Who Creates the Future?: The Hankook Tire TechnoDome
written by Park Gyehyun | photographed by Nigel Young (unless otherwise indicated)
materials provided by Foster + Partners, Hankook Tire
What can we do in an era in which the cutting-edge is redefined every second, with a faster rate of innovation taking place than that of the past? The corporations that drive industrial progress mull over this question. In particular, digital media, automobiles, and Internet based businesses are driving change and innovation to restructure and lead the market. This is signified through the construction of new buildings. Last October, Hankook Tire completed construction of its new central research facility, TechnoDome, upholding a commitment of becoming the linchpin of tire technological development rather than remaining a mere manufacturer. The futuristic architecture is also the first project of high-tech architecture maestro Norman Foster. What new creations of tomorrow will occur in this new beating heart of Hankook Tire, which has made leaps in becoming the supplier of tires to Tesla Model 3 and the BMW 7 series?
Norman Foster’s Architecture: Visualising the Cutting-Edge
Appearing like a spaceship that has landed on water, ten masses are situated within the pillars that sustain the shiny silver roof. Although the white and thin concrete columns make it seem as if the roof gently floats above, the structure is colossal, at 200×160m long. The gigantic silver roof gives the building its sci-fi like aspect. The dome visually expands out, with light reflecting at multiple angles, while the delicate coupling of the outer margins of the roof meet its substructure at an acute angle, exhibiting the sharpness of the form. It seems that the lean and sharp surface embodies the cunning and splintering image of the ‘cutting edge’. From a bird’s eye view, the dome is a symmetrical oval shape, as the product of sophisticated simulation in the latitude change of the sun in summer and winter, Needless to say, the dome itself takes after a tire. While voids and skylights were used to maximise the penetration of natural light, the margins stubbornly adhere to a structural completeness. Solar panels are lined up along the outer rim. This green technology and the silver steel covering the roof bestows a futuristic image, and simultaneously it visually attenuates the weight of the roof with its light image. The use of the materials, considering light, reflection, and visual weight, along with the tidy work on the connections, complete the overall feel of the building.
The element that introduces a dynamic relationship with the ‘floating’ roof is the glass that covers the ten masses. This is why from a certain distance the roof and columns are all that remain visible. All windows, including the ones on the two masses that are curved, have been pre-frabricated abroad, which gives us a sense of the efforts necessary to achieve such a holistic integrity. Foreign architects who come to Korea for a specific project are generally considered relatively less dedicated to this sense of completeness. Considering this, the work done to the TechnoDome is laudable for surpassing such criticism. Thin steel plates were inserted in between floors of the curved mass portion to emphasise its streamline form. Going into the eaves that extend 40m out and pass the artificial pond that is reflected in the glass mass, you experience the excitement of entering a laboratory of the future.
Courtesy of Hankook Tire
The gigantic silver roof floating on the water gives the building its sci-fi like aspect.
A Company Envisioning its own Transformation: Exhibiting Technology
Entering the building, you are greeted with a space of earthenware white. On the first floor the key facilities of the TechnoDome are located, the experimental labs. The labs of two stories high catch your eyes with their open glass exterior that subjects all of the equipment and lab spaces on view. The TechnoDome boasts its existence as the largest and newest of the Hankook Tire research facilities in Germany (Hanover), China (Jiaxing, Zhejiang), and Japan (Nagoya). Most particularly, these eight labs feature an anechoic room for tire noise tests, a virtual driving space, a wear testing lab, a chemical analysis lab, and a 3-D scanning lab, stretching out over 110m on each side of the central plaza. Doesn’t the white, high ceiling space and range of experimental equipment resemble that of a contemporary exhibition? It appears Hankook Tires created a space in which to advertise their most recent technology to cooperative firms and visiting researchers. However, from the architects perspective, the labs might have been put on the first floor to allow the safe processing of any materials that could be produced in the separated pit floor.
The two storey labs above tell the same story. The building’s structure is bolstered by the long and white columns. The walls that should be there along the aisles have been replaced with glass. Anyone passing by can see the inside of the labs, none of which have partitions. Adjacent to the aisle is a conference room, which leads into the office space. While the white office furniture abides by the overall concept of the building, one cannot help but wonder whether or not the privacy of the researchers was ever given a second thought. It is a relief that independent cylindrical spaces known as ‘focus rooms’ are placed in every office. As a place for one to concentrate alone or take a phone call away from others, it is somewhat assuring that there is some form of privacy. Imagining how the 650 employees, who will one day increase to a thousand, will work in this space, one can feel the power and potential of the labs.
CEO of Hankook Tire Cho Hyunbeom stated that ‘continuous technological innovation is required to respond to the rapidly changing landscape of the automobile industry’, adding that ‘the TechnoDome will be at the centre of such innovation’. Cho also stressed that Hankook Tire has began the development of tires for new cars in collaboration with super car manufacturers, and continued efforts towards Formula One and the World Rally Championship. TechnoDome will become the outpost for the tire company in making the leap forward as an international tire manufacturer and reveal to the world its self-conceived technology.
The use of the materials, considering light, reflection, and visual weight, along with the tidy work on the connections, complete the overall feel of the building.
Entering the building, you are greeted with a space of earthenware white laboratories and offices.
Communicating with Researchers:
Will the Remodelled Work Space Promote Success?
As such, the TechnoDome has deviated from the conventional image of research labs—a closed, cramped space. The construction of the facility was a solution for the spatial problems faced by the company, as they grew in size and scale, that could not be resolved through simply renovating the central research facility built in Daeduk Science Complex in 1982. Hankook Tire wanted to create an open lab where researchers struggling with opportunities to talk with ease and interact with co-workers. With that, the company looks forward by encouraging new types of research encounter and cooperation. This intention is also realised in the ‘Meeting Pod’ conference room located in the central public space, and the large banisters which allow a surface at which meetings can take place at any moment and for people to take notes. Hankook Tire revealed that ‘we are hiring subject matter experts who have experience of working for over ten years at national labs with regards to the tire industry as consultants’ and ‘while the current exchange programme is only one month, we plan on extending it to a three year programme’. We can imagine the day when researchers from all over the world conduct their research freely at the TechnoDome.
The spacious and free office space, as well as the various accommodations, might be the dream for office workers who work in a rigid office environment. Apple and Google have all created new office spaces, which seems like a trend of change led by global corporations. It has not yet been verified whether architecture and changes to space can bring about work efficiency and produce added value, but we cannot dismiss the possibility that there might be better products made here than that of humdrum, hierarchical office spaces. Only time will tell whether the spatial transformation of this company aspiring for fundamental change will succeed.
Jones (partner, Foster + Partners) commented that ‘The key design objectives for the Hankook Tire TechnoDome were twofold: to reinvent the Hankook Tire’s image and to create an integrated working environment for the office and laboratory staff. The spatial arrangement encourages an atmosphere of visual connectivity and personal interaction. The testing facilities are on display to all, and circulation and meeting spaces are shared platforms to enhance interaction’. The TechnoDome, which took two and a half years to complete, dreams of becoming the next major laboratory of driving. What changes will unfold at this new facility? Who will stimulate these changes? Expectations lie with the collaborative efforts of the architect, corporation, and researchers, who have built and will use the TechnoDome, all heightened as we look up at the completed building.
Going into the eaves that extend 40m out and pass the artificial pond that is reflected in the glass mass, you experience the excitement of entering a laboratory of the future.