Oh Sang Hoon
Oh Sang Hoon is a chartered architect (UK) and studied Architecture at Dankook University in Seoul and Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School) in London. He has worked for Adjaye Associates, FOA, HOK and Zaha Hadid Architects in London and founded CTR Form Architects in 2012 in Seoul for his architectural design research and practice. He is currently an assistant professor at Dankook University.
A white building surrounded by grey that can only be seen from the sky, the entire building becomes an object, standing atop a site that is blocked in on all sides.
Nonhyun-dong Multi-storey House - Air Multi-storey
Kim Jaekyung(professor, Hanyang University)
Multi-storey houses are rarely stars of the architectural scene. Architects and even the general public can probably quite easily assert their own opinions on the pros and cons of apartments and multi-storey houses, as they are the representative residential type of South Korea. The multi-storey house, as a mutation of the single-unit house, holds some relevance for this discourse due to its origins in Seoul at a time of explosive population growth in the capital in the 1980s. Yet, aside from the obvious benefits proffered to the owner of the house, it is hard to define exactly what the benefits of living in a multi-storey house are, particularly in terms of the benefits to one’s quality of life, which lie at the heart of the housing issue. Few people who rent out their residences in multi-storey houses would think of where they live as an ideal residence. If not for economic reasons, few would envision a long-term plan for living in such housing. In this sense, the multi-storey house can be thought of as an ever more temporary place of occupation than as an apartment. How many people really consider the multi-storey home as an ideal kind of urban housing?
The multi-storey house is rarely an attractive project for the architect. With primarily independent clients, the budget is often small while the ambition is often great. As most of the potential habitants are temporary, such as students or young professionals, the client typically demands design that complies with real-estate logic, rather than with superfluous architectural design. The sites are often on small plots of land in ordinary residential areas, where large-scale development is impossible, and is therefore accompanied by a plethora of legal restrictions. Even if architecture is something that is borne from constraints, the multi-storey house is burdened with too many of these constraints. Put simply, there are too many difficulties to build something of significance, to realise the ideals of the architect. Perhaps it is for this reason that there is not a multi-storey housing project of significance that immediately springs to mind. Not a single multi-storey house is included in the list of the 21 best works of Korean modern architecture proposed by SPACE magazine and Donga-Ilbo in 2013. Even an apartment project was included in this list! Perhaps this is the irony of the multi-storey house, that while it remains one of the most common forms of architecture it can never become a representative form. That said, multi-storey houses can be quite special. According to the 2010 resources of the Seoul Research Institute 32% of the population of Seoul live in multi-storey housing, second only to 43% who live in apartments. Multi-storey housing is a typology that could discreetly change the city, as it rapidly responds to changes in architectural regulations, and is carried out through small-scale development plans unlike apartment blocks. As an example, the easing of the piloti regulations have real life benefits as has helped to ease the issue of parking while also establishing the inner roads and alleyways of residential neighbourhood roads as a space for cars. It would be possible to say that the alleyways in which the protagonists of the television series Respond 1988 once used to run around and play are now occupied by the piloti parking blocks of multi-storey houses. Occupying a third of all housing in Seoul, the multi-storey house can hardly be considered insignificant.
The western perspective of the cantilevered project makes the mass appear as if it were floating when seen from the narrow entrance to the plot.
Airbnb has become legendary in the now trending 4th industrial revolution. In the United States, where renters can sublet their houses while they are temporarily away, and of course profit from this practice, such a concept is not considered as overly burdensome. As such, one would not expect Airbnb to influence changes to architectural typology in the American market. Yet, this could well be different on the South Korean scene. What kind of changes might be brought about by ‘sharing ones home’ in a city so unfamiliar with the concept of sharing that the city itself has declared its agenda as that of a ‘sharing city’? What does it mean for people to open their houses to others in a country that is so conservative that architecture students nationwide cry out for improved communication and community? Within this context, Airbnb finally made its debut in Korea in 2013.
Air Multi-Storey Housing
Ever since its conception, the Nonhyun-dong multi-storey housing was determined under subtext of becoming full-option temporary letting, rather than belonging to the existing rental system. The house is owned by all who might pass through, and according to current domestic law temporary letting is only permitted for foreigners. The renters find the temporary experience more important than the function of the floor plan in the project, as they will only be residing on site for a couple of days or at the most a couple of months. The main focal point when observing the Nonhyun-dong multi-storey house was to see what kind of influence such short-term experiences might have on architecture.
In general, young architects often try to evade the standard design structure of the multi-storey house by creating a variety of units in terms of their floor plans and sections, and to establish the composition of these units within the given volume. Recently, it has become possible to see more multi-storey houses, and even shared houses, which are made up of a tangled tetris-like composition of smaller different units. Yet it would have been difficult to vary the section per unit in the Nonhyun-dong multiple storey house due to the setback regulations for daylight that pose a constraint to the height of the building. To such ends, the architect has strategically developed the floor plan to reveal his own touch, creating a diagonal element.
