written by Kim Narae | photographed by Roh Kyung (unless otherwise indicated) | materials provided by Kim Hyunjun, Kim Taeyoung
Local governments have always created cultural spaces for their regions. By observing a number of recent examples, it will be possible to see how they are commonly established and what roles they play, to review the somewhat haphazard trends behind this cultural strategizing. Kim Hyunjun (professor, Kangwon National University) and Kim Taeyoung (professor, Korea National University of Arts) have transformed an unused space owned by the Seongdong-gu office into a reading space. Let’s take a look at the public book-space proposed by these two architects, in an age overflowing with media that could be considered faster-paced and more precise than books.
It is rare to come by a local office of a city, borough or village that does not promote culture. How does Seongdong BookMARU stand out? As noted by Chong Won-o (mayor, Seongdonggu), ‘the local office mainly functions as an office space for government employees, yet, from a slightly different perspective it is also an outlet for the administrative needs of the borough’s inhabitants’. He explained that the objective of this project was to ‘transform the government office building into a space that can be shared by locals’. According to Kim Hyunjun, the approach and the initiative taken by the local office as a client was surprisingly exemplary, despite the difficult conditions and demands required by the governmental office. He said that above all, there was a high level of interest and understanding about the motives and ideas of the architects, Publicly commissioned architecture projects are often accompanied by a lack of time and budget, yet, his current experience with the project with Seongdong-gu office was entirely unexpected.
A Donut and an Elevated Platform
Experimental spatial compositions and concepts are often accompanied by doubts that users will move according to an architect’s plans. It is rare to come by a diagram by an architect in which the space is realised to its fullest extent. Kim Hyunjun and Kim Taeyoung have been working on a series of architectural projects based upon their shared interest for a topology that deals with location and relationships. While conceding that spatial topology can determine the quality of the architecture, after receiving the introduction materials that outlined seven differently named spaces, I felt concerned about how the space might be activated in reality, if the artificial naming and segmentation of space became trapped by abstract conceptions. I visited Seongdong BookMARU with a mix of anticipation and trepidation.
Emerging into the entranceway, the ‘Rainbow Archive’, standing at a height of 13.5m, is the first aspect to meet the eye. This can be seen as a symbolic device, as it encompasses the identity of the Seongdong BookMARU space, more so since books cannot be easily taken out of the bookcases arranged around the existing curtain wall. The Rainbow Archive possesses the topological features of a donut with a hole at its the centre. The mass, which is formed by carving out the center of an ㅁ shaped form, derived from the Korean alphabet, is independent of and separate from the other spaces. The topological features of this donut form dictate that space characteristically circulates and continues, in accordance with the contextual symbolism of an ‘archive’ that will eventually be filled up with books donated by the inhabitants of Seongdonggu with the passing of time. Kim Hyunjun cited a typical ㅁ-form house plan to explain the space. The court in an ㅁ-form house is an open-air external space, that is simultaneously a pleasant private space, in which light, air and the sound can travel from top to bottom. This proposes an effective solution for atriums that are often faced with the issue of too much natural light.
If the Rainbow Archive can be characterised by its dramatically high ceiling, in contrast to this, we can also find low spaces, that may even be slightly uncomfortable for adults to walk along. This is the ‘Bookway (for children’s reading area)’ that has been installed along the existing ㄷ-form core wall. Low attic-like spaces have been created to accommodate the predilection of young children for crawling under closets and tables. The first floor lobby rises high up at around 4m, and this asset has been used to split the first floor to produce a mezzanine-like floor. Without inserting walls or doors to define the confines of each space, it is the topology that serves to demarcate the space. The Bookway with its narrow width and low ceiling, means that children can pass their time within spatial experiences in which grown-ups can no longer partake. An inverted dynamic has been applied by elevating the children’s space above that of the adults – the children occupying this space can look down on to the adults below, instead of being guarded and
Under the Bookway, one can find a Book café. The space is located at the centre of the first floor, surrounded by the ‘Cloud Library’. The walls are composed of modular bookcases, yet they are neither entirely blocked out nor opened up, allowing internal circulation without interfering in spatial continuity. Visitors can read in this cosy atmosphere between the modules built out of walls, or walk along the sides of the walls, and enter or exit through the outlets that successfully avoid cutting up the space – existing amidst a free topology.
