Urban Intensity Architects
Wee Jinbok has studied major in Architecture at Seoul and received AA Diploma from AA School in London. He expanded professional experience at Michael Hopkins and Richard Rogers office and established Urban Intensity Architects (UIA) in Seoul, 2009. His major projects include Samsung-dong Office, Gawngju Universiade Swimming Pool, Doksan Theater, Gwangju Unam-dong Multi-complex Building, and π-Ville 99 of Korea University.
The Infinite Transformation of Containers
Choi Yoonkyung (professor, Chung-Ang University)
In the early stages of modern architecture, many architects have dreamed about mass production by standardizing and mechanizing buildings. As when craft-based manufacturing was replaced by mass production during the Industrial Revolution, the architects of the time imagined and strived to realise architecture made through mechanic assembly with impeccable technology. The endeavour to create modular architecture that permits on-site assembly, factory-manufactured components, standardized modules or the efforts to bring about such construction methods may have understood this as a requirement of the time. Most particularly, the mass production of architecture would have been very appealing at the time of restoration after the World War and to resolve the insufficient housing problem faced by population boom. However, the industrialised form of architecture, to include Le Corbusier’s modular architecture, Archigram’s Plug-in City, and the capsule towers of Metabolists, was presented with very difficult issues to be accepted in a reasonable manner.
The recent trend for container architecture, seen in numerous contexts, seems to be present a new dimension in the architectural dialogue, dealing with these issues at a whole new level. Container architecture can be found in various forms not just in Korea but overseas as well. The idea of stacking standardized containers as modules into a building structure appears to be the realisation of modernism’s dream of standardization and mass production. The container, which was invented in the mid-20th century, was born as a means to transport cargo. Thanks to the advent of containers, logistics costs were slashed and global trade volume exploded, making it a product of a revolutionary idea. Cargo ship with piles of containers is also symbols of Korea’s economic growth. Architects have repurposed containers that were intended to contain cargo that would contain the lives and activities of humans. In a way, the recycling of containers is not that shocking, since they were made to hold something, and that they have long been used as temporary structures in construction sites and farms. The recent trend of container architecture has surpassed the temporary characteristics of containers and has expanded the potential for an aesthetic dialogue with variations that create similar elements.
The architect of π-vile 99 shows exquisite layering methods when stacking containers in a disorderly yet somewhat orderly fashion.
The structural risk created by the removal of the walls has been reinforced with the steel trusses outside of the A-block, another different style of layering and variation methods used from the B-block.
The π-ville 99 of Korea University shows in a delicate manner the types of variations that container architecture can bring. π-ville 99 has two buildings: B-block (Studio building) and A-block (multi-purpose building). Those consist of one unit which houses the creative works of start-up companies, start-up clubs of students, studios, and open labs and one with large lecture rooms, exhibition rooms, and attached facilities. Wee Jinbok shows exquisite layering methods when stacking containers in a disorderly yet somewhat orderly fashion. The containers of the Creativity Building have been stacked in intervals, excellently satisfying its function as an office, conference, and work space. The vacant spaces in between the containers are used as aisles, rest areas, and staircases. The various colours of the containers and in-between spaces display a playfully changing loop of algorithm. The A-block has a different layering method. The main lecture room and attached facilities are stacked into two stories with four containers being stacked in parallel. The inside of the lecture room is three containers’ width, with an open height of two containers, meaning that the dividing walls of the containers have been removed. The structural risk created by the removal of the walls has been reinforced with the steel trusses outside of the A-block, another different style of layering and variation methods used from the B-block.
The two building units are connected by a bridge. The handrail of the bridge, open terrace, and the naturally made balcony through opening the container doors all share the same metallic form and symmetry, giving consistency to the structure. That is why the stairs that have been made of stone seems a bit off. Most of the floors of the exterior have been covered with lumber decks, providing harmony with the steel handrail and a cheerful sense, but for whatever reason, portions of the stairs are stone, creating a discomforting, clashing, heavy feel. Yet, this feature can only be temporarily observed through the scrutiny into the cheerfulness and variations that the entire building gives.
Wee Jinbok received the spotlight through his previous container architecture project, the Yeongdeungpo Jjokbangchon Temporary Container Dwellings. The Jjokbangchon project was a temporary structure that has fulfilled its short-term function. The containers are no longer there, either dismantled or being used elsewhere. π-ville 99 does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. π-ville 99 intentionally utilised disposed containers, which is why the containers have bumpy surfaces. The building shouts out ‘I am recycled thrown out containers’. Despite this, the containers of π-ville 99 are not temporary, but permanent—at least that is the current plan. These containers will not be moved or changed. The containers are fulfilling their innate calling by just appearing to be moved or replaced soon. Much like experienced brick-makers who create various forms from the same bricks, Wee Jinbok’s containers show an extravagant and infinite variations of forms and derived meaning using the same elements.
Choi Yoonkyung has studied at Yonsei University and UC Berkeley, and received Ph.D. from Georgia Tech. He is teaching at Chung-Ang University and has acted as professional advisor at such significant international competitions as Seoul City Hall, Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Seosomun Historic Park.
