Three Bricks House
Office for Ordinary Architecture
Jeon Sangkyu is a principal architect in the Office for Ordinary Architecture, founded in 2013. He received bachelors and masters degrees in Architecture from Hongik University, and has worked at Gansam Architects & Partners and Mass Studies. He won the Seoul Architecture Award in 2016 and the 2016 Rising Architect Award.
Hwang Eun is a principal architect in the Office for Ordinary Architecture. She received bachelors and masters degrees in Architecture from Hongik University, and has worked at AUM&LEE Architects & Associates. She has extensive professional experience in architecture, interior design and urban renewal, and is presently an adjunct professor at Namseoul University.
The Outline of a Broadening Universality
Chun Kyunghwan (principal, thescape)
In general, the public health centre, which is called ‘Bo-geon-so’ in Korean, is a place that provides the primary medical services with a small burden, but it also an abbreviation of Office for Ordinary Architecture (O-OA). O-OA’s Korean name is ‘Bopyeonjeogin-Geonchuksa-Samuso’, and it can abbreviated as ‘Bo-Geon-So’. An abbreviated name becomes an irrelevant word that has no relation to architecture. Once you hear it, it is hard to forget. The name suggests that the O-OA want to make it easier and more comfortable for those who need architectural design services. If it is really ‘an architectural office like a public health centre’, then you may be reminded of ‘construction permission agencies in front of ward offices’. However, if this is all that O-OA is aiming towards, then it should not have made the kitsch style so prominent.
Jeon Sangkyu has been practising for a long time at Mass Studies. At the intersection of the avant-garde style of Mass Studies and the gentle word of ‘universal’, the characteristics of the Office for Ordinary Architecture is revealed. It is a positioning that pursues a scintillating design experiment, but not so uncomfortable to accept, to enter a particular category that is not too difficult to make, so that it does not deviate so much in the frame of universal. Furthermore, there is an ambition to make a critical mind found in universality a clue to design, and as a result, to make universal domain broader. I guess about these points from Jeon’s calm and simple expression and tone of voice, and from the humorous and implicit name of O-OA, and his career.
Three Bricks House in Eunpyeong New Town is a project that uses bricks right along the line. The brick is the concrete block of Durastack that has gained popularity in recent years, and it has a long proportion in the horizontal direction and various colours of the same texture. The Three Bricks House consists of three households that are three-dimensionally entangled like a puzzle in the simple and smoothly rendered mass of three pieces. The three households were completed in differently coloured bricks. So, in the area where the household and the other structures meet, different coloured blocks are engaged naturally. From the appearance of this connection, the name ‘Three Bricks House’ emerged. If it was composed of regular bricks, it would have been nervously knit, and narrowly, but due to the longish proportions of the wide brick, it interlocked somewhat loosely and spaciously. Also, it is not that shoddy, because it has a colour variation in the same texture of concrete. On the rooftop balcony, the bricks were piled up to make a wall of high transparency. By using a long brick to double stack the permeable walls, the line of sight is surprisingly blocked compared to the high transmissivity. Because differently coloured bricks are used for different households, the permeable walls that divide the families are also tangled in three dimensions through the empty space of two or three coloured bricks. It is a design created with a very simple idea and clear rules, but it produces a lot of effects. The potential of wide bricks, which have been so widely used but have not yet activated, seems to be revealed at this point. I feel like I found the apparent answer late.
The architects planned the space to allow lighting and views along the corridors and staircases, and architectural promenade.
Meanwhile, it is hard to agree with the decision to put heavy bricks on the sloping iron canopy on the door, while thinking about Louis Kahn’s famous story of a brick. The wide brick could not have imagined that it would be put on a cantilever plate so precariously. However, as a result, it enhances the consistency and completeness of the design of the whole building and makes the look of the building facing the street much gentler. The header on the iron plate is surprisingly noticeable, of course, alongside the brick with each house’s colour. It is a tickling and cute gesture, but it is expected that it will play a role in making the landscape of the street in front of the house bright and warm. In fact, the original design was that the exterior wall towards the sanitarium would be bent up and connected to the roof. Due to a lack of competency on the part of the construction company, and the distrust caused by it, the house has a colour steel plate roof which is the present shape made possible by the additional payment of the client. If it had been bricked up to the ceiling like the original one, a more consistent and complete design would have been realised with the brick on the iron canopy.
