Sangjoon Kwak received his bachelors degree in Architecture from Yonsei University. He gained his professional experience at Space YEON Architects and Mass Studies. In 2012, with his partner Sojung Lee, he established OBBA and has engaged in numerous projects. He is currently teaching architecture in a studio at Hongik University.
Sojung Lee received a masters degree in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania
after graduating from the Environmental Design Department at Ewha Womans University. Following her postgraduate studies, she worked at O.M.A in Rotterdam and at Mass Studies in Seoul. In 2012, she founded OBBA with her partner Sangjoon Kwak. She is currently teaching architecture in a studio at Yonsei University.
The house comes into view, with its low-lying stone walls located at one corner of the hilly village on the inlands of Ganghwa-do.
Between Diagrams and Construction
Jinwook Lee (principal, Lee&Hwang Architects)
I made my way to Ganghwa-do early in the morning, filled with curiosity about how this house, with a clearly visible diagram on its plan that fits its title ‘The Layers’, appears on the site, and what actual force felt in the diagram exudes in that location. Although I was looking forward to seeing how the sunlight shines down and moves in and out of the house all day long, the cloudy weather forced me to take a raincheck on observing that particular sight. The house comes into view, with its low-lying stone walls located at one corner of the hilly village on the inlands of Ganghwa-do. Its presence is adequately concealed but still perceivable.
First, on the outside, the one-storey house seemed sufficient enough to deliver an appreciation of the landscape and its surroundings, placed between the mountain at the back and overlooking the reservoir far ahead. It was therefore understandable why the architect and the client of the house chose not to build it taller and to maintain the impressive views. The house therefore occupies the centre of the elongated, slanted site with a gentle simplicity. The outside space is divided into two, where one part is a garden near the reservoir, located on the north, and the other near the hill on the south. How much space and which part of the site the house occupies may in fact be a significant point at which a new order is given to the surrounding environment, before putting forward specific designs for a building. The strategy of the architect here is to build the house in a flattened manner at the centre of an elongated site, thereby creating a new landscape for a front and backyard. The house as a building therefore serves as a link as well as a border between the yards. One may then wonder what the inside would look like: most particularly it stimulates one’s curiosity as to what role the four layers of the house as printed in the floor plan, as well as the stone walls, can play, and how the diagram of the layers will make a difference to the space in terms of its style.
To set out my conclusions first, it raises questions as to why the interior was designed with these particular features. The diagram of the layers, and the stone walls that highlight them, do not seem to create an effect upon the levels that one may expect from the outside, because the differences between the layers are so subdued inside. The stone walls, whose layers are divided into different lengths, as regards the physical and environmental features, create terraces or a flower garden adjacent to the front garden and backyards, serving as a framework which marks out the landscape as different. In this respect, the surrounding walls seem to be carrying significance in and of themselves.
In fact, it is an approach of sagacity that deploys walls as a clever architectural tool, overlooking the entire landscape so that the outside space on the north and the south are communicating in their own unique ways.
However, it is in the rest of the area, other than the border of the south and the north, that the architect could do better. Perhaps it is because the emphasis between the four layers makes one expect each of the four spaces will have some differences in quality. However, the morphology of the indoor space, which is quite different to the space created by the walls outside, does not seem sufficiently different from the four bay apartment plan which are very popular of late. This makes one wonder whether the idea of layers quickly reaches a limit in a flat diagram, and has failed to be translated or expanded into more specific, architectural ideas. Should there have been a difference to the height in layers, and the fan lights squeezing in between that allow for the change of light to be part of one’s daily life; more colourful, rich experiences than simple spatial change coming from partial difference in application of the finishing materials could have been delivered.
In addition, while it may be a sign of avarice on the part of the architect, the stone walls chosen by client of the house could have been used to greater effect as a constructive material which would create the layers themselves, not merely as finishing materials attached to the concrete walls. In this vein, the spatial ideas expressed by the architect in the ‘diagram’ would have struck us as ‘the architecture’ we would have likely expected. It may perhaps be an issue linked to the challenges that most architects, including me, encounter at a point of greatest choices and decisions amidst constraints during actual work. It is for this reason that I have greater expectations of the young architects of this house.
Jinwook Lee graduated from the school of architectural engineering at Hanyang University and March Urban Design course at the Bartlett, UCL in London. He gained his work experience at BCHO Architects Associates, and established his first own practice studio IZZI, completing design works, including Kangkyoung Korean Herb Clinic and the Songhakri House. Through these works, he won the 1st Korean Young Architect Award in 2003. Following this success, he completed a few major buildings, such as M building Renovation, Deep Blue House and Flexform flagship store Seoul. Currently, he is a principal at Lee&Hwang Architects together with his partner, Junghun Hwang, as well as a member of Public Architects of Seoul.
The strategy of the architect here is to build the house in a flattened manner at the centre of an elongated site, thereby creating a new landscape for a front and backyard.