The handrail of open terrace and the naturally made balcony through opening the container doors all share the same metallic form and symmetry, giving consistency to the structure.
Adding Imagination to Containers
Starting your own company is no longer an alien topic in universities these days. According to the ‘2015 Report on University Industry-Academia Cooperation Activities’, published last December by the Ministry of Education and National Research Foundation of Korea, the number of university start-up clubs in 2015 alone totaled 4,380, a whopping 126.6% increase from 2012’s 1,933. As the indexes suggest, we undoubtedly live in an era of start-ups. Each university has students starting their own businesses. In addition, the Korea Federation of SMEs and corporations are supporting the start-ups of university students. It seems as if certain schools are incorporating this trend into their academic activities, with Korea University unveiling a curious start-up centre on campus.
The Need for a New Place
buildings. Eunice Ja Young Kim (assistant professor, Korea University) explained that the school ‘planned on forming a new type of space for the students. The need for something new on campus was an idea shared by all school officials’. The new building, named π-ville 99, adopts the notion of the ‘pioneers’ with the hope that students expand their creativity into new frontiers. The 17 studios are not provided only to students that have start-ups, and perfection is not demanded of the applicants. The plan is to support those with the potential to move into the next phase of start-up preparation with the school’s selfestablished human network and mentoring system. Such a programme stands out from that of the start-up centres of other schools. Adding to that, the use of scrapped containers in the construction of π-ville 99 has created an excellent opportunity for Korea University to form a new architectural identity. Kim added that ‘you learn something different by visiting eccentric places, and that will stimulate the students’. Korea University went with recycled containers because it was an eco-friendly and economical course of action and because they thought that the containers, which have been all around the world, comply with their aim of creating an innovative space to share striking new content.
The Recycling and Potential of Containers
There are numerous design proposals that use modularized containers that depend upon the stacking method. Wee Jinbok (principal, Urban Intensity Architects) created a highly practical outdoor space by utilising cantilevers instead of simply stacking the containers, shaping the piled containers to create double decked spaces. Such an approach demonstrates an architectural expansiveness. To realise diverse forms, various methods were devised for the connection points of the containers and for structural support. Chung Kwangryang (principal, Dongyang Structural Engineers Group) commented that ‘generally, the exterior of containers become the structure. But there are certain difficulties to using the exterior of containers for maritime transport as the structure. To compensate for these weaknesses, steel frames were installed for structural reinforcement’. The π-ville 99 not only recycles containers, but also the furniture. The desks and chairs of π-ville 99 were all reformed furniture that had been at the school for 50 – 60 years, still bearing the doodles done by former students.
The Expandability of University Brand
π-ville intends to install basic units to produce a dynamic structure allowing for students to have a space in which to devise ideas, enabling independent activities and interaction both on and off campus. In addition to the recently completed π-ville 99, there are plans for a second and third version of the start-up centre. π-ville 148 (provisional) will be constructed off campus in front of the main gate. The current plan is to stack roughly 19 containers reaching gross floor area 495㎡ and to use pilotis at the ground level to connect the front and back area of the site. Architect Wee Jinbok noted that ‘universities have overly strict boundaries. I hope that schools naturally expand out on such unconfined paths’. π-ville 148’s site is narrow and long. Programmes are being planned to avoid the heavy pressure that will be located at the lower reaches of the structure of the building. Even though this is pending construction, there is a plan for installing moving containers with a mechanic system. If this plan comes to life, it would be an opportunity to elevate the architectural potential of containers. The third phase plan has yet to select a site. Korea University hopes that π-ville will become a space for students to communicate and in which the experience of seniors will be passed down and expanded upon.
The inside of the lecture room is three containers’ width, with an open height of two containers, meaning that the dividing walls of the containers have been removed.
Circulation of B-block is designed with courtyard to allow various communications.
The use of scrapped containers in the construction of π-ville 99 has created an excellent opportunity for Korea University to form a new architectural identity.
Architect: Urban Intensity Architects (Wee Jinbok)
Design team: Jeong Sungeun, Lee YoungJun, Sung Sejong, Yoon Eunah, Kim Bokyeon
Construction: SG ShinSung Construction Co., Ltd. (president, Lee Myongkeun)
Location: Anam-dong 50-1, Seongbuk-Gu, Seoul, Korea
Programme: educational research facility
Site area: 1,328㎡
Building area: 539.47㎡
Gross floor area: 999.04㎡
Building scope: A — 4F / B — 5F
Height: A — 11.1m / B — 14.4m
Building to land ratio: 46.61%
Floor area ratio: 86.31%
Structure: steel, container structure
Exterior finishing: chlorinated rubber paint
Interior finishing: fire resistance gypsum board
Branding identity design: Kerb
Furniture design: Kwangho Lee
Structural engineer: Dongyang Structural Engineers Group
Mechanical and electric engineer: Daedo engineering
Design period: Dec. 2015 — June 2016
Construction period: July — Oct. 2016
Client: Korea University (president, Yeom Jaeho)
Client director: Cho Kichan
Director of π-ville, KU: Chung Seok (associate professor, Mechanical Engineering, Korea Univ.)
edited by Kong Eulchae | photographed by Kyungsub Shin
materials provided by Urban Intensity Architects