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Seoul unveils new monolithic building for SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation designed by Herzog & de Meuron

October 27, 2021

Swiss practice Herzog & de Meuron has recently completed its first project in South Korea – the arts non-profit SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation .

Located in Seoul’s Cheongdam-dong ward in the Gangnam District, the 11-storey wedge-shaped monolithic building houses non-commercial art studios, exhibition galleries, and publicly accessible cultural spaces that align with the Foundation’s mission to support young talented artists and position it as a hub of culture, creativity and inspiration, while connecting the public with art through prolific exhibitions and programmes.

The 86,000m2 building’s upper levels house the new headquarters for energy company ST International Corporation. While four floors of the building include exhibition space, two floors are dedicated to art storage, and six levels host office space for the Foundation and ST International. The subterranean parking area spans three levels.

According to a statement by the architects, the building’s “unified form maximises the allotted floor area while exploring the sculptural potential”. The triangular design also took advantage of the area’s zoning law that allows for higher-density buildings to be built along the predominately low-rise ward’s main commercial thoroughfare. The hermetic, south-facing front facade towers over the street while a low back facade faces the garden where a more intimate scale defines the surrounding neighbourhood.”

While the front of the building features a continuous mass of board-formed concrete, punctuated only by a pair of slim vertical windows in the upper half and lower half of the facade, the rear is nearly completely glazed “behind a layer of balconies that bring light and air into the offices.”

Visitors enter the building and into the main lobby through an unassuming cut-out in the concrete volume marked by a LED screen-wrapped column — described as a visually captivating lantern by Herzog & de Meuron — that makes the exhibitions and goings-on in the arts centre known to the pedestrian traffic on the street, there by attracting more visitors.

Another street-level opening on the west side of the building leads to a car ramp. “The curve of the descending ramp carves an opening in the ceiling of the underground exhibition space, connecting this sunken gallery to the activity, sound, and light at street-level,” elaborate the architects. “With its concrete walls, this cave-like space contrasts with the reflective finishes of silver leaf lining the ramp’s interior and parking space beneath. The ramp spirals around a triple-height void and defines the geometry of the grand staircase which acts as both a threshold and auditorium space for screenings and lectures, leading to the second-floor galleries.”

While concrete is the primary construction material for both the exterior and interior of the building, the facade features a wood grain pattern achieved through the rotation of larch plywood boards. “This unique texture invites the eye and hand to explore its different qualities, bringing the building’s urban presence down to a tactile human scale,” explain the architects. The wood grain-imprinted concrete not only gives the building a textural quality, but pays nod to the meaning of SongEun, which translates to “Hidden Pine Tree” in Korean.

The inaugural special exhibition at the new arts venue, Herzog & de Meuron: Exploring SongEun Art Space, focuses on the building itself – ranging from the documentation of its design and building process, the specific strategies, tools and methods from the initial conception in Basel to the physical realisation in Seoul. The exhibition, which runs through November 20, also features other signature works by practice as well as artists that the firm has collaborated with, including Thomas Ruff and Rémy Zaugg.

The exhibition, which takes into consideration local context, cultures, and environments, display “follows the careful sequence of spaces and offers a stroll through indoor and outdoor areas, the galleries above and below ground. In anticipation of future possibilities, this exhibition explores the potential of hosting various artistic media in the building, from traditional hangings with paintings and photographs to newer and alternative formats such as video, projections, augmented reality, and even smell.”

The next part of the inaugural exhibition is a presentation of the (expanded) 21st edition of the annual SongEun ArtAward that will run from 10 December 2021 through 12 February 2022.

Photos courtesy: SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation and Jihyun Jung

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