Since its beginning around 2012, OBBA has stood out for its ability to involve a historical and social perspective in the design process ever so cleverly. As a studio that treats architecture responsibly and respectfully, they believe in its power to shape people’s lives and communicate ideals by manipulating the physical surroundings, conceiving it as an extension of landscape and culture. 

Their job extends beyond construction as it intends to educate and raise awareness on the importance of care and consideration for others and society. Comprehending interdisciplinary architecture development’s significance, they push the established boundaries, solving social and urban requirements through unconventional design.

Here are 15 projects by OBBA.

1. VOTE (2013) – South Korea, Gwangju

Somewhere along the path of the 21st century, the concept of identity has deteriorated in the overflowing stream of information: the physical world has become obsolete as social media became the forum where all meaningful discussions take place. “VOTE” is about granting physical space with the strength of social media; placing a face on each of us who have something to say; giving back our identity and our right to participate actively in social matters. 

The exposition has been placed on a commercial, busy street, merging into clothing shops and tarot tables, demonstrating the mundane and accessible voting nature. Pedestrian lanes reading “YES,” “NO,” and “MAYBE” were marked over the pavement under a red light sign where questions that are studied to be topics of teenagers’ concern are displayed. “VOTE” is about participation, inclusion, visibility, and identity, values that OBBA intends to give us back.

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© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
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2. The OASIS (2015) – South Korea, Gyeonggi

This exposition studies the interaction between the built environment, its surroundings, and human perception, conceiving them as a whole. As a part of the 2015 APMAP exposition, OBBA followed the Museum’s guidelines by building a pavilion that flexes the physical boundaries. By responding to nature’s stimuli, architecture creates new atmospheres with each movement. 

Immersed in the middle of a green campus, a curtain of white threads falls as water cascading onto the ground, swaying to the breeze in an improvised choreography. People are not there to see the pavilion because of what it is, but because of everything it can be: they learn how to observe, surprised by the mundane art of perception. OBBA achieves to, once again, teach us the value of small things by attending to cultural, social intentions.

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3. APMAP 2016 Yongsan – Moving Scape (2016) South Korea, Seoul

When it comes to architecture, there is a need to communicate from the architectural world through the physical language. Bearing this in mind, OBBA achieves the physical relationship between human beings, territory, and heritage by appealing to the visitors’ senses. To represent these three variables, the team parted from the idea of topography being the physical form of the steps taken on it, representing the flow of history and the delicacy of its existence. 

A series of white flags arranged carefully on elastic strings sway in the breeze, creating its topography. Below, a mat serves users granting a sitting area. With each blow, the wind rearranges the white topography, casting unpredictable shadows and moving the red strings. The conception of history and territory becomes tangible, visible, in this sensory experience.

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4. Brugge Triennale 2018 – The Floating Island (2018) – Belgium

Living in a city of canals can be an exciting experience: water is soothing, hypnotizing in the way it moves, inviting you to stare at it, at your reflection, to your thoughts. However, if not used correctly, it may become a physical boundary, a residual space. For the Brugge Triennale, OBBA granted the city of Belgium with a resignification of their canals: by building a serpent-like pavilion over the water, the group intended to “blur the rigid boundary of the canal” (OBBA, 2018), treating the waterfront as an extension of the city. 

This pavilion provides different ways of relating to the canal in sitting areas, resting spots, and contemplating sites. Faithful to their urban and social approach to architecture, OBBA healed an open wound by stitching two sides of the same tissue, creating a harmonic composition between water and land.

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5. Architecture and Heritage: Unearthing Future (2019) – South Korea, Seoul

In 2019, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art presented the exhibition “Architecture and Heritage: Unearthing Future” in Seoul. In the context of the historical Deoksugung Palace, celebrating the centennial of the Independence Movement, the exposition sought to honor Korean history and cultural heritage in a revision of how modern Korea could be at the beginning of modernism. 

OBBA was one of the studios granted the honor to participate. Parting from its surroundings achieved a cinematographic intervention: colored shadows dance over the stone ground, moving to the rhythm of light and wind. A series of dichroic films hang in a circular structure, inspired by traditional sunshades. They are responsible for this magical piece that intends to take us back in time and make us reinterpret space in the present.

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6. The Vault House (2017) – South Korea, Gyeongnam

Besides responding to the clients’ needs, this project appears as a criticism of modern cities’ image where cultural heritage is nowhere to be found in the proliferation of tall, blind walls in the city of blinding lights, turning their back on their citizens. Three brothers commissioned a house for their elder mother in the same territory their old house used to be. 

The project, situated in vast farmland, revolves around the relationship between public and private spaces, including the surrounding as a part of the house by creating transitions and dialoguing with the exterior. Paradoxically, the outer fence became the house’s heart, granting it an exotic, mysterious face. This house is a manifesto of how cities should behave.

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7. The Fade (2016) – South Korea, Gyeonggi

Despite being commissioned as a residential project, this house seeks to be a natural haven. A musician and a performer producer entrusted OBBA to build a home to return to after long periods of traveling. The group manipulated the physical boundaries between interior and exterior, making the project swirl around the natural surroundings in a sort of Tetris where nature makes its way and grows in the house, behaving as the heart of the project. 

The result is soothing, relaxing spaces: a welcoming home that provides different perspectives and ways to relate to the surroundings as if an observatory. In this residence, nature and design establish a relationship based on respect and communication, such as human relationships, to grow stronger every day.

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8. Le Petite Maison (2015) – South Korea, Seoul

In the past, a house was a home: it was a family member, many generations lived in the same place, which held meaning beyond the economic value and aesthetic needs.

