SPACE Magazine
SPACE Magazine
The Fabric Laboratory of Nameless Architecture: On Ne Sait Jamais Pangyo

Nameless Architecture is a concept-based design practice, with offices in New York and Seoul. Unchung Na and Sorae Yoo both graduated from Hongik and Korea University. They studied architecture at U.C. Berkeley in the United States. The office has received numerous awards, including the AIA New York Honor Award, the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects, the AIA NPNY Award, the Kim Swoo Geun Prize Preview Award and the Design Vanguard Award from Architectural Record.

Achieving through projects such as the Triangle school, an educational facility built according to a triangular floor plan; the Circle, Triangle, Square, a haystack installation covering the outside of the Gwacheon branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea; and the Clayarch Gimhae Museum’s Brick Structure made with glass bricks, the principles of Nameless Architecture, Unchung Na and Sorae Yoo, continually challenge architectural conventions. Freely crossing the boundaries in design between art and architecture, they pursue experimental projects. This time the pair took on the challenge of designing a café interior as part of a new branch of On Ne Sait Jamais, a dessert café in Hannam-dong recently trending on Instagram. With furniture created from simple forms using textiles and with the fluttering light fabric draped from the ceiling, the interior of the Pangyo branch alternates between reality and illusion, faithfully reproducing the brand philosophy of On Ne Sait Jamais, which means ‘no one ever knows’. How precisely was this very special laboratory, constructed primarily from textiles, conceived and completed?
Reported by Harry Jun | materials provided by Nameless Architecture | photographed by Roh Kyung

A synthesis between ‘anonymous architecture’ and ‘no one ever knows’
The street between Hangangjin and Itaewon station, which goes by the name ‘Comme des Garçons street’, is a dense retail district that has recently been caught the attention of trendsetters in Seoul. Located down the hill from the Hyundai Card Music Library, by the entrance of the Hannam Village, On Ne Sait Jamais café is one of these select shops. Here, there are none of the studious tables nor customary chairs that one might commonly picture in a café. Customers sit upon legless chairs and cushions huddled around a large tiled structure reminiscent of a bathhouse tub, while enjoying the café’s signature menu. It is difficult to imagine such a unique interior space for a café, and even more so for a F&B business that specializes in cake making. Over a year since the café’s claim to fame, via Instagram pictures featuring its bathhouse tiles and images of patron’s feet, Park Kidae, the director of On Ne Sait Jamais, decided to open a second location in Pangyo. The first floor of a large shopping centre a few minutes’ walk from Pangyo station is now occupied by gray, box-shaped chairs, tables and sofas and fabric cloth blowing gently from the ceiling. Resembling marble or concrete, the furniture is actually made of felt. More surprising than the idea of using thick felt is the fact that it was actually made. The setting of this small café reveals the very deep kindred feeling which marries the joint themes of ‘anonymous architecture (Nameless Architecture)’ and ‘no one ever knows (On Ne Sait Jamais)’.

Dreaming of a Non-Routine Space
On Ne Sait Jamais, which actively utilizes Instagram as a marketing tool, has also recently been posting the work of Nameless Architecture—the firm involved in the design of the Pangyo branch. One of these posts revealed an interesting reason for the selection of Pangyo: ‘Tall and heavy apartments and buildings. An immaculate street and shopping centre. Wouldn’t it be fun to try something in such a tailored place?’ In his first meeting with Nameless Architecture, the director Park Kidae revealed that he wanted to avoid places like Mangwon or Yeonnam-dong, and was looking towards Pangyo as a prospective site. He wanted to take on the challenge of inserting something unique into such a standardized place as Pangyo, a sentiment with which Unchung Na concurred. Why is it, then, that director Park Kidae commissioned Nameless Architecture rather than some other interior designer or architect? ‘I was seeking the stimulus that comes from trying something that hasn’t been done before. Even if I have to take on a risk, I wanted to create a space disconnected from routine. Essentially, what I wanted was a place fused with unconventional thought, and when I saw the Triangle School I thought, an architect who could create a place like this must be especially unique. I wanted to approach the project conceptually while sharing the issues together with the architect.’ In the actual pre-planning phase even the purpose of their discussions together were not simply regarding those of creating a new branch for a café. The project was interpreted through an immensely wide scope, considering the possibility of something original and even factoring in new methods of eating lacking any fixed pattern. Thus, the key concepts that emerged were the reversal of day and night, an open interpretation made possible with a change in style and, although unfamiliar, an amiable space; literally the dream of a non-routine space. Sorae Yoo added that ‘at precisely that time the very material that caught our eyes was fabric.’

Inverted Thought: Creating Furniture from Fabric
In furniture, fabric is closer to ornamentation, a covering over the structure of chairs and sofas or simply featured as an interior detail, such as drapes. Nameless Architecture completely overturned established preconceptions of fabric. The new On Ne Sait Jamais revealed by Nameless Architecture is the product of an everyday café scene recreated through a non-conventional material—fabric. First, all of the furniture, the tables, stools, chairs, and even sofas, were made by layering thick sheets of felt. A fabric that appears to be lightweight and flexible is stacked in layers, creating a three-dimensional structure in a radical, unparalleled attempt much different than the approach used in architectural construction. ‘This was a very challenging interior project’, commented Unchung Na, adding that ‘First of all, there was a tremendous shortage of 10mm felt, the kind that we wanted. The first step was to gather nearly all of the 10mm felt that could be acquired domestically. Also, because the layered felt doesn’t stick together we needed a way to make sure that the seat wouldn’t shift around and the backs of the chairs would be safe. So, a basic core frame was created out of wood and after cutting the felt sheets to align with this frame the felt had to be inserted over it sheet by sheet.’ In this case, a one metre high stack would require more than 100 sheets of felt. For instance, take a 2 – 3m long sofa with a back-rest: this one item requires five different drawings. This means that in order to create all of the different furniture pieces for the store, tens of thousands of sheets of manufactured felt would be needed. However, because cutting the felt by machine is impossible, all of the furniture had to be hand-made by professionals. It was the product of an extremely high labour intensive process.