The Functionality and Significance of Walls
Lim Jitaek (assistant professor, Hanyang University)
The houses are calmly situated on the way to the low hills, near the quiet roads that trace a reservoir of Gangwha Island. Surrounded by this temperate environment, the place provides a comfortable, even dramatic, living environment. Moderate slopes make the surrounding towns and the seas embrace the shifts in light and wind. My first impressions of the house have been coloured by the massive sections covered in stone. According to the architects, the house was based on a ‘concept of layering, was employed to symbolise the life of the client depicted as growth rings of a tree’. Walls are here employed as layers and the overall structure of the house is dominated by them. Walls in and of themselves form the structure of the house and accommodate furniture, serving as major divisional tools and partitioning the house into four separate spaces. The architect’s strategy of using walls for spatial division has been truly successful.
However, the overall atmosphere created by these walls leaves much to be desired. First, the walls seem to artificially cut into the landscape as if out of nowhere. They are too large for walls, and yet they are not only too tall − they seem to have been intentionally lengthened, which cuts the scenery in an arbitrary manner. The soft and moderate landscape creates a sense of contrast to the shaping of the walls. The elongated border of the site, which is not realised in the best possible way, seems to have been too easily replaced by the long walls of the house.
Walls are sometimes employed to place an emphasis on the façade. As an abstract and geometric language, walls were the typical architectural method of the De Stijl group, who attempted to dismantle the mass and the volume through the manipulation of planes. Walls in De Stijl are considered as abstract planes that facilitate communication and create movement by dismantling closed space and the mass, rather than as tools for division. Free-standing walls in contemporary architecture resemble the conventions established in De Stijl architecture. However, the walls in the house do not serve that purpose; rather, they seem to be cutting into the space and landscape, like a plaster knife used by sculptors.
Second, the relations between the walls and the spaces in between are unnatural. Typically, when strong walls are used to divide up a space, the space in between has to be made from a property of matter different in nature to that of the walls. The architect may, in typical circumstances, think about what materials to use for the inside and outside, and would probably choose different materials for the windows at the front and back. However, stone walls penetrating the exterior and interior of similar weight render the walls meaningless.
This violates the previously chosen language. The lintels between the windows and roofs also impede the concept of the indoor space.
Third, the attitude of the architect towards materials used remains questionable. Stones were picked to meet the demands of the client, but it is completely up to the architect to choose what to do with their shape and colouring, and how best to utilise them. The colour of the stones and the way in which they have been trimmed are unnatural as the walls were used as the architectural language. Stones in their natural form are usually employed to emphasise the locality of the architecture. On the other hand, geometrically trimmed stones may be used to secure the abstractness of walls. However, the first impression one may get from the stones used in the house is one of unfamiliarity. They do not invoke an impression of the natural world. The architect also imitated an architectural method of stacking living rocks, but the operator of the construction work seemed to lack a deep understanding that the rocks seem to have been patched together like tiles rather than piled up. It might have been greater if geometrically refined was applied instead of rough hewn like living rocks. The walls seem to have been made with stones, but the true property of matter of stones is not found. Roofs too are ambiguous, with a gable and single roof combined. The roofing could have been free between the walls if the walls had already divided up the roofs, but the horizontal continuity created in the penetration of walls renders the entire molding vague. The thick eaves undermine the concept of layers in the space, hardly mixing with the walls.
For all of the previously mentioned reasons, the house in Gangwha is excellently made. The interior and the overall finish is of a fairly high quality for a work done by a group of young, inexperienced architects. The house is truly worthy in its hope to reflect the life of the residents. They seem to have great potential, and I hope they can devise their own architectural language by overcoming the possible challenges ahead.
Lim Jitaek studied architecture at Hanyang University and at the Technische Universität Berlin, FB Architektur. His major works include Daesim-ri House and the Pankyo Y’s House. He is an assistant professor in the architecture department of Hanyang University and also has worked for IAEO Architekten since 2001.
Walls in and of themselves form the structure of the house and accommodate furniture, serving as major divisional tools and partitioning the house into four separate spaces.
Moderate slopes make the surrounding towns and the seas embrace the shifts in light and wind.
Architect: OBBA (Sangjoon Kwak, Sojung Lee)
Project team: Jaeho Kim, Daae Kim
Location: Ganghwa-gun, Incheon-si, Korea
Site area: 2,113㎡ (806㎡)
Building area: 218.68㎡
Gross floor area: 218.68㎡
Building scope: 1F
Building to land ratio: 27.13%
Floor area ratio: 27.13%
Exterior finishing: stone
Interior finishing: painting, stone, tile
Structural engineer: Thekujo (Byungsoon Park)
Mechanical and electrical engineer: IECO
Engineering Construction: Hyosang Construction
Design period: Nov. 2014 ‐ June 2015
Construction period: Aug. 2015 ‐ Jan. 2016
Client: Sungun Kim, Sungja Jun
materials provided by OBBA | photographed by Kyungsub Shin