The diagonal element that begins from inside the building continues to influence the floor plan, extending to the exterior. This results in the creation of a non-normative space. For example, the alcove in the corridor that houses the western two-room units was made according to this diagonal element. It is this alcove that coordinates the long corridor connected to the porch, which becomes a small living room between the two bedrooms. Travelers rarely need a large living room. The given space is sufficient for them to face each other and chat in the evenings. The diagonal element continues to influence each of the rooms within, and the arrangement of the bedrooms has been resolved quite effectively. It seems that the choice to install a pentagonal bedroom is quite functional. Finally, the diagonal element meets with the external wall, establishing a triangular balcony. There would not have been much need to create a balcony, if it entailed sacrificing the floor area. Yet, such efforts deserve commendation as the architect has established a small space in which travelers can observe the night views over Seoul. Such spatial elements established according to this diagonal axis might not have been accepted by the client, if the project had been a normal multi-storey house project. They were made possible as the project was intended as an Air multi-storey home.
The diagonal element meets with the external wall, establishing a triangular balcony. Such efforts deserve commendation as the architect has established a small space in which travelers can observe the night views over Seoul.
Reporting from Behind
In contrast to the theme of last year’s Venice Biennale ‘Reporting from the Front Line’, the Nonhyun-dong multi-storey home grapples with its given realities discreetly. The western perspective of the cantilevered project makes the mass appear as if it were floating when seen from the narrow entrance to the plot, seemingly embodying the architect’s desire to appeal to the public realm. Regrettably, however, the building is hardly visible from the outside. Given such circumstances, the facade of the building has no means to establish a relationship with the city. The role of the facade disappears, and in its place, the entire building becomes an object, standing atop a site that is blocked in on all sides.
Without the architect having to make everything explicit, it is predicted that the site will naturally attract a variety of conflicts as it is bordered by eight neighbouring sites. The section plan of the building reveals how valiantly the architect must have battled with the inconspicuous foe that is setback regulations, on a plot of land that is hardly 10m in width. The narrow entrance pathway that barely reaches 3m represents the competance of the project's contractors. Within such physical constraints, the architect has even created an opening between the fourth floor where the client will reside and the attic floor. This is the only element of luxury inside in acknowledgement of a client who must reside in the upper level in which the width becomes even narrower due to the setback regulation.
A white building surrounded by grey that can only be seen from the sky: some might ask why the architect has bothered to pay such close attention to the selection of external materials and to moderating the mass of the project. Moreover, some might say that it is now a non-contextual building that does not quite suit its surroundings. However, does that really matter? Gang-nam is already an area devoid of context. The project becomes meaningful once one starts to imagine the small pleasures that lie in wait, greeting weary travelers from abroad who walk the night alleyways of Nonhyun-dong and up the small alleyway to be brought face to face with the white mass, and to see the cosy internal spaces made up of diagonals. This also certainly applies to the client, who wanted a space of their own at the top of this building.
Kim Jaekyung is an architect and an educator. He is currently a professor at Hanyang University and the principal of COUNTERDESIGN. Kim was the recipient of the Imre Halasz Thesis Prize for excellence in his master’s thesis from MIT (2012) and the Gold Medal in the American Architecture Prize (2016). His designs and research have been widely published in a variety of international journals and books, such as Architectural Review (U.K) and SPACE (Korea).
The diagonal element continues to influence each of the rooms within, and the arrangement of the bedrooms has been resolved quite effectively. It seems that the choice to install a pentagonal bedroom is quite functional.
Within such physical constraints, the architect has even created an opening between the fourth floor where the client will reside and the attic floor. This is the only element of luxury inside in acknowledgement of a client who must reside in the upper level in which the width becomes even narrower due to the setback regulation.
Architect: Oh Sang Hoon (Dankook University)
Design team: Jung Haejun, Jo Hyunjun, Yoon Jangyeon, Jeong Jihoon (CTR Form Architects)
Location: Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
Programme: mix-use, housing
Site area: 290.5㎡
Building area: 157.79㎡
Gross floor area: 518.29㎡
Building scope: B1, 4F
Building to land ratio: 54.31%
Floor area ratio: 136.74%
Structure: reinforced concrete
Exterior finishing: fiber cement panel, color steel panel
Interior finishing: paint on gypsum board, tile
Structural engineer: Power structure
Mechanical and electrical engineer: Yousung total engineering
Design period: June 2015 ~ Jan. 2016
Construction period: Apr. 2016 ~ May 2017
edited by Park Semi | photographed by Chin Hyosook | materials provided by CTR Form Architects