater St. Andrew’s Alumnus award, spoke fondly of both her time at Millsaps and of her graduate work at University of Pennsylvania. Above all else, she highlighted it was the critical thinking skills she learned at Millsaps that allowed her to have such a successful career- SEAM has projects in over 22 countries. The lecture itself was part biographical odyssey into her Millsaps & graduate portfolio, and part breakdown of how Songcharoen constructs her projects. The talk was fairly well attended and the crowd lingered to ask her questions well after the talk was over.
Songchareon has a calm, crisp, NPR reminiscent voice that conveys clearly her determination. When she announced her intentions to follow her childhood dreams of being an architect after graduating college, many people tried to dissuade her because the field was largely male at the time. She recalled in her lecture: “They told me that because I was female, I’d be devoured.” She stated this very neutrally but couldn’t seem to resist remarking right after that, I was only half listening to them anyway.” Throughout the lecture, Songchareon returned again and again to themes of displacement and dislocation and their relation to architectural space. Whether it was her parent’s homeland of Thailand, (which she said she always felt out of place visiting) or being a female in a largely male field, Songchareon appeared to be a no stranger to being a stranger and creates light in liminal fluid buildings that equally reflect the sensibilities of the modern and ancient world. As Dr. Sandra Murchison said at the end of Songchareon’s lecture: the work is overall “mindboggling.”