Godeok 119 Safety Center
Cheon Janghwan + Studio I
Cheon Janghwan graduated from the Architectural Engineering School of Yonsei University and received his M.Arch from Columbia University in U.S. He then worked for five years in New York and Boston, working on diverse projects. From the autumn of 2009, he taught students for three years as an assistant professor at Nebraska State University. Now, from September of 2012, he works as an assistant professor in the Architecture School of Kyung Hee University as well as a public architecture supervisor for Seoul. Also, through Emer-sys, he is undertaking various research and publishing projects. He received the Kim Swoo Geun Preview Award for Hangdong Kindergarten in 2015, and he is the author of the book The Two Masters Who Changed the Contemporary Architecture.
The white joints crossing up and down the crisp, black exterior are reminiscent of a classic pinstripe suit with white stitching, as if to say that this is the latest fashion trend.
Where are the Heroes?
Joh Hahn (professor, Hongik University)
On one side of the street, tightly packed three-to-four storey commercial buildings line it like a fortress wall, while on the other side stands newly opened apartment buildings soaring towards the sky. Contrasted with the anonymous, yellow and crimson commercial buildings, across whose worn façades the past three decades can be felt. The colossal apartment buildings on the adjacent side are clearly and sharply marked by their ‘brand tag’, as if having just emerged from a gift box. A black building stands on a corner where the life of the housing zone created by the Housing Site Development Promotion Act of the 1980s, faces the altogether different life created by the District Unit Planning of the 2000s. The white joints crossing up and down the crisp, black exterior are reminiscent of a classic pinstripe suit with white stitching, as if to say that this is the latest fashion trend. However, this elegance completely hides the interior like a suit of armour. The building seeks to say neither what its function is, nor who it is for. If you approach the building, assuming that it is an office or neighbourhood facility, you wouldn’t realise that it’s a fire station until you’re faced with the red firetrucks sitting in the huge garage or the 119 sign affixed to one side of the building. This building is the Gangdong Fire Station Godeok 119 Safety Center.
The wating room corridor in particular allows one to a refreshing view out onto the streets, where pedestrians pass.
The path down to the garage from the transparent day room via the orange staircase serves as yet another ‘street’, which allows the residents and firemen to meet.
The double-height garage is quite impressive. The garage – which is created by drawing in the exposed concrete finish and the black steel plates on the upper half of the street façade – feels wider and taller than the horizontal section of the exposed concrete finish, formed with pine board and the streams of sunlight that pour vertically into the space via the skylights. In addition, the visibility of the interior space, located beyond the second floor glass windows of the garage, adds a sense of depth to the space. A wating room for the standing by is located within this interior space. The dramatic scenes of firemen sliding down a fireman’s pole have often been depicted in films. However, as such poles have been replaced with staircases, due to recent safety issues, the architect found a clever way to solve the problem of firemen’s safety and dispatch times by creating a double-height garage and placing the day room on the second floor. The waiting room corridor in particular allows one to a refreshing view out onto the streets, where pedestrians pass, and provides views into the garage as well as creating chances for the firemen and residents to catch glimpses of each other. Therefore, this corridor provides an opportunity for the fire fighters to be recognised not as abstract figures who merely put out fires, but as neighbourhood residents. In this way, the path down to the garage from the transparent day room via the orange staircase serves as yet another ‘street’, which allows the residents and firemen to meet.
An interesting aspect of the interior is that, the firefighters’ unique way of life, which has evolved over many decades, collides with the new spaces provided by the architect. It is also constantly transformed: for the convenience of dispatch, the private rooms planned by the architect revert back into a large, single space; the third floor multi-purpose room, which was originally intended as a meeting and recreational space, was converted into a ‘Firefighter Healing Center’ provided by the Korea Veterans Health Service and the interior was refinished in wood trim, reminiscent of a Metro rest area. As if rejecting the latest architectural trends which emphasise abstract forms in which meaning has been expunged or the attraction of the material itself, those spaces do not seek to let go of an everyday language that creates meaning through associations and analogies.