Through some of the scenes I’ve talked about before, I guessed the design methodology pursued by O-OA: a pleasure in pushing rhythmically a simple design concept which is set by large and bold strokes, in the efforts made to consistently and persistently direct minute details, and a persistent but unconstrained attitude that is continuous with finding unique traits and potentials in the material and is not tied to stereotypes and prejudices.
By making the wide window, the attic has secured lighting and views.
On the rooftop balcony, the bricks were piled up to make a wall of high transparency.
Of course, there are many regrets. Some of the elements that consist in the building do not seem to be continuous with the body and appear as a sporadic happening. The face of the building exposed to the road is a design that is naturally created by the size and arrangement of the windows required indoors without being polished. It is hard to consider it a lustrous and polished ‘pretty face’ in this state. However, it is true that the cause of this impression comes down to the design attitude of O-OA, which is thought to be thick, bold and rhythmical, and it is difficult to discuss the completeness of the design through several scenes such as these. It is because there is not much interest in elaborately refining the fixed ‘beauty’ at a particular point in time or particular scene while sticking to consistently dragging a randomly agreed design theme. This is a context in which it is sometimes embarrassing to find something like an absurd loophole in the work of Mass Studies, and moreover, OMA. It is an individualistic desire that it is better to be polished into finer detail if it is necessary, as it is easy and straightforward to develop an easy and more precise concept. However, this is not a matter of right or wrong, but it may be a difference in habits and values, so I think it can never be forced.
Anyway, the Office for Ordinary Architecture is steadily expanding the outline of the universality little by little so that it can be efficiently utilised by fellow architects and enjoyed by everyone around the building. My fellow architects, including me, will use the simple works of Office for Ordinary Architecture to create another broader, universal appreciation. This is one of the few ways in which a small architectural office that works hard on design can survive and contribute to the world.
Chun Kyunghwan, after graduating from Korea University with a degree in Architectural Engineering, has accumulated experience in various types of urban architecture design offices. He was selected as the first beneficiary of the Kim Chung-up Scholarship Foundation hosted by the French Embassy in 2004 and was awarded the Muae Architecture Award in 2005 by the Architectural Institute of Korea. Since 2004, he has been creating and running a blog jaeminahyo.com with observations and exploration of daily design. Based on the contents, he published a book called My Indulgence in the Floor in 2007 and A Lazy Architect's Account of an Expedition to Design in 2009. In 2010, Chun started his independent practice, and opened his architectural firm, thescape, in 2018. Instead of a style or trend that can be a frame of prejudice, he aims at making the result of instantaneous and straightforward observations a clue to design by combining them with unique contexts and structural backgrounds.
Architect: Office for Ordinary Architecture (Jeon Sangkyu, Hwang Eun)
Design team: Choi Joonwon, Lee Jihae
Location: 20-14, Yeonseo-ro 50-gil, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul
Programme: multi family house
Site area: 330m2
Building area: 163.79m2
Gross floor area: 274.63m2
Building scope: 2F
Building to land ratio: 49.63%
Floor area ratio: 83.22%
Structure: reinforced concrete
Exterior finishing: brick
Interior finishing: exposed concrete, paint
Structural engineer: EUN STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING CO., LTD.
Mechanical and electrical engineer: IECO ENG
Construction: Ryan S Yum
Design period: June – Oct. 2016
Construction period: Oct. 2016 – May 2017
Client: Ryan S Yum
edited by Lee Sungje | photographed by Namgoong Sun | materials provided by Office for Ordinary Architecture