Internationally recognised and highly esteemed Architecture firm UN Studio’s mixed-use development project, The Galleria Centercity, is a multi-storey department store in Cheonan, South Korea. It attempts to accentuate the solid social aspect of department stores in Southeast Asia. Department stores are not just shopping places but social and commercial experiences. UN Studio has combined the features of a big retail store while prioritising the social and cultural activities to create the dynamic Galleria Centercity. 

The Galleria Centercity by UN Studio - Sheet1
The trompe l’oeil Façade _©Kim Yong-Kwan

The project, located in a newly developed area of Cheonan, occupies a significant portion of its rectangular site. It is one of the first commercial buildings in this region. Built-in 2010, UN Studio’s Galleria Center city has a surface area of 66700 square meters and a building volume of 395600 square meters above the ground.

Traditional department stores, primarily seen as commercial spaces for shopping, have evolved to offer a broader experience to visitors. They now provide a platform for architects to create spaces that serve commercial purposes and enhance visitors’ social and cultural experiences. This shift in focus has allowed architects to create designs that are not just functional but also visually appealing and enriching to visitors, promoting community interaction and providing a space for cultural events and activities. The UN Studio managed to explore and successfully achieve the idea. Hence, The Galleria is more than just a department store. It has been designed as a place where people can hang around and spend time together. 

This building is about more than just introducing cafes, balconies, bakeries, etc., that would encourage interaction. Instead, the architects believe that introducing commerce into public art spaces and creating edges to socialise support this approach. Brands like Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton already have their restaurants and exhibition spaces inside their stores. As Van Berkel, the Principal architect of UN Studio, says, it makes sense to transform shopping centres into museums when we have used museums for shopping. This design philosophy at the core of this project encompasses a broader understanding of utility, encompassing not just efficiency and profitability but a more comprehensive range of values and considerations.

The Striking Façade 

The building features a bold, innovative design with a curving, undulating form that creates a dynamic and eye-catching exterior. It comprises two glass skins – an outer layer and an inner layer, both of which have linear designs created by the vertical frames. This unique lighting has been made possible with the help of luminaire manufacturer Zumtobel.

These layers create a three-dimensional look and an optical illusion that changes as one moves around the building. The studio has designed these animations to make a fascinating sense of movement to sweeping areas of the building. Zumtobel has completed several façade lighting projects, but the Galleria Centercity is the largest. These animations are intended to add an extra layer of interest and dynamism to the building, making it a more attractive and enjoyable place for visitors to explore. By adding movement to certain areas, the architects aim to enhance the overall experience of the space, making it a more unique and fascinating place. The animations are part of the design strategy to make the building stand out and create a unique and memorable experience for visitors. This project represents a significant achievement in integrating media and lighting in façade design.

The DMX control system installed in the building ensures precise and detailed programming of each LED spotlight. This results in dynamic and interactive images and messages on the building’s façade. The smooth transitions between different sequences of prints and colours create a mesmerising and captivating visual display. According to Van Berkel, “The most interesting thing about the Galleria Cheonan is that, due to the organisation of the atrium and the moiré treatment of the facade, illusions are created that result in the seemingly changing scales and the creation of double images. No image is permanent in this building.” The design is a testament to the creativity and innovation of the architects.

During the day, the building has a uniform, reflective look. At night, gentle hues are utilised to create a cascade of coloured light on the large illuminated surface. Custom animations produced by the studio are included in the lighting design and touch on themes related to the department store, such as fashion, events, art, and public life.

The Galleria Centercity by UN Studio - Sheet2
The Entrance_©Christian Richters

With the design of Galleria Centercity, UN Studio has demonstrated how effective use of glare-free indirect lighting can result in city-friendly interactive facades. The mall’s facade has been designed to allow for a soft and subtle diffusion of light, which not only enhances the visual appeal of the building but also reduces the amount of glare and harsh light that can affect surrounding areas. This makes the building a city-friendly addition to the urban landscape. It does not contribute to the visual pollution often associated with bright and harsh lighting in densely populated areas.

Glare-free indirect lighting has also allowed for the creation of interactive facades, as the soft and subtle lighting can be used to highlight different features and elements of the building’s design. The design of Galleria Centercity sets an example of how architects and designers can use lighting to create city-friendly and interactive building facades, promoting sustainable and responsible urban development.

The Void & The Diamond Interiors 

Upon entering, the department store is revealed as a multi-layered and varied space that encourages exploration and shows more as one moves through and up the building. In addition to the exterior façade layer, the inner layer plays a critical role in understanding the building’s overall interactive function. It is characterised by the gathering of rounded platforms on tall columns. These platforms are in the central void to ease navigation, vertical movement, and orientation. The spatial and visual connections enhance the user experience and promote social interactions. 

The Galleria Centercity by UN Studio - Sheet3
The Interior_©Christian Richters
The Galleria Centercity by UN Studio - Sheet4
The Platforms_©Christian Richters

The repetition of curved shapes, highlighted by spiral strip lighting in the ceiling of the platforms, gives the interior its unique character and highlights the fact that the building has a dynamic flow. Using white and strategic openings in the inner layer minimises the need for artificial lighting.

UN Studio has meticulously crafted the interiors of three semi-public spaces, including the VIP Room, the art centre, and the customer service areas. A food court and speciality grocery store are located in the basement of the building, forming a unique part of the design that is seamlessly integrated with the overall design plan. The interior design of these spaces features vertical partitions that incorporate a versatile diamond pattern that can be adapted to meet each space’s unique requirements and conditions.

Galleria Centercity is a remarkable example of innovative and creative architecture. It is a testament to the potential of architecture to create spaces that not only serve a practical purpose but also enrich the lives of those who experience them.

The Galleria Centercity by UN Studio - Sheet5
The Interiors_©Christian Richters
The Theatre_©Kim Yong-Kwan
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Isha Ralhan is a 5th-year undergrad student pursuing a bachelor's degree in architecture. She likes learning about new things and traveling to new places. She enjoys photography as a hobby, reading books in her free time, and adores cats.