The sketch of felt furnitures 

All of the furniture, the tables, stools, chairs, and even sofas, were made by layering thick sheets of felt.

Stacked in this way, layer by layer, the felt changed from line to surface, finally becoming a single mass.

A Space Dominated by Heaviness and Lightness
Stacked in this way, layer by layer, the felt changed from line to surface, finally becoming a single mass. Even the client was fascinated by the novelty of interpreting this special material from an entirely different perspective. Unchung Na remarked that ‘if you only look at the furniture’s section, it appears to be hard and heavy, like marble or a concrete mass. Stated simply, the ground and the lower part of the adjoining space is one dominated by heaviness, created through three-dimensional lamination’, continuing that ‘in comparison, a completely different sensation was sought for the ceiling and the connected upper space. We preserved as much of the flowing and gentle feeling that we often associate with fabric. In other words, a space saturated with lightness.’ The swathe of fabric that hangs buoyantly from a rail connected to the ceiling maximizes the sense of fluidity; the layout can be changed, elements are detachable, and the colour, material and even the objet d’art can be changed. In other words, although the same material—fabric—is used throughout the space in a consistent tone, the two construction methods are completely distinct; the coexistence of these two sensations is what makes this space so attractive.

The Fluidity of Architecture
Shattering basic common conceptions about fabric in this way, Nameless Architecture consistently positions the fluidity of architecture within an aspect of unique reinterpretation. Architecture is a fixed entity securely located within a physical locality. However, Nameless Architecture argues that if you observe the behaviour or the stories of people occupying a space, the space itself is characterized by fluidity: ‘It is widely believed that fabric is a material that cannot be turned into an architectural construction. Perhaps we wanted to experiment with the possibility of interpreting this fluid material as solid matter. Although in reality fabric is a weak material, through a process of layering we transformed it into a physical entity upon which people can sit and engage.’ On the firm’s online profile, Nameless Architecture states that they experiment with the fluidity of Architecture. When one considers that statement along with their attempt at creating rigid physical matter, their On Ne Sait Jamais project may be viewed as the essential output of Nameless Architecture’s architectural outlook, which is simultaneously a rigid matter and fluid entity. This is due to the fact that the project came about through a process of repeated contemplation, regarding an architecture that is truly ‘Nameless’.

Towards Diversity of Interpretation and Simplicity
After weeks of meticulous planning and manual labour, through a process of mixing and matching ideas, the desire to actively emphasize the design concept to those who actually visit the café would be all but reasonable; however, the two principles heading Nameless Architecture appear to regret nothing. ‘We made an effort not to intentionally expose any hidden stories in the design output’; that is to say, they only wanted to simply reveal the processes hidden underneath the surface. Why is that? ‘In the midst of the complex, tangled connections in this world, we believe that simplicity can be found in that point where this complicated network is minimalized. What we don’t want is a complicated reading of the processes beyond what is visible. We make every effort to respect the diversity of interpretation from what is seen and known. If people can read the values that we’re thinking, then that is truly something for which to be grateful. Wouldn’t a world in which only a single interpretation exists be the equivalent of darkness? If intention A can be read diversely, this would be proof that there exists that many possibilities in society. Rather than concluding with an overly fixed, perfect, singular story, what we aim to do is diminish stories emerging from the periphery while creating opportunities for suggestive stories.’ After hearing these words, one is reminded of the difference between prose and poetry. Prose, although easy to read, entails a singular interpretation. However, poetry, while compressed and compact, entails a fluid diversity of interpretation transforming for each person it encounters. One might say that Nameless Architecture expresses and attempts to understand architecture through such a poetic interpretation.

The Power of Good Architecture
On the basis of this project, one cannot leave out the trust present in a client-architect relationship. Park had only one requirement—a design that could be created solely by Nameless Architecture. There were no other references. Normally the moment of selection comes down to the convenience and aesthetic preferences of the client, but from start to finish he only reaffirmed whether the output was inherently Nameless Architecture-esque. ‘This was our first time working with such a client. Even though it was extremely difficult, in the end we put in 120% effort. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to meet such a positively motivated client again.’ The Pangyo branch of On Ne Sait Jamais can create a different atmosphere during the day or night by altering luminary levels. At night the line LEDs are turned off and yellow spot lights illuminate the fabric, while the air in the space calmly settles amidst the harmony of light and shadow. The place is transformed into a setting more suitable for enjoying beer and wine, rather than coffee and cake; the musical selection also changes to one more befitting of the night. The brilliance of Nameless Architecture is revealed in its ability to create various arrangements of space using only a few key pieces of equipment, while keeping the whole subtle and controlled. Even if it’s just one part of a small commercial facility, a well-made space somehow just seems to stands out. As Park asks, will the day ever come when this café can be established as a cultural facility where people can rest within Pangyo, a place flowing with commercial capitalism? Suddenly I wonder how the Pangyo branch of On Ne Sait Jamais might look a few years from now; the future of this special fabric laboratory. Just as the fragrance of good wine becomes stronger as time passes, the reassurance that the power of good architecture won’t easily fade away causes the heart to palpitate.

Although the same material - fabric - is used throughout the space in a consistent tone, the two construction methods are completely distinct; the coexistence of these two sensations is what makes this space so attractive.

tag.  Nameless Architecture , On Ne Sait Jamais
no.584 (2016.July) 
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