About the façade of the building, which was created by delicately folding black steel plates over it, the architect explained that he wanted to ‘create an image of a dynamic 119 Safety Center’.
There is no 119 signboard that can be found at the top of ordinary fire stations. Instead, in its place, holes have been indiscriminately punched into the steel plate to form a ‘119’. LED lights placed behind this surface twinkle like stars at night.
The conflict between the ‘language’ of contemporary architecture and our everyday language can also be ‘read’ in the 119 sign. On this building there is no 119 signboard that can be found at the top of ordinary fire stations. Instead, in its place, holes have been indiscriminately punched into the steel plate to form a ‘119’. LED lights placed behind this surface twinkle like stars at night. The architect said that he ‘wanted to express the notion that the firefighters shine like the stars’. However, the problem was that this ‘twinkling’ might not be perceived as a ‘119’, not just by the general public, but by the firefighters living in the space as well.
We often paint firefighters as heroic figures. However, in actuality it is not easy to ‘read’ firefighters in fire stations. Rather, more and more they seem to be getting erased. The change in name from ‘Fire Dispatch Station’ to ‘119 Safety Center’ reflects this. These days we are surrounded by ‘centres’. Service centres, health centres, and so on. Even police stations are now being called ‘safety centres’. Regarding this change, a fire station employee remarked that this was an attempt at creating the ‘image of a friendly fire fighting service’▼1 or a more ‘pleasant image’.▼2 The problem is that there are actually no firefighters under such an ‘image’. There are only ‘friendly images’ and ‘pleasant images’. Even when it was known as the Fire Dispatch Station, if there wasn’t a garage from which fire trucks came and went, it wouldn’t be easy to distinguish whether the building was a fire station, police station or even just a public office building at all. Taking into account the façade of the building, which was created by delicately folding black steel plates over it, the architect explained that he wanted to ‘create an image of a dynamic 119 Safety Center’, however, there is only dynamism and there is no telling the nature of the actual created ‘image’.
The building seeks to say neither what its function is, nor who it is for. If you approach the building, assuming that it is an office or neighbourhood facility.
If Talking Architect (2011) – a documentary film depicting the life and philosophy of architect Chung Guyon – succeeded as a box office hit, then City: Hall (2013), a film narrating the process of the new Seoul City Hall building, was not much of a success, regardless of its high-level of execution. The reason for this may be because ‘what a building says’ is much more difficult to comprehend than ‘what the architect says’. The origins of ‘L’architecture Parlante’ (Speaking Architecture)▼3 can be traced back to the French, neo-classicist architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s (1736 — 1806) proposal for the ‘Ideal City of Chaux’. Ledoux’s Ideal City was partially realised in the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, located in the outskirts of Besançon, where each of the buildings are designed to say whom to which they belong. Reassembling the architectural elements of Greek and Roman pavilions, the ‘Director’s house’ attempts to embody authority, while the complex for refining salt sought to indicate, through its high roof, that it was a space for labourers. In addition, the fence at the entrance of the saltworks plant was built in a form reminiscent of rock salt, and in many places the form of salt water on the verge of crystallization is used as ornamentation, dramatically expressing the function of the site. Starting in the 1920s with buildings such as Erich Mendelsohn’s (1887 — 1953) Einstein Tower (1921) and Hans Poelzig’s (1869 — 1936) grand theatre Grosses Schauspielhaus (1919), this expressionist tendency has all but vanished following the hegemonic dominance of Modernist Architecture based on a more abstract architectural language. Beginning with the Buyeo National Museum controversy in 1967, in which quarrels took place regarding the building’s form that resembled a Japanese Shinto shrine, in Korea, ‘speaking architecture’ has become mostly extinct as a result of the hegemony of sympathetic discourse.▼4 Of course, along with the advent of Western Postmodernism in the 1980s, ‘attempts to speak about Korean-ness’ through the form and tiles of the roof can still occasionally be found. If this is so, might it be that architecture speaking about firefighters is passé?