According to OBBA, homes nowadays became exchangeable, another asset in our capitalist lives that tends to a standardized housing image. However, with a small budget in a rugged land, the group was entrusted to build a tiny house for a newlywed couple, facing the challenge of rethinking what home means. 

Throughout this project, they received the possibility to investigate a new way of inhabiting space rather than a social housing project or a small apartment, making us rethink what role “home” plays in people’s lives.

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9. Beyond the Screen (2013) – South Korea, Seoul

Urban growth is unstoppable, we can perceive it in our cities, and Seoul is not an exception. In a town where there seems to be no alternative to collective housing and compact living, OBBA intended to redefine the concept of these structures with resilient architecture and design. 

Their priorities were access to natural ventilation and lighting and communal green spaces while respecting the users’ privacy in affordable, high-quality exclusive units. The group proved that sustainability and sensible, humane design can coexist, granting users personal, unique spaces in a crowded city.

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10. Open & Closed (2015) – South Korea, Seoul

Responding to urban growth means responding to constant transformation: the city is constantly restructuring itself, reorganizing as the image becomes futile and short-lived, drowned in the overflowing of information and graphics. When it comes to design, the fundamentals we respond to are the only durable variable we can rely on. 

In this project, OBBA built a new family house in the terrain where the owner lived his whole life with his mother. Heritage and presence are the core of the house. The group took the chance to rethink and redefine modern houses, studying internal relationships and dynamics, natural lighting, and the dialogue with the city. Urban perspective and heritage are palpable in this experimental, outstanding home.

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11. Fixed Ground, Different House (2015) – South Korea, Seoul (IDEA)

Rapid growth is causing the urban landscape to become homogeneous: cities begin to show a universal image of glass, towering buildings that strive to solve density. This project intends to make amends with these two urban problems by creating a new housing concept. 

This way, the memory of the green Seoul remains untouched while amplifying the living scope from a single celled family perspective to several people’s coexistence in a new environment.

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12. One to Three, Three to one (2015) – South Korea, Seoul

How to live together, but separately? It sounds contradictory, but OBBA made these two concepts coexist as a true linguistic master in this project. A parent of two wished to build a three-story house, where each floor could work as an independent apartment for his children to live in with their families once they had the age. Until then, they would live together on the top floor. 

The group found the solution to this puzzle through spatial design and communicating with the owner, creating a residence where privacy and convenience work together to sustain this future way of life.

© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture

13. HWN HQ (2016) – South Korea, Seoul

The role of architecture in this project was to change people’s perception of the city of Dongaenum’s products and production policies. Located in Sidang-dong, the primary idea was to bring life into this area, considered the “back of the house of apparel markets” (OBBA, 2016), distancing from the frantic, blinding image of Dongdaemun district. 

In a world of consumption and capitalism, the HNW clothing company encouraged OBBA to build their new HQ, intending to blend the concept of consumption as part of the urban life by integrating the building into the city landscape with austere exterior and unique interior treatment.

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© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture

14. The Illusion (2018) – South Korea, Seoul

Architecture should make you feel something, make routine less wearisome, provide new perspectives and attractive spaces that make you feel at ease, where you don’t spend every day wishing you were somewhere else. With this premise, OBBA designs this office tower, where the monotony of the working life and shiny, impersonal surfaces of glass meets the spirit of those automatons that cross their doors every morning. 

“The Illusion” actively engages morphology, materiality, and function, working in synergy seeking for this fifteen- floored tower to stand out for its humanity and granting the city with an amene, spaces in the raging town. The importance of the social perspective in urban design is once again one of this group’s most vital points.

© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture

15. Fifteen Variations of the Same Theme (2014) – South Korea, Seoul (Idea)

In 2014, an international competition to recycle the Mapo Oil Depot (an industrial legacy site with important historical connotations for Seoul) took place. OBBA’s original idea was to avoid the construction of new structures, exploiting the existing buildings prioritizing restoration and recycling, in their own words, “to re-discover the architecture that already exists […] and to offer a contemporary reinterpretation of the site’s history” (OBBA, 2014). 

By creating a new pedestrian path that stitches the site’s varying topography, the group strived to frame different perspectives of the city and park, re-discovering its activities. Each depot would host diverse activities and play different roles, maintaining its circular shape as part of Seoul’s history’s resignification.

© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture
© OBBA – Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture

References

  1. OBBA (2014). Fifteen Variations of the Same Theme – International Competition for Rehabilitating Mapo Oil Depot into a Cultural Depot Park [online]. Available at: http://www.o-bba.com/projects/21 [Accessed 7 April 2021].
  2. OBBA (2016). HWN HQ [online]. Available at: http://www.o-bba.com/projects/12 [Accessed 7 April 2021]
  3. OBBA (2018). Brugge Triennale – The Floating Island (2018) [online]. Available at: http://www.o-bba.com/projects/38 [Accessed 7 April 2021]
  4. Designboom (2020). OBBA’s dichroic film installations reflect color and light at deoksugung palace in seoul [online]. Available at: https://www.designboom.com/design/obba-dichroic-film-installations-deoksugung- palace-seoul-03-17-2020/?fbclid=IwAR150jlQO108c41- DHbBnwQaGt95QopHM9eu5bfuNGb0TQhNX6MFA4J1cQE [Accessed 10 April 2021]
Author

Constanza Bianco is a 3rd year Undergraduate architect in the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her passion for writing dates back to her childhood, becoming an avid reader and learning enthusiast at a young age. She believes architecture to be a powerful tool and aspires to understand its endless possibilities.

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