Herzog & de Meuron’s SongEun building opens in South Korea


SongEun Art & Cultural Foundation marks South Korean debut of Herzog & de Meuron

Herzog & de Meuron’s South Korean debut is a triangular triumph for ST International and its SongEun Art & Cultural Foundation in Seoul

Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron make their South Korean debut with a new monolithic office building and cultural space in Seoul that features a majestic triangular silhouette. The 11-story structure sits atop a wide avenue in Seoul’s bustling Gangnam district, surrounded by an array of high-end fashion boutiques and flagships, including Louis Vuitton (designed by Frank Gehry), Dolce & Gabbana (Jean Nouvel) and Dior (Christian de Portzamparc). Home to the headquarters of ST International, a Korean energy and mining conglomerate, and its SongEun Art & Cultural Foundation, which runs a non-profit art space, this striking edifice is on its way to becoming a contemporary architectural landmark in the midst of of the architecture and urban density of the Korean capital. Fabric.

Rising from the street like a sheer cliff nearly 60m in height, the south-facing front façade presents a continuous plane of concrete interrupted by two long, slender windows that perforate the otherwise uniform surface. These precise incisions, the largest of which is over 13 m high, accentuate the verticality of the structure while revealing the spaces it contains. The two lower angles of the facade are cut to create side recesses that serve as entry points for pedestrians and vehicles. As visitors pass under the suspended mass of the building’s cantilevered upper floors towards the main entrance, they emerge into an airy courtyard surrounded by a walled garden that separates this backyard-like space from the plots. neighbors. This is where the glass-covered rear facade begins its angular ascent, moving away from view as it ascends to the sharp peak.

The facade includes a unique patchwork

Unlike the highly optimized architectural elements, certain aspects of the structure retain an undeniable artisanal sensibility. Nowhere is this more apparent than the textured patchwork of intricate patterns that give the building’s concrete surfaces a tactile quality: instead of using mass-produced modular panels to create the formwork necessary for pouring concrete, builders installed several thousand square plywood panels, each of which gave a unique imprint of its natural wood grain to the concrete as it hardened. An ode to the meaning of the name SongEun, which translates to ‘hidden pine,’ this endless undulating organic matrix induces a sense of wonder and a visceral urge to reach out and touch, permeating this inherently inert substance with an evocative resonance.

Despite its iconic profile and formidable presence, the Herzog & de Meuron design does not manifest any singular aesthetic or thematic inspiration. Rather, its form is prescribed by its function, as the architects explain: “The triangular shape results from the building envelope specified for the site, maximizing floor space and exploiting the sculptural potential of zoning laws.

The sloping rear facade of the building dictates the internal programming of the interior space; the horizontal surface of each floor decreasing as its elevation increases, the eight upper floors encompass 2,032 m² of offices while the exhibition spaces that occupy the lower floors (two above ground and a basement) represent 3,513 m².

Practical design concerns also inform architectural decisions within the structure. The focal point of the ground floor lobby is a spiraling vertical concrete layer that carves a nautilus-shaped void into the lobby floor, opening up to a cavernous underground exhibition space two floors below. Tracing the outer perimeter of this hollow concrete corkscrew is a circular staircase that ascends to an exhibition space on the second floor. More than just an aesthetic ornament, this prominent design element also reveals an inevitable spatial constraint generated by the internal curvature of the parking ramp, circumscribing the gaping cavity carved out from the center of the hall.

SongEun building and its first exhibition

To inaugurate the completed building, a collaborative exhibition organized by Herzog & de Meuron and the SongEun Art & Cultural Foundation invites the public to explore its spaces and consider the relationship between art and architecture. The exhibition highlights the building itself, which the public discovers through drawings and exhibits related to the development of the project, including augmented reality resources that provide viewers with unique perspectives on the design and construction of the project.

Elsewhere, samples of representative works by Herzog & de Meuron are presented in the form of photographs by Thomas Ruff and architectural models from the archives of the Swiss firm. A selection of video collaborations featuring Swiss artists Rémy Zaugg and René Pulfer serve to introduce more conceptual interpretations of town planning, landscape and memory in relation to the built environment.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition are newly commissioned works of art by a selection of contemporary Korean artists who react to the architecture and its site. Some of the most evocative works on display include a photographic series by Jihyun Jung, who accessed the site during all phases of construction and documented its progress. An immersive architectural installation by Hoyeon Kang engages in the history of the site, replicating a typical Korean office living room interior that might have been found in the previous building at this location. Linking Aspects of Architecture and Fine Art is a new abstract sculpture by Eunu Lee that draws on the design philosophy that shaped the enduring architectural heritage of Herzog & de Meuron. §


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