The Seongdong-gu Office will host small-scale performances or lectures on the ‘Stepped Plaza, and this section was created by partially elevating the surface of the first floor. This is naturally connected to the stairs that lead to the office’s library not included in this project. Such a composition forms a continuous space like the topology of the first floor, yet, in a different sense from the Bookway.
A white steel frame structure that suits the existing steel frame truss was applied to the Rainbow Archives and the birch plywood shelves, installed in layers, are decked with books.
Details Elevated by the Architects’ Perception and Touch
This project was a remodeling project. The architects were clearly constrained from taking away from or adding to the mass. In spite of this, the carefully selected materials are critical in transforming this renovated building into a definitively new space. The architects decided to cover the walls and floor that shiny grey granite tiles with new materials. As a public office building with no explicit information provided at the desk or in the lobby, the architect wanted to increase the clarity of purpose through the elevator hall, which is occupied by a great many people throughout the morning and afternoon hours. Affordable black MDF plywood was found and applied to the walls, while white sheet lighting was inserted on the ceiling. At other points, oblong black objects have been used for lighting throughout the Seongdong BookMARU spaces, specially designed and commissioned by the architect. The ceilings of the bookway for children’s reading area or the cloud library were boldly exposed, and birch plywood painted with natural patterns in neutral tones was selected as the main material. The birch plywood was uniformly applied throughout the library and the ceiling louvers, to bind together the entirety of the 780m2 of the first floor. The lighting’s continuous linear form reinforces this sense of unity.
A white steel frame structure that suits the existing steel frame truss was applied to the rainbow archives, and the birch plywood shelves, installed in layers, are decked with books. The original truss that supported the curtain wall was optimally used, and the counsel of Architecture Structural Research Institute DAWOO was sought out to deal with the weight of the shelves and the books..
The Rainbow Lounge, where small groups can gather around to sit, was painted in rainbow colours such as red and yellow.
The Accomplishments of the Cultural Space in the Gu-office
Due to its outstanding popularity, the Seongdong BookMARU remains open until 9pm each night, every day of the week. Asked to whether the space is difficult to maintain, one could feel a sense of pride in the resounding ‘No’ of Park Bongjoo (director of administrative bureau, Seongdong-gu). The space seems to have accomplished its intended motive of regenerating an idle space within the Office. Also, unlike privately-owned commercial spaces, there is a sense of satisfaction in the fact that the space is most often used by families with children and the elderly.
It is regrettable, but predictably so, that the key concept and identity of the book space lacks a sense of persuasiveness. While ‘Seongdong BookMARU,’ the name of the space, was selected from proposals by office employees, and is by no accounts inappropriate. The concept of maru, unlike its potential to be sufficiently expressed through the space, fails to dominate, while the other keyword, ‘rainbow,’ seems to have also been used without much certainty. The Rainbow Lounge, where small groups can gather around to sit, was painted in rainbow colours such as red and yellow, and the Stepped Plaza was also decorated in purple and green, yet, there is not much clarity as to why or what it means. Since the books have not been curated delicately, it is troublesome to locate the unique character of Seongdong BookMARU from its contents. This project is clearly a success, from the perspective that an empty and idle space in an government office has been selected and tailored into a carefully constructed space, and one that is now eagerly sought out by the public. The thoughtful demands of the Seongdong-gu Office, met with the appropriate programme of a library and the hands of disciplined and detail-oriented architects to created a productive space. Rather than veering towards easier but less refined solutions, the proposal split the space into floors and layers, elevating and wrapping space around remaining gaps. The project will serve as a model example that can be referenced in the future by public office building spaces around us.
‘Stepped Plaza’ where will host small-scale performances or lectures was created by partially elevating the surface of the first floor. This is naturally connected to the stairs that lead to the Office’s library not included in this project.
The Rainbow Archive possesses the topological features of a donut with a hole at its centre. The mass, which is formed by carving out the center of an ㅁ shaped form, derived from the Korean alphabet, is independent of and separate from the other spaces.