If you examine the changing history of Korea’s firefighting organisational system, you will find that the country almost never possessed a completely independent system. After the collapse of the Sungsu Bridge in 1994 and the Sampoong Department Store disaster in 1995, the chief of the Firefighters Office assumed command and control of all emergency and rescue operations. In 2004 the National Emergency Management Agency was brought into being as an external office of the Ministry of the Interior, taking on the central role and presiding over the functioning of disaster prevention, preparation, response and recovery, as well as fire and civil defense operations.▼5 With this exception, the firefighting organisation always existed as a sub-department of the Police Bureau, the Civil Defense Corps or the local government. Under such circumstances, the attempt to ‘speak’ architecturally about firefighters as a separate entity has not been easy.
Under these circumstances, where a particular ‘fireman image’ is absent, perhaps the best the architect could do was provide a space that would maximize the convenience of the firefighters, dress the building in an elegant suit that would represent the latest trends and to diminish the distance between the residents and firemen, rather than to ‘speak’ about firefighters through architecture.
We are often captivated by the heroic figures of Marvel and DC comics. The Batmobile emerges from the thick fog which covers the city, Superman hovers in the air enveloped in a halo of sunlight like a god, The Avengers rise above the sea forming a fortress with their shields – regardless of the story, the scenes themselves incite feelings of admiration and reverence. Why shouldn’t our firefighters also appear in this way? I would like to see a building which, as in Homer’s epic poems, depicts our firefighters heroically. Laying down the abstract ‘language’ of contemporary architecture, which is fast losing its effectiveness, and the spatial hegemony triggered by the trauma of the Buyeo National Museum controversy, can we now once again make further attempts to speak more freely through architecture?
Joh Hahn was born in 1969 in Seoul, Korea. Graduating from Yale University School of Architecture, he studied architecture at Hongik University in Seoul. Receiving the Korean Young Architect Award in 2009, and the 2010 Seoul Architecture Award in Korea, he is presently a professor at Hongik School of Architecture and the head of HAHN Design, researching architectural experiment at the edges of space and time in Architecture/Philosophy/Cinema.
1. Geoje Times, 6 November, 2006, http://www.geojetimes.co.kr/news/articleview.html?idxno=16339
2. Gangwon Shinmun, 4 October, 2006, http://www.gwnews.org/news/articleView.html?idxno=2223
3. Mallgrave, Harry Francis, Architectural Theory: An Anthology from Vitruvius to 1870, Blackwell Publishing, 2005, p.191.
4. Jo Hahn, Space of the Body, Space of the Eyes — The Space Office of Kim Swoo Geun of the Architect, Contemporary Art History Research, Vol. 38, 2015.
5. Fire and Disaster Prevention Newspaper, 9 November, 2015, http://fpn119.co.kr/sub_read.html?uid=45394§ion=sc102
Architect: Cheon Janghwan (Kyung Hee University) + Studio I (Lee Taeyoung)
Design team: Lim Hongryang (Emer-sys), Choi Myeonghun (Kyung Hee University), Jang Jungin (Kyung Hee University)
Location: 133, 156-gil, Yangjae-daero, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, Korea
Programme: fire station
Site area: 660㎡
Building area: 355.97㎡
Gross floor area: 827.52㎡
Building scope: 3F
Building to land ratio: 53.93%
Floor area ratio: 125.38%
Exterior finishing: exposed concrete, galvalume color steel plate
Interior finishing: painting on gypsum board, exposed concrete
Mechanical engineer: Ju-Sung MEC
Electrical engineer: Hangil Engineering
Construction: Woori Kyungan Construction
Supervision: Cheon Janghwan (Kyung Hee University) + Studio I (Lee Taeyoung)
Design period: Feb. – June 2015
Construction period: Sep. 2015 – May 2016
Client: Gangdong Fire Station
edited by Park Gyehyun | photographed by Kyungsub Shin
materials provided by Cheon Janghwan + Studio I