The SongEun art space designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron was the first building designed by them in Korea but one that truly makes a mark in the city and stands out. The building was a design for the SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation established in 1989; the non-profit foundation supports contemporary artists through an annual SongEun art award and by presenting exhibitions of international artists.

SongEun Art Space by Herzog & de Meuron: Creating a Simple yet Strong Volume - Sheet1
Main street facade_©Iwan Baan

Catering to the needs of the Program

The intention was to create a building that is the reflection of the core principles of the SongEun art and cultural foundation, which is to build relationships with cultural institutions, community, and the city through innovative thinking. The only requirement by the client was to go as high as possible for two particular reasons, one was to be able to capture the beautiful view of Seoul river and the mountains and secondly to maximize the usage of the area since the land prices in that area were significantly high, and the other requirement was to use a material that ages well since Seoul is prone to high levels of air pollution.

The site is located on the axis of Dosan Daero, a location that is known for its flagship stores of international brands, restaurants, and bars. Amidst this highly commercialized zone stands this monolithic concrete structure that stands out not only in its style but also in its functionality as a non-profit space for the public.

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Surrounding commercial area_©Iwan Baan

SongEun Art Space and Surroundings

The building was intended to not fit into context; the architects wanted to create something hermetic in the forefront, one that inspires and not intimidates but also piques your curiosity. The building, in some sense, keeps the facade of a high rise and blends with the elevation that its surrounding creates. But stands like a crisp triangular prism when viewed at any other angle, with 11 storeys above ground and five below the ground.

SongEun Art Space by Herzog & de Meuron: Creating a Simple yet Strong Volume - Sheet
The stark contrast between its surroundings_©Iwan Baan

Herzog & de Meuron’s Approach

The slanting shape was done to comply with the zoning laws of the country, with the 60m long facade facing the main street. The neighbourhood predominantly comprises two or three-storey buildings; however, the zoning law allows for a high density towards the main street and lower density towards the back. The architects used this opportunity to create a form that not only complies with it but also makes it unique.

The two cutouts on either side of the facade create entrances, one that is pedestrian and the other being vehicular.

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Descending car ramp_©Jihyun Jung
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pedestrian entrance to main lobby_©Iwan Baan

The pedestrian pathway directs one to the main lobby and garden at the back of the building, which is open to the public at all times and, in some sense, creates an escape from the bustle of the main street. The descending car ramp leading to parking is placed strategically such that the back wall of the ramp creates an organic open on the inside, from which one could look into the sunken gallery below from the ground floor. This type of environment was created so that artists could be inspired by the architecture of the place and create something different and something one wouldn’t be able to do in another gallery.

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Circular opening from the sunken gallery_©Iwan Baan

On entering the main lobby, there is a circular staircase that extends from the inside to the garden outside to extend the inside and outside of the building if the opportunity arises. The stairs are not only used for circulation but also used as seating during talks, and the circular nature of it contributes to the extension of the circular ramp opening.

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View from below_©Jihyun Jung
SongEun Art Space by Herzog & de Meuron: Creating a Simple yet Strong Volume - Sheet8
Circular wall that continues on ground floor along stairs_©Jihyun jung
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Extension of steps in garden_©Iwan Baan

Enhancing the capacity of the Material

Concrete, a material that is generally considered to be hostile, was made visually more appealing by tattooing it with 1m x 1m wood panels rotated in different angles to create a wood grain pattern on the surface of the concrete; it was used to create interaction with the human eye and hand by providing tactility to the material. It was also a reference to the meaning of SongEun, which is “hidden pine tree”.

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View from the lower window_©Iwan Baan
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Wood pattern on concrete_©Iwan baan

The Window to view and be viewed

The external facade has two thin strips of windows on the facade separated by a distance vertically, used to not only help place yourself in the building at every point during the journey but also reveal different parts of the city at every point. Towards the rear, the building is a lot more transparent with glazing and balconies to bring air into the office spaces above.

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View from the exterior window_©Jihyun Jung

The SongEun art space being Herzog & de Meuron‘s first project in Seoul, certainly makes its mark in the city, by its stark contrast to its surroundings but by also blending into it, it can inspire artists, increase the curiosity of the people and bring art, culture, and community together and be a place of learning, a building that stands for art but is also a part of it. That triggers the artists, the people, and the surroundings to change how they interact with it.

References:

  1. ArchDaily. 2022. Herzog & de Meuron Completes its Concrete ST / Songeun Building in Korea. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/964935/herzog-and-de-meuron-completes-its-concrete-st-songeun-building-in-korea> [Accessed 7 March 2022].
  2. ArchDaily. 2022. ST International HQ and SONGEUN Art Space / Herzog & de Meuron. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/970273/st-international-hq-and-songeun-art-space-herzog-and-de-meuron> [Accessed 7 March 2022].
  3. Archello. 2022. SongEun Art Space | Herzog & de Meuron | Archello. [online] Available at: <https://archello.com/project/songeun-art-space> [Accessed 7 March 2022].
  4. COBO Social. 2022. Herzog & de Meuron Makes South Korea Debut With New SongEun Art Space | COBO Social. [online] Available at: <https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/design/herzog-de-meuron-songeun-st-international-art-space-seoul/> [Accessed 7 March 2022].
  5. Design Anthology. 2022. Herzog & de Meuron’s SONGEUN ArtSpace Opens in Seoul — Design Anthology. [online] Available at: <https://design-anthology.com/story/herzog-de-meurons-songeun-artspace-seoul> [Accessed 7 March 2022].
  6. designcitylab. 2022. Herzog & de Meuron unveils monolithic Songeun Art Space in stark contrast to Seoul’s urban fabric. [online] Available at: <https://designcitylab.com/post/architecture/herzog-de-meuron-unveils-monolithic-songeun-art-space-in-stark-contrast-to-seouls-urban-fabric> [Accessed 7 March 2022].
  7. Youtu.be. 2022. Jacques Herzog on the design of ST International HQ and SONGEUN Art Space in Seoul. [online] Available at: <https://youtu.be/xKOMOOlJyPk> [Accessed 7 March 2022].
Author

Flora is a student of architecture, with a passion for psychology and philosophy. She loves merging her interests and drawing parallels to solve and understand design problems. As someone that values growth, she uses writing as a medium to share her learning and perspective.

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